Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss


August 27, 2008

Now that the hazy, lazy days of summer are morphing into one gigantic Back to School Sale, it’s time to review what has or hasn’t been accomplished over the last ten weeks and offer a definitive answer to the question: how do writers work in the summertime?

Now, I know that plenty of people work in the summertime. Most people, even. Students (and, one assumes, snowshoe instructors) are really the only people whose summertime months are likely to be work-free.

I’m no longer a student and I’ve never even met a snowshoe instructor, but the truth is that I resent working when third graders don’t have to. As soon as school is out in June, somewhere deep inside I’m convinced that I too deserve to be on vacation until Labor Day.

But I’m not, of course. Even though I’m writing this sitting by a pool, outdoors, barefoot, in a bathing suit, a tall to-go cup of iced coffee at the ready — I am not on vacation.

I’m not! Really! Ignore the evidence of your eyes! I Am Working. I must be working, because I’m combining words into sentences into paragraphs that have to be finished by a deadline. For the Writer, that qualifies as a long hard day at the office — no matter how many times she dips her feet in the water and applies sunscreen in between bouts of inspiration.

Speaking of offices: my office, like the office of many writers I know, is in my house. This is the same house in which I live, and in which my children live. And my children, being children and therefore students by profession, can (unlike me) legitimately be said to be on vacation, all summer long.

This is not a recipe for extreme productivity on my part. Meals and snacks must be prepared. Clean clothes and towels must be produced on a regular basis. Daily trips to the pool must be planned and executed. I must work nevertheless. I have a book deadline not exactly looming, but imminently looming. I have other projects in various “stages of development,” as we say in the trade, and there are e-mails to answer and guest blogs to write, which brings us back to the question at hand: How do writers work in the summertime?

Does it require superhuman levels of energy and concentration? The ability to multitask? A bottomless well of inspiration? No, my friends. Those are all icing on the cupcake. The key to poolside writing success is having the right equipment. Here’s my list of essential summertime writing supplies:

1) The Typing Device. Many people are willing to lug a laptop computer with them everywhere they go. I am not. One, it’s too heavy when I’m also lugging bags of beach towels and coolers full of nutritious snacks. Two, I’m not stupid enough to bring a piece of expensive and delicate equipment to a neighborhood pool full of sticky-fisted toddlers holding juice boxes.

My solution: The Alphasmart NEO. It’s light, relatively cheap, and you can type on it. I’m typing on it right now. Compared to a laptop, it’s indestructible. Plus, it has no Internet surfing abilities. Therefore, when working on the NEO I cannot ever, even once, visit Facebook and play Word Twist. This is more helpful than you can imagine.

Sadly, to my knowledge the NEO is not actually submersible. I don’t recommend attempting to use it while paddling around the pool.

The NEO, while nearly indestructible, is unfortunately not submersible.

2) My BlackBerry. This technological marvel lets me get poolside phone calls and e-mails from my agent and editors, which is excellent. And from my friends, which is very pleasant but distracting. It also allows me to check my friends’ Facebook status updates, which is bad, but it does not allow me to play Word Twist. This is purely to the good.

3) Coffee. During the summer, a large pot of strong French-press coffee is prepared at home every morning and poured in my tallest travel mug, for easy transport to the pool. This keeps me awake for large portions of the day — a mixed blessing, since I consider naps to be an essential part of the creative process. However, there is no comfy place to take a nap at the pool. Such hardships must be cheerfully borne.

Umbrella tables make nice poolside desks. Note iced coffee close at hand.

4) Snacks. These run the gamut. Today our menu includes hummus, chips, apricots, cherries and Pirate’s Booty. Some days there are no snacks and the Writer must walk to the pizza parlor and bring back pizza for the clamoring hordes. This requires far too much effort and sun exposure, and is to be avoided. If at all possible, bring snacks from home.

This is how it goes. Tasty snacks, iced coffee, occasional e-mail reading, and now and then a few sentences of the work in progress are typed into the NEO. The pool itself beckons every hour or so for a refreshing dip. Sometimes the Writer thinks plot points will be found resting patiently on the bottom of the deep end, and she goes looking for them. Pennies and broken goggles are generally her only reward.

If only plot points could be found at the bottom of the pool.

Yet, as demonstrated above, with the right gear it is possible, though difficult, for the Writer to work in the summertime. As for how she can possibly work during the autumn, when the leaves demand continuous raking up, or during the winter holiday season, with all its shopping and decorating and round-the-clock cookie-baking — these questions will be answered at a future, cooler date. Right now, I feel like taking one more dip in the water…

MARYROSE WOOD is the author of Why I Let My Hair Grow Out and How I Found the Perfect Dress (Berkley Jam), which follow the adventures of Morgan Rawlinson, a snarky Connecticut teen who moonlights as a half-goddess from the days of Irish lore. Maryrose also wrote My Life: The Musical and Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love (Delacorte). Visit her at

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