Writing on Auto-Pilot

Dear you,


Always, when I move to a new location, I stake out the spot for the garden. This year seemed especially urgent that I have one — new place in a new region with a long, forgiving growing season, and desperate times of the country called for desperate measures, which is how I ended up with a worm farm and homemade yogurt, among other things.

After the election, I gorged myself on homesteading books all through the winter. I called representatives and then read about seeds. I marched in protest while the bread rose. I shredded newspapers with horrifying headlines about new awful things I couldn’t control and bedded them in the compost for the worms to eat. I planted a tree started from a single branch and celebrated each leaf as a form of resistance.

In my zeal to right the world within my control, I started seeds too early. I needed to create something new, something that cared not about the state of the world aside from how much light and water was available, so I planted seeds in February knowing I was doing it for my own selfish distraction.

I grew the seeds in little rows under a growing light next to my desk. Every morning, I would switch the lamp on and we would all bask in the sun trying to make something work. They grew; I wrote. They grew root bound (still too cold to plant them outdoors) and I still wrote, though I felt like I was writing in circles.

I mentioned that I am re-writing my book. I have re-written it several times and every time I finish, I feel relief. Until I think of the story and still have the nagging feeling that something is not correct.

Every book and story is personal for the creator, and this book is no exception. In the making of it, it always feels far more personal than it should because it requires the writer to dig deep on memories and emotions they would rather keep hidden. And again, this book is no exception.

There are several scenes in this book I do not want to write. I have been writing around them in a diminishing circle. I feel closer after each draft and after re-reading the draft I feel no closer at all. At the worst of it, I can see where the shift occurs and I begin writing on auto-pilot to get through the parts I don’t want to deal with.

But now, everything outside of those last few scenes is said and done. There is nothing else to focus on and yet the book will not be complete until I do these last few things. It seems easy and yet every time I sit down to do it, there is always some other more pressing thing to do, like write this blog post.

At the DFW Writers Conference, my dear friend Kelsey Macke led a workshop on writing with conflicting emotions, how to dig through our own experiences and find the empathy needed to do justice to what the character feels on the page. And sometimes that requires an excavation of our worst pain. There is a point, Kelsey said, when you just have to close the door and cry.

And that’s where I am. I spent this week filling a notebook with more versions of how I could circle around the real pressure point. Post-it notes of ideas leading to nowhere litter my desk. Another dear friend, Annie Neugebauer, listened to me go round in circles until I landed back to the storyline my subconscious gave me in the first draft, but that I tossed out because I was too afraid to go any deeper with it.

The seedlings I started too early mostly ended up in the compost. The embarrassing part is that I actually cried when I uprooted them and reburied them for the worms. I grew these living things knowing they were doomed because I grew them before they were ready. And I grew them anyway because I wanted to ignore something else.

There are a few seedlings that did make it to the garden. I transplanted them once, twice, and a third time before their final homes because I refused to have done all this work for nothing, forgetting totally that everything is a learning experience.

It feels the same with all the drafts written that went to nowhere. How could I have done all this work only to throw it all out? Those seeds were planted as a salve for my own broken heart over the world; they were a way to distract when I really needed to heal. And so it is with all the scenes I wrote on auto-pilot; place-holders until it was time for the real thing—time to switch off the auto-pilot and steer through the storm. That time has now come. There is nothing left to do.

The few seedlings that lived are now large, almost full-grown. I visit them everyday and coo over them in a way that alarms my husband. I count their flowers and pick off the bugs. I wait and watch the bees do their work, lean back in my chair and smile. There is nothing left to do but bear fruit.




6 thoughts on “Writing on Auto-Pilot

    • Thank you, Dannie! My life has much improved since adding worms. I love watching them work. 🙂 And I loved your blog post about the con as well! Great pictures! And so wonderful that you were able to find a serendipitous roommate and enjoy the weekend.


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