This morning I am sitting in a cold house waiting for the repairman to arrive. My furnace went out Saturday afternoon. Naturally. Whether it's us getting sick, or the functional machines of our homes getting sick, it always seems to happen on a weekend or a holiday. At least this isn't a three-day weekend because of a holiday! At any rate, I do love my fireplace right now.
Which got me thinking along the lines of something that has cropped up in my mind over and over recently: getting back to basics. It's the time of year when we reflect on how we want to change our lives for the better. Paring down to what really counts seems important. In my case, I'm also reflecting on basics because I'm neck-deep in developing a book set in the wilds of the Ohio River Valley in the late 1700s, which sort of defines 'back to basics' in terms of survival.
But I'm no mountain woman. That's not the kind of basics I'm after in my personal life. I got a small hint of that sort of living when I was little, and that seems to have been enough for me. Our family vacations were almost always camping and fishing. My father was devoted to that life. We're talking old-fashioned heavy canvas tents with the posts you have to pound into the ground (at least we had a tent); and the campfire, which you use to cook, also being the only source of heat at night, other than your clothes and your sleeping bag. To this day I believe that I could still not only catch fish if I wanted to (I did a lot of that back then), but I could gut and clean them with dispatch, and perfectly, because I watched my father do it expertly at the side of a fast-running creek so many times. These are things to know in the world of survival basics.
By age eleven I'd had it, though. No more peeing in the woods for me. No more fending off hordes of mosquitoes in camp or along a river, and no more getting lost in the forest. (I never did have anything resembling a sense of direction, and there were no cell phones back then. Sometimes it got a little dicey.) Fresh-caught trout cooked over an open campfire are delicious, but that was not enough. At age eleven I declared myself emancipated from the camping life. Ah, joy! Ah, modern plumbing!
Nonetheless, here I am, all these years later, appreciating the value of what I learned back then. Not only because I have a sense memory that I can now use to relate to what daily life must have felt like to the settlers and Native Americans in the 1780s (essential to what I'm writing about), but because having had that experience did imbue me with an awareness of the value of basics.
So, while I don't want to get rid of my nice home and car and microwave and iPhone (and I'm really looking forward to that repairman arriving to fix my furnace), for my New Year's Resolution, I am going for basics. Basics in writing. Paring down to what really counts: 1) time spent writing, and 2) time spent reading. These are the two things that are most important, I believe, to honing style, knowledge, competence and voice. The other basic thing we writers need, of course, is heart, which makes the difference between good and great writing. That's where the unknowable comes in, though, and we just have to go with what we we've got.
I can't see myself giving up conferences and social media altogether, but those things are getting prioritized way lower on the list of what's important. At least for now.
Have you been thinking about what you want to change in your writing life in 2013? Are you launching any wild and exciting or weird writing adventures to propel you into the year? Or reflecting on what would mean most to you and how to get there?