My off-the-cuff answer is that I don’t tend to regret much because every bonehead move has taught me something important.
While that’s totally true, something occurred to me yesterday when I was lying facedown on an air mattress with my dog’s paw wedged in my butt crack and the icy river turning my boobs to frostbitten bricks.
Once upon a time, I was represented by someone other than the amazing agent who currently reps me. This agent took me on for a project that didn’t end up selling, and as sometimes happens, seemed to lose interest after that.
I went through a long dry spell without much contact from my agent until I got an email from out of nowhere asking if I had any romantic comedy to pitch.
I didn’t, but since I write fast, I vowed to come up with something quickly. For two straight weeks, I brainstormed and noodled and drafted and polished and revised. I worked late into the night. I skipped road trips and family outings. I devoted everything I had to cranking out those manuscripts as fast as possible, determined to impress my agent and meet the arbitrary deadline I’d set for myself.
At the end of two weeks, I sent my agent the first three chapters and a synopsis for two proposed romantic comedies. Then I waited.
And waited. And waited. And waited.
A few months went by, and several “just wondering if you got it” emails went ignored. Finally, I caught my agent on the phone.
“Those romantic comedies,” I said breathlessly. “What did you think?”
“Oh,” said my agent. “I don’t know. Not really my thing, I guess.”
I wasn’t crushed by my agent’s words. Not really.
But what I did regret was missing those final weeks of my summer. I thought about the camping trips I could have taken, the hikes I missed, the outings with friends I gave up to focus every ounce of my time on those damn manuscripts and my self-imposed deadline.
I’m going to fast forward through the drawn-out saga that took place over the next few years, because that’s not the point of this story. Suffice it to say I left that agent, signed with the amazing Michelle Wolfson, and in February 2010, she landed me a three book deal for those same romantic comedies.
But did you notice those dates?
September 2007 – I was convinced that timing mattered. That I absolutely, positively, had to sacrifice every moment of those final weeks of summer to impress someone with my speed and efficiency.
But it wasn’t until February 2010 that anyone offered to buy those books. That urgency I felt way back then – all the stress and sacrifice and hurry-up-and-write-you-moron sentiment was completely in my head.
I thought of that yesterday when I tallied up my to-do list. Update website. Revise third contracted novel. Write a blog post. Clean my office. Write marketing copy for Sourcebooks. Comb the cat. Giggle about unintentional dirty euphemism.
Then I studied the list and considered which things absolutely, positively had to get done that day. I spent the morning doing them, then shucked my clothes, donned a bikini, blew up an air mattress, buckled the dog into her life jacket, and set out to float the river.
Because the thing is, summer will be gone in a few weeks. I can always find evenings and weekends to tackle that list, but spending time doing pleasurable things that can only occur during a small, precious window of time?
That has to happen now.
Besides, it’s all research for a humor writer. I have to appreciate the comedic value of the dog deciding thirty seconds into our float that paddling along beside me in her life jacket was an unsuitable means of transportation, and that she’d really rather hoist herself onto the air mattress, shake her soggy body, and spend the duration of the float standing on my back.
There’s also humor in the logistics of a solo float, which requires a half-mile walk lugging a limp air mattress, dragging a reluctant canine, and trying to pretend I’m not a 37-year-old woman walking through a busy shopping district in a bikini and ugly sandals.
That’s good stuff there. And that’s what I remind myself when I realize I’m loading myself with arbitrary deadlines and preparing to skip something fun in favor of tacking a to-do list.
Don’t sacrifice pleasure for tasks that can wait. Don’t miss moments you can’t make up later. Don’t forget that living is what gives writers the raw material we need to keep writing.
And don’t forget to clip your dog’s toenails before she uses your butt crack for balance.