In “Year of Yes,” Shonda Rhimes, mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder, describes the process of getting ready to write as a hard, five-mile run lined with desserts and good movies and great books she’s dying to read before she can get to that place she calls “the hum of laying track.”
Back when I taught art, observing the ways my students settled down to work was a lesson in itself. Some dove right in. Others had elaborate rituals, such as the girl who could only draw using her chewed up, inch-long pink pencil ending in a worn-down eraser. Even when I offered her a fresh yellow one, she refused to trade.
Recently my husband was planning a trip to the opposite coast to run a half-marathon. Anticipating a long weekend free of cooking, I pictured a great swath of time stretching out before me like an empty page, just waiting to be populated with characters and brought alive in scenes. I planned on rising early and staying up late, setting my own personal best in terms of word count.
When the long-awaited day finally arrived? Here’s what I did: made sun tea, fed cats, made bed, made bacon. Ate bacon, felt guilty; mitigated guilt with yogurt. I also went to the bank, had a medical lab test, posted a Facebook video and made a lunch appointment with a friend. By the time I put fingers to keyboard, it was eleven a.m. But instead of working on my novel against a looming deadline, what did I do then? Wrote a random blog post! (The bank and the doctor were non-negotiable, but not the bacon. Definitely not the bacon.)
The hum of laying track. That’s why writers write—to get inside that imaginary world where our fingers are flying and we lose all sense of time. For me, that flow state even trumps the satisfaction of being able to point to a finished book. Some of my writer friends have no problem tuning out crying kids, dirty dishes and their partner’s horrible 80s music. Even given the gift of extra time, others are still compelled to waste precious minutes making the bed and scooping the litter, sweeping away clutter before the muse, like an aircraft signalman waving an orange flag, gives us the all clear. And then, inevitably, someone sticks his head in the door to say “hi” or “bye,” and we have to run that five miles all over again . . .
Heather Heyford writes contemporary romance novels set in the wine country. Her latest release is THE CRUSH, Book 1 of An Oregon Wine Country Romance. It was lovingly researched in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, the Willamette Valley.