If a Tree Falls…

Post Date: May 31st, 2010

If a tree falls in your yard, blocking any egress down your driveway, and rattling the whole house in the process, should you stay at home and rest?


No matter how feverish as a writer’s passion might be, writing demands rests. Stops. Pauses. I thought for weeks that once the manuscript was done, I’d launch into full-blown revisions, hacking away. I know better from past projects, but still, my zeal to see this manuscript finished is strong. You can believe in something so much you lose all good sense.

Last week I did a full read-through (okay, except for the last 25 pages). I resisted the temptation to nitpick, and I caught various errors in facts and characterization. I made these general and small revisions.

Then Friday night, the wind blew hard, the lightning flashed, and the trees swayed. Birch, oak, poplar, maple, and hickory all rocked back and forth. And then came the crash, sending us to the front door to figure out what the heck was that…We heard what sounded like glass breaking…which turned out to be windows and metal rattling in the front room. A sudden gust had blown a hickory tree down, its splintery, rotten core exposed.

I told my husband it was a message to me to slow down and stop scurrying. Us crazy writers, so stunned by the symbolism of wind and flora–is there anything that live free of our themes?

The manuscript is breathing softly in its sleep. It’s vacationing in the hands of various readers. Their gut reactions will tell me whether overhaul or tweaks are needed, and where. And when I resurface from this mental vacation, I’ll see this manuscript more clearly. According to Janet Friedman, having this attitude will help me become a successful writer–one not defined by others’ definitions of success. The very act of blogging shows a passion for the process that no rejection, no disinterest, no chirping crickets can displace.

Oh, but durn it all, there’s still another pressure besides my passion to keep moving — that vaulting ambition, the Rusty Old American Dream. It says, “Strike while the iron is hot! Don’t you want to query while such-and-such an agent is at this conference? Don’t you want to send out a manuscript by such-and-such a date?” The sales gal in me has some thoughts on the matter of self-marketing.

And while marketing doesn’t equal evil, however artists might equate money with Satan, the manuscript has to rest. I need to hear from those with honest and fair critiques to make. Those who can answer basic questions like, Do you want to keep reading this? Did you laugh or cry?

So what to do with all my excess energy? I have four short stories in various stages of revision and submission. My big goal is a collection, and I’m only a few pages shy of that. During this time I can write new drafts and prepare new packets for magazines.

I await a sign. Right now, it’s a tree in the driveway. Tomorrow, it might be three readers saying, “Query!” or “Mmmm…try yet another draft.” We shall see. I know the value of super-slo-mo, of reading each word aloud and pruning every phrase.

When the man comes to haul away the hickory, he’ll use it to smoke his barbecue. Better the wood be used right away than turn to sap, useless in a year for fire wood.

You find the additional metaphors there. I’m resting.


  1. Some days I feel rather scattershot as well.

    And staying home was the only answer!

  2. Diane, I think there’s so much pressure for us authors to be “out and about” — whether physically or virtually — and we both know that good writing comes from silent retreat and thought. Keeping that sacred space alive is the writer’s daily challenge.