Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 20, 2009

Is This a Beach or is This a Joke?

As we ate breakfast on the porch, my husband looked at my computer and asked, “So when can I read that book?”

“My goal is the end of August. It might still be a bit rough, but…”

He nodded. I’ve been working on this in various forms, stopping for various other projects, for years, but he knows I’m slow. Which is one reason why I like summer – almost everyone slows their pace, which matches my style of writing. Never fast. Leaving some spaces to dream.

I just finished a quite pretty draft of chapter ten, and like a kid with their first birthday in the double digits, I’m psyched. I expect what I’m now calling Conversations with the World to leave home around age, I mean chapter, eighteen, so I’m past the half way mark. The final chapters are all done in rough forms, so it’s rearranging and throwing out some wreckage and polishing what’s good that lies ahead. I’m fairly confident that this time through the foreword movement makes sense, though who can ever get those promises, on roads that have never yet been taken? So it’s all word by word, page and page, with lots of hope thrown in.

Working, taking breaks. I recently read Loree’s lgburns
blog with some great quotes from the book Creative Nonfiction, and in her reply to my comment she noted how it seemed helpful to read a good book on craft, but was it really procrastination? Oh that fuzzy line between inspiration and procrastination.

But when the clouds disappeared and I decided to swim, I was pretty sure that was not procrastination. After all, I want to write, but not with every joint making creaking sounds. Moving my whole arms, not just my fingers and elbows, felt good. Plus I got to see a toddler in a pink bathing suit running in circles on the sand, chattering and singing to herself. Which is kind of what it’s all about.

When I was driving back home down the rough road, a stranger flagged me down.

“I’m not from here,” he said. As in he-ah. “I’m from Texas, staying at the hotel ov-ah there. I took a walk and saw the sign.”

I nodded.

“So is that a joke? Is there really a beach?”

I laughed. “Yeah, it looks kind of unofficial, but there really is a lake, just a few minutes walk.” (You can’t really read the scrawl beneath the evergreen picture, about Xmas trees for sale.)

“I thought it might be a joke,” he repeated, then walked on while I drove out.

It really is a lovely lake that lets me float on my back, and reminds me that it’s good to spend a bit of time staring at the sky. It’s where, long ago, my daughter and her friends used to fling Barbies and plastic dinos and try to catch them as they drifted through the water.

When I told my husband I’d have a draft of my novel by the end of summer, I don’t want him saying, “Is this a joke?” Not that he would. But I mean I don’t want it to look too much like a hand-scrawled sign. I want him to be sure that there really is a lake.


  1. I totally get what it means to make sincere promises on hand-scrawled signs, and because you’re slow about getting there, to have others wonder if you’re fooling around or joking. And I also understand how others might want (need?) to see tangible destination points — as well as interim markers of progress. I get all that, and as I move forward every day at what some might consider a snail’s pace, I try to stay centered, all the while wondering how I can better navigate between my goals and the standards of measurement imposed on them by others.

  2. Of course there will be a lake. It just might not be open for swimming precisely at the end of August.

  3. A lake AND a book. I’d like to take a dip in both!

  4. The snail’s pace may be what we’ve been given, and I’ve (mostly!) learned to embrace it. We’re going to get to that lake, Melodye, and as Kelly suggests below, the lake is more important than the “when.” We might as well try to enjoy our crawl.

  5. Thank you for the faith and wisdom, Kelly! Yes, the lake is what matters.

  6. Water and words: my favorites.

  7. I love your description of writing/revising. BEST of luck getting it ready by summer’s end. 🙂

  8. Excellent post! Breaks are so important, and when they include toddlers in pink bathing suits singing to themselves, they are all the better.
    It’s been so chilly up here, I doubt I’ll make it to the beach once. Weeding will have to be my away-from-the-computer, outdoor exercise.

  9. Sometimes the hand-lettered signs are the most reliable, I find. But they do require faith. Speaking of which, I believe in that lake of yours, Jeannine! Here’s hoping it fills up by late August.

  10. Thank you, Jill! Maybe it’s the heat, but I’m indulging in that chapter-11 is coming together feeling of being on a down slope.

  11. It’s been nippy here, too, which is why when there’s been sun, I’ve given way to the call of the beach. Can count the times on one hand. I’m sure your garden looks much better than mine — but — it’s that semi-social need, too, even if it’s just shouts of Marco Polo in my ears.

  12. Thanks for your faith, Amy; it means a lot. I know there will be iffy edges, but at least the thing should be swimmable.

  13. I’m writing at a snail’s pace, too. I’m glad you’re pleased with your progress and hope you get time to enjoy lots of fun days in the lake! Good luck!

  14. I think staring at the sky and meandering can sometimes be the perfect route to the lake. Today while hanging sheets in the hot sun, I found a way to break up the log-jam in my chapter 11. 🙂

  15. As you know, Massachusetts has not been such a sunny place this summer, so I try to catch the beach afternoons when they come! Good luck with your snails pace — we need snail t-shirts!

  16. I totally agree with your sky-staring theory. Your path — wow — you get to sleep on great-smelling sheets AND find a new path.
    And I’m sillily excited that you’re on your chapter 11 while I’m messing with mine. I totally think that bodes well for us both. Here’s to good luck on chapter 12!

  17. “And I’m sillily excited that you’re on your chapter 11 while I’m messing with mine. I totally think that bodes well for us both. Here’s to good luck on chapter 12!”
    Jeannine–I was thinking this exact thing, but couldn’t express it so perfectly!

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