Two weeks ago, in what might be characterized as a frenzy—a state of barely controlled activity, agitation, and emotion—we finished a short article that we pitched to Air & Space Magazine just before we headed to the airport for our research trip in New Mexico. The editor responded positively the next day—the very next day. There existed a few matters to work out, including explaining the timeliness of our topic because what’s interesting to us regardless of when it happened needs to be both interesting and timely to magazine readers. Also, it’s too long, so the editor is going to shorten the piece. But there we were, fretting about the several projects we were juggling together and individually. Then, suddenly, we have an article scheduled for the August issue of Air & Space Magazine, which has a circulation of more than 200,000.
Earlier this year, we saw Pico Iyer at Chapman University. Iyer has written novels like Video Night in Kathmandu and is a regular contributor to Time, Harper’s, and the New York Review of Books. After his formal talk, Anna asked about his writing life and work across genres. He responded that he’s always juggling four to six projects of different sizes and at different stages. That way, he can work on book projects when he has long stretches of time to focus and on individual articles or revision when he’s traveling. Earlier that day, in a separate campus event, Doug Cooney, author of a children’s book about an entrepreneurial kid who starts a pet funeral business, had told a room overflowing with creative writing students that he always had thirteen ideas ready to go. Iyer and Cooney made it clear that they don’t do just one thing at a time.
Last month, Julianna Baggott posted a piece on her blog called, “When do you sleep? The truth.” Baggott has published 17 books, has four children, and holds a position at Florida State University. One of her secrets is genre-hopping, so she works on multiple projects, including her blog, seemingly simultaneously. It’s clear that she’s always writing or thinking about writing, that she works on her writing in her head while she’s doing other things, and that she’s open to opportunities and looking for writing triggers. She also talks about fuel—timing her caffeine, grazing and exercising to maintain energy, staving off an evening glass of wine until the day’s writing is done—and about her daily writing practice, even when she’s tired. She works hard and works hard consistently.
Lately, we’ve been talking between ourselves about how busy we’ve been. We moved to California three years ago, in part, to reorient our lives and focus on those novel projects we each already had underway. Doug is working on The Chief and the Gadget and recently revised the chapter outline in a way that clears a path for revising and filling in. Anna has planned to revise The Undone Years since receiving good suggestions from an agent last fall; she knows what she wants to do but hasn’t looked at the manuscript in three months. Lately, it’s been difficult to keep our hands on our individual projects as we’ve expanded the research and writing we do together.
Last summer, we launched Lofty Ambitions Blog and committed to a regular post every Wednesday. We also agreed that we’d take it seriously and see where these topics could lead us. We didn’t make plans, but we had ideas. At the end of this April, just over a month ago, we flew across the country to see space shuttle Endeavour not launch, then went back to Florida less than two weeks later to see the actual launch (see our photos and video). A week after that trip, we headed to New Mexico to walk in the footsteps of Manhattan Project scientists. (We posted photos of that trip last Wednesday, and we’ll have more on that amazing trip in future posts.) Had we not already had those plans for this past week, we likely would have returned to Florida to see Endeavour land and Atlantis roll out to the launch pad. Right now, we’re in Victoria learning about digital humanities. We like doing research together, and we’ve learned new ways to write as a couple through these experiences.
In another post, Julianna Baggott writes, “For me it came to this: If I didn’t write, I would resent my children. And if I didn’t have children in order to have more time to write, I’d resent my writing. I had to do both.” At those times when we feel rather frenzied, maybe that’s the type of balance we should keep in mind, when other things compete for our novel-writing time. If we didn’t follow the end of the space shuttle program, we might resent our novels—or regret what finishing the novels sooner rather than later had cost us. Any resentment we feel over not focusing consistently enough on our individual projects can’t be directed anywhere in particular.
Someone else has set the schedule for the end of the space shuttle program, so this year is our only chance at that. Last week, we were awarded media credentials for the last launch, scheduled for July 8, just one month from now. We want to be there, even though it’s an expense for which we hadn’t planned and even though we recently set end-of-summer goals for our novel manuscripts. These trips to Kennedy Space Center are intense, with unpredictable hours and opportunities. But we don’t have the option of getting around to it later. Though we’re not exactly sure how this research is adding up, we feel we need to stick with it.
We need to stick with our novels too. And so we tell ourselves that our pace will slow in August, that we’ll rethink our priorities at the end of the summer, and that we’ll re-establish our daily writing practice and our weekly writing nights together in the fall. In the meantime, we’ll do the best we can to keep talking through and revising our novels. If we hadn’t had our article picked up by Air & Space Magazine, maybe these things we tell ourselves wouldn’t be enough and we’d switch gears. But for us—for us right now—we’re figuring out the best balance we can manage between our writing as a couple and our writing projects as individuals. We have to do both.