How We Spend Our Days: Heidi Durrow

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 Heidi Durrow:

I only hope that today will be the first of a string of regular days.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that I have been on book tour almost non-stop for a year and a half.  My typical daily to-do list during this time has read: pack, unpack, go to airport. Seriously.

It has been a whirlwind tour of more than 50 cities and some 150 events.  I am fudging those numbers because I don’t want to spend any part of this day actually doing the fact-checking.  Today is my first day to write without interruption on the new book.

I start each day as I always do: a cup of coffee that I drink with my bendy straw, NPR playing in the background, and me with my Moleskine in my favorite chair with pen in hand writing three pages long-hand.  No stopping.  Today, I write: “I am sitting here.”  A lot!  Because I feel like I am just learning how to put the words on the page again.

Travel is not conducive to writing for me—so I feel very out of shape as a writer.  I don’t know if I can “tune” myself today, but I will try.

Once I finish the free-write I write a one-sentence affirmation ten times.  I know that writing this wish won’t make it come true, but it gives my brain a chance to say something nice to me.  In those minutes, I am all possibility.

It’s Saturday morning and so it’s time to go to the farmer’s market.  I’m a sucker for ritual and look forward to saying hello to the melon guy, and croissant guy, and the potato guy.  But first it’s time to workout.

I do my cardio and some weightlifting.  It’s tough.  No, it’s killing me. But that’s what I get for neglecting my workout for so long on the road.

When I’m done, I know it’s been worth it. I’ve imagined a new character for the new book. I’ve also come up with an idea for an essay which may distract me from the new novel, but I am so thankful for these new ideas—for suddenly not being stuck.

At the market, I say hello to the melon guy, the croissant guy and the potato guy.  I only buy plums.

The rest of the afternoon is my own again.  We have a dinner party tonight, but I’m not the house chef.  So I climb the stairs to my office, and sit to write.

My task: write 1500 words in a row.  Wait, let me be clear: write 1500 terrible words in a row.  I have to set the bar low.  I am deathly afraid of the page again.  And I’m not entirely sure of the story of the story.  I know the characters yes, but the story.  I keep writing to see what the characters do then I will know.

I write until it’s time to take my Saturday afternoon nap.  When I wake, I write a little more.  Soon, it’s time to get ready for dinner. The guests will arrive in just half an hour.

I don’t even look at the words I’ve written—just the word count.  Job done for today.  I’ll get back to the page tomorrow.

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?

  • Pym by Mat Johnson.  I “met” Mat when I interviewed him some time ago and am a big fan of his work.  I was feeling blue and had his book on the TBR pile—who else I thought could make me laugh and really think at the same time. His book did not disappoint. It is brilliant.

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

  • Don’t show your work too early—the feedback may stop you in your tracks.

3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?

  • I only write in Moleskine journals. For me, it’s Moleskine or nothing.  (I have not received any compensation for this endorsement BTW!)

By Heidi Durrow:

the girl who fell from the sky

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, the debut novel by Heidi Durrow, is a story that will make you ache in all the best ways. Barbara Kingsolver chose it as the winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in 2008, and it was published by Algonquin in 2010. It is a story simply told, as in

I want to write something/so simply/about love/or about pain/that even/as you are reading/you feel it…*

264 pages, 2 parts, and 6 points of view. With solid details like ten-dollar bills wrapped in aluminum foil.

On page one, Rachel is leaving the hospital. On page two, she refers to the accident. What has already happened is revealed (not here) slowly over time, never making us angry or confused and building a picture we want to resist for so many reasons but that ultimately we can’t avoid seeing.

From Rachel, who is in sixth grade when the book begins:

I am caught in before and after time. Last-time things and firsts. (8)

Grandma uses a sharp comb and it feels like she’s dividing me in half. (11)

From Jamie, who will adopt the strong name Brick:

When he finally reached the courtyard, he saw that his bird was not a bird at all. His bird was a boy and a girl and a mother and a child. (19)

With assured echoes from the beginning of the book to the end and from mother to child, The Girl who Fell from the Sky is at the same time a story we have never read before (as Barbara Kingsolver writes on its cover) and a story we all carry with us.

* from “I Want to Write Something So Simply” by Mary Oliver Evidence