I’ve always liked Labor Day. It’s a great holiday: it’s non-sectarian, non-denominational, and non-serious. It doesn’t honor any specific individual, or commemorate a solemn event or date. It’s designed to recognize the American worker which, in America, is just about everyone, and what better way to recognize work than to get the day off from it?
Labor Day is the last gasp of summer, the weekend when shore houses are closed up for the season and colleges open for the semester You can’t get a rental van for love or money, and I’d like even a single percent of the tolls taken on the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s the first official weekend of high school and college football, and the first unofficial weekend to start rustlin’ up the tweeds for fall wardrobes at the local mall.
Being a nerdy girl, I loved Labor Day because it meant the beginning of school. This was hardly a popular sentiment, so I groused along with everyone else, but I was always relieved when summer was done. (I don’t do well with summer; I can turn the color of a boiled lobster in fifteen minutes of sun. I get heat rash, my hair fuzzes, and I’m allergic to mosquito bites. You can understand why my constitution was so disappointing to my California-beach-bred parents.) Going back to school meant the nerdy-girl-joy of new school supplies, and the chance to be first to check out the new books in the school library. Labor Day is the real New Year’s Day for kids, with a fresh start and plenty of resolutions.
I still have that feeling. Part of that, I know, comes from being perpetually on the school year calendar, first as a student myself, then working at colleges and universities, and finally with kids of my own. After fifty years in the system, it’s a hard habit to break. Yet there’s no denying that as the days get shorter, I write better and longer, and the cooler temperatures make me more energized and more productive.
I’ve been fascinated to learn how my fellow-Wenches write. There seem to be as many processes and conditions for writing as there are writers, and the bottom line has to be “whatever works for you.” There’s no right or wrong way, really. I have one friend (I won’t divulge names to protect the not-so-innocent) who writes by night and sleeps all day, and likes drive-thru anything because no one will see that she’s always in her nightgown. Another friend is a retired air force officer, and maintains a schedule with military precision: two thousand words by lunch without fail, then eighteen holes of golf in the afternoon with her husband.
I’m afraid I lean more towards the slatternly, Oscar Madison-style of writing. As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t have an office, or even a desk, let alone an ergonomic chair. I write on a laptop primarily on the bed, surrounded by wheezing cats and research books bristling with post-its. But I also write at ice rinks, in waiting rooms, and in cars, on an AlphaSmart, on the backs of checks, on fast-food napkins, and store receipts. I don’t outline, or use charts, or notecards. My proposals, while useful for getting advances, generally bear as little relation to my final manuscript as MapQuest directions do to, well, anywhere. My story floats around in my head while I’m folding laundry or chopping vegetables, and by the time I finally write it down, it just seems to be there.
I’m not much of a re-writer, either. I’ve never been very good at maneuvering that fine line between re-writing and over-writing. I’ve found through bitter experience that the more I mess with my writing, the stiffer and more ponderoso it becomes until it just goes belly-up into literary road kill. As a result, my manuscripts are largely first-draft babies, launched into the FedEx box in much the same state they were conceived.
Susan/Sarah divided writers into tortoises and hares, slow and steady versus speedy output at deadlines. I’m afraid I’m that makes me the worst kind of mad March hare, bolting through the woods and hoping I don’t run headlong into the trees. Last year I wrote two historicals, plus the much longer DUCHESS, and I seem to be on pace to repeat that this year, with a Christmas novella squeezed in there somewhere, too. Ho-ho-ho, indeed.
But back to Labor Day. Like at least half of my fellow Wenches, I’m under the deadline gun, so today I won’t be celebrating with legislated lounging. But I mean to embrace the promise and opportunities of a new season, and I wish them to you as well.
Viva la Labor Day!