How We Spend Our Days: Summer Wood

Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Summer Wood:

photo by Dorie Hagler

This morning, February 15, what I write in the notebook is: RELEASE DAY.

Which means that, as ordinary as this day might seem on the surface – sky mostly blue, air still winter-cold, woodpile dwindling but the first glimpses of migrating songbirds promising warmth to come – this day has a special shine for me. Ten years after I scribbled its first words in my notebook on a morning a lot like this one, my second novel ships. It’s out the warehouse door, today, headed for bookstores and mailboxes.

It feels good. Really good. And to celebrate, today, I drink the coffee. Take the shower. Walk the dog. Open the notebook. Because the only way I reached this day was to have all those days that came before.

***

I drink the coffee. I make it strong enough to jump start my sleep-mired electrical system, and one good cup in the morning lifts me enough to move forward – but not far enough to run in circles, which is what two will do. I’ve learned how deeply what I consume affects what I produce, and try to steer clear of the obvious pitfalls: the easy afternoon boost of caffeine that exacts its revenge in hours of late night sleeplessness; too many Wheat Thins (because, oh! That crunch!); the allure of a glass of wine and then another and another when I want to celebrate how well the writing has gone – or be consoled at how poorly.

I do eat Wheat Thins. I drink wine. Sometimes I even go for the short cup of coffee at 3pm because I’m willing to pay the price to blast through to the end of a chapter or a story. But the only way I can sustain for the long run is to moderate these impulses. So, like the good construction worker I used to be, I pack a lunch and I get to work.

I take the shower. I make a clear distinction between down days – when I can laze around the house in sweatpants and slippers – and work days, which require socks and shoes and clothes with waistbands and, yes, a bra. I cannot write fiction without a bra. (Poetry, yes, but that’s a different story.) I know there are writers who do superb work in bare feet and boxer shorts. I’m not one of them. If I have a phone meeting with my agent or editor, I might even dress up. Most days, working from home, I don’t see anyone but my family, so this dressing business seems silly even to me – but it helps send my brain the message that something is at stake. There’s work to do. Get cracking.

I walk the dog. Half for his sake – he needs this, and it’s our agreement – and half for mine. If I don’t walk, I don’t know where I am. It grounds me to move my body briskly out in the world. The exercise feels good, sure, but even more I love the kind of thinking that accompanies it. I could run and be done quicker, but walking sets a pace my thoughts can keep up with. Trudging up hills, pacing along a trail, even ambling along city streets, there’s something good about renewing my connection with the terrain that claims me. He pees on things. I refrain from that, but mark the territory in other ways: by conveying its details to the page.

I open the notebook. On days like today, full of human interactions and the kind of commitments that accrue with a new book, there’s not a lot of time to sit in the company of a blank page. Lately, being an author bumps doing the writing to the back seat. Still, there’s nothing else like it: that brand-fresh-new feeling of making something from nothing. The magic of having words – good, bad, I don’t even care – manifest out of breath and ink and memory and imagination. It’s why the author stuff exists, and why I bother with any of it. Because nothing is ever guaranteed, but every time I open the notebook, anything can happen.

Today Wrecker ships. In another day or two, people will hold it in their hands, will open its lovely cover, and start to read.

On those days, too – just as on all the days that led to its creation – I’ll wake up, drink the coffee, take the shower, walk the dog, and open the notebook.

Because I’ve learned that all I have to do is make the opening, prepare the way, and let come what may – and that the thing itself, the doing of it, is the biggest reward there is.

AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…

1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?

  • I just finished The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich. I love her work, and this one is no exception. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for a long time and wanted to read something that I knew would deliver me deeply to the natural world. It did the job.

2.Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?

  • When you think you’re finished for the day – all wrung out – go a little further. Write a little more, with no expectations of quality or anything else. Just do it. I surprise myself with what comes out when I’ve finished my work and just let myself play.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I nap a lot while writing. Okay? The truth is out. And I’m embarrassed, but not enough to stop doing it. Maybe if I called it a “fugue state” I could garner more sympathy, but the truth is, it looks a lot like sleeping on the job.

Books by Summer Wood:

Arroyo

Wrecker

18 thoughts on “How We Spend Our Days: Summer Wood

  1. Summer’s post reminds me of the old zen saying: “Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightment: Chop wood, carry water.” Just change the word enlightenment to Release Day.

    Not only did I enjoy this wonderful post, but I’ve just started to read Wrecker (downloaded on Kindle) and have already fallen in love.

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  2. So interesting what Summer says about how what she eats relates to what she writes. It makes so much sense but I’d never thought of it that way. And after working from home for a few years — sometimes writing and sometimes not — I too have learned that I have to dress appropriately for what I am doing even if no one sees me. If I need to act social and confident then I need to dress the part. If I can be a hermit then, well, sweats. It seems like those days never happen anymore.

    Thanks for this post, Cindy. I can’t wait to see Summer read tonight in Seattle! Yay!

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  3. Thanks, all, for your generous comments. I love this series, too — THANKS, Cindy, for your wonderful work with this blog. Katherine and Peggy — it’ll be wonderful to see you in Seattle tonight! What a great way to finish up what’s been a deeply rewarding book tour. And then it’s back to chopping wood and carrying water!

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  4. This was like a how-to manual with great heart. I loved: one cup of coffee lifting just enough, poetry not needing a bra, and the walk setting the pace. Here’s a writer who knows what she needs, when she needs it, especially “the company of a blank page.” Can’t wait to read the published pages I’ve been hearing so many good things about.

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  5. I love this post. There’s so much here that I relate to. Odd things – like the way work days require clothes with a waistband. And I love the advice about writing a bit past the serious work part of the day. I think in general it’s great for writers to remember to play sometimes and I think this is such a terrific way to structure it in.

    Thanks so much for this!

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  6. Reading Summer’s process gives me hope. Her words are encouraging and supportive and make me realize that writing is what comes from the spaces between a regular day. Loved how she must be dressed, even if in solitude, to fit the activity. Loved the good things that happen when she goes for a walk. All my best to Summer and to you, Cynthia for Catching Days–a beautiful site.

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  7. Summer, I am excited for you and for Wrecker to be out and about in the world. Lovely window into your day and somehow soothing to read this over lunch at my desk at my day job. Cindy – such a great gift you offer with these days.

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  8. Thanks, all. It’s wonderful to know how many other writers dress for work, too. Puts to rest the idea of us all schlumping around the house in sweatpants and slippers. (Although — yay on you if you can pull it off!) I so appreciate all the good wishes, and the introduction to many of you through your blogs. Looking forward to seeing more of your work! And, again, a big old thanks to Cindy for making this happen, month after month.

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