On writing and dreaming
Last December, I did something I’d never done before: I checked into a hotel to write.
My plan was to enter the hotel room in the afternoon and not leave until I had completed a brand-new short story. I would order room service, coffee, stay up all night if I had to.
This worked for J.K Rowling, though I wasn’t thinking about Rowling when I hatched my plan. I was thinking of the weeks ahead, weeks in which I’d soon be receiving final edits from my editor on my forthcoming novel, Supervision. Then a new semester of teaching would begin. Then the promotional machine for my first novel, a machine I’d mostly have to fuel myself: advanced reading copies, guest blog posts, interviews, giveaways, readings. Miles and miles to go.
I didn’t know when, in those full upcoming weeks, I would find time to write.
Usually I write first thing in the morning for a couple hours. But now I was distracted and worried. I had a million emails, lots of loose ends to tie up.
But I also wanted to remember who I am, how I got here in the first place: a girl, a ghost, a train. A story.
Last year, my young son insisted that my Christmas gift—procured through his emissary, Grandma—had to be a pair of sparkly silver shoes. I had to have them. “She really, really needs them,” he insisted. So he gave me a pair of sparkly, glittery silver shoes—the wildest, most fanciful pair I own.
And do you know what happened a few short weeks after Christmas? Harper Voyager accepted Supervision, my first novel, a book I’d been working on for more than seven years.
In other words, one of my wildest, most fanciful dreams came true.
This year, my son insisted my Christmas gift had to be a giant blue travel coffee mug. I had to have it. “She really, really needs it,” he insisted. So I now have on my desk a rather wonderful giant ceramic blue-and-stainless-steel travel coffee mug.
I think my son’s gifts are a little prophetic. And I think I should pay attention to them.
Last year, my dreams came true. This year, I have work to do, work that requires travel and late nights and coffee in a special mug: the hard work of promoting a first novel and the even harder work of finding time for new writing.
And the hardest work of all: making time to think and dream.
My plan almost worked.
I started writing a new story, an idea that had come to me as I drove through the mountains to the hotel: a title, a first line, then a second line. A story about graffiti and police, a small town and a girl. I ordered room service. I drank wine.
And I discovered that the hotel had an indoor, spring-fed swimming pool open 24 hours.
In the stillness of the sleeping hotel, I wrote 10 pages of a new world I’m very excited about, a story I can’t get out of my head or out from under my skin (and that I hope to share quite soon). And then I went swimming alone at 2:00 a.m.
I floated. I thought. I dreamed.
That’s important for writing, too: the dreaming part. It’s the part I often forget about—the silent time, when ideas come, slinking out from behind pillars, resolving from shadows, slipping into the water. . . .
I didn’t finish my story. Not yet. But I will.
I don’t know if I believe in New Year’s resolutions. But last year, I wrote something down—not just a dream, but specific, concrete steps to try to make a long-held dream come true (submit my novel to small literary presses, try a new round of agents, etc.). I wrote those steps down.
Making a plan works. What also works? Dreaming.
Sometimes I forget that we have to make time and space for both. Make plans but don’t forget to dream. Go swimming, alone and until dawn.
Alison Stine is the author of the young-adult novel Supervision, three books of poetry, and numerous essays. A Solo Mom, she lives with her son in the foothills of Appalachia. You can follow her on Twitter at @AlisonStine.
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