Blooming furiously before the frost: the usefulness of deadlines

She climbed into the middle of the front garden and took a deep breath, trying to calm down amid the flowers and the fat, droning bees. The annuals were at their full height and blooming furiously, as if they knew this was their last chance to set seed before the frost — just like her, really.

cosmos bouquet plus living room 003I thought of this passage from “The Awful Mess” this week as I was cutting cosmos to bring inside before what was supposed to be a cold night — though we were spared a frost. I always cut a lot more flowers as frost approaches. It’s because I know they will soon be gone.

The passage from “The Awful Mess” is a reference to infertility, but it applies equally well to writing. I always write more when I am feeling mortal, conscious of a final deadline for saying what I want to say, rather than focused on the more immediate day-to-day responsibilities I have as an author, teacher, homeowner, mother, stepmother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, pet owner, parishioner, neighbor, colleague, gardener, taxpayer, or citizen.

The novel in progress just keeps taking second priority, though part of that is me dithering over a key plot point. So I’m taking a risk (at least by my own you’d-think-I-grew-up-in-the-Great-Depression standards) this spring. I’m trying a form of “going pro” by taking next semester off from teaching to get the draft finished and revised. And since I’m buying  myself that time, I have a clear deadline to meet.

It’s a bit of a risk, and it may not ever pay off. But that’s okay. As she sits among the flowers, Mary reassures herself that there will be social services to keep her and the baby she’s bearing from starving. As I contemplate 16 weeks fully devoted to writing, I can reassure myself that writing is, at least, its own reward.

Once in a while I get to see students suddenly “get” that their writing can be a way to make meaning out of their lives — that it can be an act of profound discovery, and not just a chore to be gotten through. It becomes something they take genuine delight in and not just a hurdle they must overcome in order to get a grade, or a paycheck. (And in this publishing climate, it’s probably just as well to think of any given writing project that way.)

Autumn is a good time to put the garden to bed, stock the larder, and buckle down to a long winter of writing (or perhaps an earlier NaNoRiMo for some of you). Whether you expect it to pay off or not, I hope you will enjoy it. May you make many happy discoveries!