"How long does it take you to write a novel?" an aspiring writer asks, and without pausing to wait for an answer, "How do you find the time?"
These are two of the Three Inane Questions most frequently asked of novelists (the third one is,"Where do you get your ideas?") and like most "stupid" questions, they are so brilliant that I don't know how to answer. How can I explain how long it takes to write a novel? Your whole life, that's how long. Your childhood, your dreams, your waking time and sleeping time and loving and hurting time all go in. The young woman who wants to write already knows this in her heart, so she has rushed on to the next question: How do you find the time? There has to be a secret. There has to be a way to "find" or "make" time, more time than there is in a lifetime.
"Writers have a different sense of time than most people," I venture, which is sheer chutzpah on my part, because people have widely divergent views of time. To some, time is a thin stream of moments flowing away. To others, an ever-repeating cycle of seasons and reincarnation. Or perhaps it is nothing more than entropy a slow decay. But many would rather believe it is a stairway to climb. Widely divergent religions are based on these views, yet all seem to have the same goal: to escape time and achieve timelessness. The stream flows to the ocean of eternity. The soul escapes from the cycle and achieves nirvana. Entropy ends in stasis. The stairway ends in heaven.
"I don't know how long it takes me to write a novel." I say. "I don't count the days or the hours."
"Why? Because it might get too discouraging?"
I shake my head. "No, not at all. It's just. . .I lose track of time."
Lose track? I wish I hadn't said that. When I'm writing, I don't lose anything; I find something.
The young woman seems to project her own feelings onto me. "But don't you get discouraged when you have to change something it took you hours to write?"
"I've thrown away things it took me years to write. It doesn't matter. It's the process that's important. The writing itself."
"Do you write every day?"
"How many pages?"
"I don't know. It doesn't matter. Sometimes I just sit around and think."
She looks at me as if she wants to cry. "But how do you find the time?"
My life as a writer, I belatedly realize, may be incomprehensible to her, because it is a life of impossible rebellion against the one unconquerable tyrant: time. As a writer, I eschew time. I seldom plan for the future; where are my retirement fund, my benefit package? Nonexistent. My clock to punch, my commute, my schedule? Nonexistent also. My routine, my religion? Nil. Yet I hope to live after my time is up.
Chutzpah again: I hope to create books that will remain when I am gone.
"I don't find time," I respond. "I kill time. I assassinate it."
The aspiring writer gives up on me, smiles stiffly and moves away. Rightly so, because what she wants to know I can't explain. If she ever "finds time," it will be by losing what most people would regard as her sanity. It will be by stepping off the stairway and listening to that bustling in her hedgerow. It will be by leaving the thin tick-tock stream and leaping into the vast sea of once-upon-a-time. It will be by just doing it. It will happen the morning she gets up and, without checking her schedule, starts writing her novel.
About the Author:
Born in Livingston, New Jersey, Nancy Springer moved with her family to Gettysburg, of Civil War fame, when she was thirteen. She spent the next forty-six years in Pennsylvania, raising two children (Jonathan, now 35, and Nora, 31), writing, horseback riding, fishing, and birdwatching. In 2007 she surprised her friends and herself by moving with her second husband to an isolated area of the Florida panhandle, where the birdwatching is spectacular and where, when fishing, she occasionally catches an alligator.
Dorrie White has been secretly following the sixteen-year-old daughter, Juliet, she gave up for adoption as a baby. When Juliet is seized by an abductor, Dorrie gives chase without a moment's hesitation. But in order to save her daughter's life, ultimately Dorrie must confront her own dark, secret past.