The Perils of Writing Your Novel in the Summer

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Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

It’s hot outside. Really hot. And you need to figure out a secondary character for the third chapter that will better balance out your main character’s conflict when she moves back home. Oh and the cat’s hot and wants to hang out on your lap because you are, in fact, cooler than him. And you haven’t seen people in a couple days. Like real people. With real conversation. It’s enough to make you want to pay to go to a public pool again, though you haven’t been to one since the fourth grade.

There is a danger for writers– a great danger– in placing all hope and time in the summer. There are many who do it, particularly those who teach during the rest of the year. With many writers dependent on the money they make during traditional semesters, it’s clear that the summer time is both a chance to break away from everyone and produce great art, but also a chance for introversion, struggle and lonesomeness. For others, the kids are out of school and the summer is a compilation of trips and summer camps. In this case, writing time is dropped down to even fewer days– only when the kiddos are shipped off to 4-H or grandparents. For those who work year-round, the summer time may simply be the time of distraction from writing.

This season for me, personally, makes it hard to focus. There’s that barbeque, that hiking trip, or that couple up the block trying to get you to come hang out with the rest of the neighbors who you’ve never actually met before. There’s the family beach trip, the beautiful weather, the restaurant specializing in cocktails. In some ways, the sunlight alone is reason enough to not write. But you must, because you’ve decided that this is your chance.

Take it from someone who wrote a fiction thesis in a summer without air conditioning– it sucks and balance during the year is more important. More than likely, you’ll perform better, attach yourself to greater inspiration and avoid the dangers of loneliness if you don’t depend on one season.

But, we’re quickly approaching the full-on summertime, so this advice may not be helpful now. So, if it doesn’t help to wish your year went differently, then instead I can offer these tips:

1. Hydrate. Wear deodorant. Try to remain hygienic and human during this phase. Remember to move. Sitting too long can destroy your lower back. And your sanity.

2. Let yourself do fun things. You don’t need to go to every event, but they’re still important. So much of life can feel like nothing but time away from your writing, but real life interaction (i.e. not social media interaction) is what gets you through this.  By all means– go to the beach if you can and get some Vitamin D. Let this be your time to plan your novel in your brain.

3. In addition to your family members, pick three people who you love desperately who will keep you connected to the world. Let them be your contacts with social life. You can even tell them their important role and they can put in effort to pull you out of your cave too.

4. When your fiction world overwhelms you, don’t be afraid to see a movie. They can be life altering moments of popcorn, air conditioning and escape from your plot.

5. Here’s the last one, and it might be personalized more for myself. Others would disagree: Find your favorite writing advice book, whether it’s essays or exercises or a podcast and follow it religiously. Use it as your break away from writing. Right now, I’m focused on Tin House’s The Writer’s Notebooks. They are so useful and can help to focus me (especially this shockingly useful chapter on writing sex scenes). What’s your most valuable writer’s guide in this dire time of verbs, nouns and summer months?

Please note though, for those people who write each year for National Novel Writing Month, writing a book over a summer sounds like children’s play (though I’m not entirely on board with NaNoWriMo myself). And for those people who are truly capable of writing every day for two hours, distractions over the summer sound like no big deal. In general, writerly advice is problematic, because everyone with a novel in their mind produces it in a way that the formulas do not apply. So, maybe the above doesn’t work for you. Which leads me to my question: What does work for you when writing in the summer?

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