Deb Vanasse | Writer, Interrupted

Last week, my husband and I made a trip we didn’t want to make, back to the Midwest to visit a friend who’s failing fast with early-onset Alzheimer’s. A good visit, but under incredibly sad circumstances. You’ve made trips like that, too, for all sorts of reasons. Life doesn’t stop. We make room.

I hauled my laptop and notes for my novel on the plane, in the rental car, to the house where we stayed in Indiana, to the Air BnB where we stayed in Illinois, and back on the plane to Seattle. Only once did I open the laptop, and that was on the flight home, when I did some freelance editing for a client.

“Beyond talent lie all the usual words,” James Baldwin said. “Discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.”

Endurance is all about hanging on, about not giving up despite interruptions, about not allowing interruptions to become excuses for giving up.

Having penned a few novels, I have a decent idea of what it will take to finish the one I’m working on now. At this point, I’m revising, switching up some of the structure and expanding the perspective. Each work day, I rise early and line-edit the previous day’s work, then forge ahead in the manuscript. If all goes well, I work through four to six pages a day.

At that rate, I’ll wrap up revisions by March. But there’s no insuring that all will go well. The quality of the work matters more than the self-imposed deadline. If I discover some huge blind spot, some way in which the manuscript is crying out for change, I’ll address it, schedule be damned.  The work interrupts itself.

I know writers who are rigid about momentum. In the throes of a project, they write daily—weekends, holidays, every day.

I’m not one of them. Weekends interrupt my writing. My husband works out of town, and I only see him on weekends. Holidays interrupt. Family visits, and I spend time with them. In theory, I could rise early to work on my book, but it’s hard to get up before a toddler who rises at 5 am.

Still, the work never stops. I park the story in my mind. For years, my trick for falling asleep has been to insert myself into that story-point and set my subconscious to work. Insights come in the morning (or in the middle of the night). They come when I’m walking through the woods and along the beach, or when I’m in the shower.

Maybe a writer who’s immersed in a story can’t really be interrupted. What matters, as Baldwin notes, is that we carry on.

Around and through interruptions, Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books with six different publishers. Among the most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds; and the “deeply researched and richly imagined” biography  Wealth Woman. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon, where she continues to write while doing freelance editing, coaching, and writing instruction.


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