Monday, September 7, 2009

You Mean I Have to Cook Dinner Too?

We at Novel Matters are wildly proud that two of our bloggers, Patti and Debbie, have new novels making their debut this month. The only dilemma is, which do we offer first as a prize to one of our readers? Turns out, this month the prize will be Raising Rain by Debbie Fuller Thomas. (Next month's prize will be Seeing Things by Patti Hill.) All you have to do to be eligible to win is leave a comment on one of our posts during the month.

Is there a writer on earth who hasn't, in one way or other, compared the production of a book to childbirth? Can we not see how cliche it's become to refer to a novel as "my baby," or to say we are sending our children out into the world when we really mean we are submitting our manuscripts for publication?

Maybe we see it, but the cliche persists for the reason all cliches persist: it's true, so very, very true.

For instance, one way writing a novel is like having children is that it is all-absorbing. You go to sleep thinking about your characters and wake up the same way. Day after day they disrupt your life, demand attention, wear your patience, and yet you love them, and the proof is that daily you submit yourself to their abuse.

The other way writing a novel is like having a baby is that you gain weight - at least if you're not careful.

My first time, I was not careful. For six months, we ate Hot Pockets for dinner. That's only a slight exaggeration. Sometimes my husband brought home hamburgers.

I am not a person who ought to gain weight on purpose, so when I began to write a second novel - on purpose - I figured I needed a better plan.

It turned out to be chicken breasts. Where I live, you can buy skinless, boneless chicken breasts in what they call "Family Packs." Someone at the store has assumed we all have enormous families, because there are about seven or eight big-enough-for-two chunks o' meat in there.

So the idea was, at the beginning of the week, to put all of those breasts into a Pyrex baking dish, dump a can of broth or onion soup on top, and bake. Then, throughout the week, we would have:
  • Chicken tacos
  • Chicken and veggie stir-fry
  • Chicken wraps
  • Chicken and bean soup
  • Chicken Caesar salad
  • Chicken over pasta
  • Chicken surprise (Bet you've already guessed what the surprise is.)
It was worlds better than Hot Pockets, which I'd learned to dislike. And I didn't gain weight.

However, a couple of recent events have me rethinking my plan once again:
1) I watched Julie & Julia, a wonderful film. Now I have Meryl Streep on my desktop wallpaper, I've got the soundtrack playing on iTunes, and I have a new desire to cook sensually and joyfully. But not lobster - this girl doesn't drop living creatures into boiling water, though she's happy enough to eat the results when someone else does. And not boef bourguignon - I do want to get my writing done as well.

2) In simultaneously cooking dinner for friends and finding a use for a gigantic zucchini I'd been given, I rediscovered the recipe for ratatouille. I'd forgotten how much I loved chopping fresh vegetables and herbs, simmering a big pot on the stove, tasting, adjusting seasonings, and tasting again. And to think that it was all vegetables! A person like me needs a lot of recipes for fabulous vegetables.
So I thought I'd put the question to you. No, I'm not asking for recipes (though I'd be loath to refuse them), but for your thoughts and best ideas for surviving well this life of writing stories. What difficulties have you faced and conquered - or not conquered? How do you keep your house decent, your family loved, your boss happy? Or maybe just: how do you keep your health?

Please, do tell.


Katie Ganshert said...

This is such a tricky balancing act. Two tools I utilize to keep my family fed: the crockpot (one of the best inventions ever) and my husband (he's a good cook!).

You have me craving a pot of simmering vegetables and it's 7:30 in the morning! :)

Carla Gade said...

Oh, dear. You had to ask. The key is getting your family to understand this is what it's going to be like. I'm glad I have an understanding family, but they keep asking when I'm ever going to finish a book. Hmmm. When is that spring contest deadline??

I try to do a couple of things that make my family so very appreciative. You know, like a sunny day in the midst of a rainy season. I have a gigantic zuccini in my fridge which is going to make a great couple of loaves of zuccini bread - one goes in the freezer. The fam thinks I'm great for baking something for them and the love lasts for days. I just have to be careful not to only eat zuccini bread when I'm writing. I usually don't eat much because I forget then reach for the nearest thing (thus the pounds as you say).
Another thing is having a sit down dinner with the family. Special treat, I even "invite" one of my sons whose out on his own to come over for a special meal. Every one loves this - gives us a chance to pray together, too (most important of all). "And please help Carla to get her story finished . . ." Story? That's plural, mind you.

Katie's crock pot idea is excellent.

I've also been brainwashing the family for years. If you interrupt me when I'm in the middle of something and then keep begging, reminding, standing there, it's going to take so much longer. I just have to make sure I'm not always seeming to be "unavailable" to them. Real important, because they are most important. They were my babies first. And if the house is messy and it looks like I'm overwhelmed. Guess what? I am. So help. A good friend once told my husband, "if the dishes not being done bothers you, do them." And he does. And I write on.

Most importantly I have been learning the secret of God's timing. I have to remain diligent in my endeavors to become published, while remembering that it is not a race. It's the pace the counts.

Connie Brzowski said...

When writing, I can get lost in wordplay for 10-12 hours without moving. Bad on the back, not to mention various other body parts. Preparing dinner means standing up, moving around. It saves the backside from certain doom.

My family's cries for dinner reconnect me to home life in a way nothing else can. It's my job. The bookshelves go undusted, the dog hair piles up unmolested, but dinner's on the table in the usual manner.

Kathleen Popa said...

Katie, you're right: the crockpot is basic writing equipment, right next to the computer and the thesaurus. The thing I love best about it is that I can throw a hunk of meat and some veggies in there in the morning when I'm getting breakfast, and by dinnertime, I'll come downstairs to a house that smells like someone's been hard at work taking care of me. If I've also thought to set up the bread machine, that walk down the stairs will be pure exaltation.

Carla and Connie, you both made me laugh. Even before the crockpot, before even the computer in a list of writing essentials comes a loving, understanding family. I'm so grateful for mine.

Wendy Lawton said...

I'm not going to talk about staying healthy or having balance in my life-- especially since I stayed up all night meeting a deadline.

But I do want to talk about Raising Rain (the book Novel Matters readers have a chance to win if they but leave a comment). I love this book! You've taken an era we don't often see as a setting and made it come alive. The interplay between the characters is so real-- so complex.

I'm recommending this one to everyone.

Nichole Osborn said...

Honestly I don't get the luxury of being lost in my writing for hours at a time. Between homeschooling, Boyscouts, gymnastics, and a few other activities I'm fortunate if I get an hour a day. But when I was writting my last MS, there were days when I would forget to plan dinner and my husband or oldest son would call for pizza.

Samantha Bennett said...

I was yelling "Yes!" at my poor computer screen as I read this article. :) I've written manuscripts before, but my current one is straight up keeping me awake night!

After reading comments from you wise ladies, I plan to dust off the crockpot from our wedding registry and put it to use. :)

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Katy, I think we should do a post on how to avoid gaining weight as writers. But when I'm on a deadline, the thing I miss doing the most is cooking. I love to cook comfort food from scratch. I don't use a Cuisinart - it's very therapeutic to chop those veggies by hand. But what's a writer to do? I'll admit that it's too easy to eat out when I'm on deadline. With no kiddies at home, it's easy to fall.
Wendy, thanks for the nod to my book!

Nicole said...

I have no answers. The house is the last thing to get my attention. It's easy to feed my small (adult) family--they're so flexible. And I rediscovered my Crockpot recently wondering why I'd ever put it away.

Carla Gade said...

Ladies, misery loves company and I'm so glad I'm not alone in my housekeeping and overeating woes!

Janet said...

Ratatouille! I can't believe I haven't made any yet this summer.

It's good cold with a little lemon juice and olive oil on hot summer days, BTW.

I have absolutely no advice on how to balance writing and "real" life. If I ever figure it out, I'll write a book about it.