I'm having an affair.
No, not like that, but instead of doing what I should be doing some mornings, instead of working on what is expected of me as part of a household that requires food and shelter and money for frozen yogurt, DVDs and telephone service; instead of being a productive member of society, I'm spending time with a retiring jazz musician in New York who reflects on his life for me and talks about his hestitation to move back to the South. He regales me with stories of traveling through that dusty swath of Delta during a time when he and his band mates weren't allowed to eat in certain restaurants or stay in many hotels. And then some mornings I spend what should be productive work time with a young man who is coming to terms with being a father before he'd planned to, and his girlfriend who is likewise staring wide-eyed at her future as a mother. And I'm almost too ashamed to tell you about the lake where I spend mornings bandying about with the locals.
(I don't know if any of my editors read this blog or not, but if so, let me assure you that your project will be finished on time. I don't make a habit of missing deadlines.)
These are all characters and locations in novels and short stories I'm working on and, though the nameplate on my desk might read WRITER, spending time on anything but what has been specifically asked for, with a fee attached, just feels wrong. Sure, these manuscripts may sell. Eventually. They may bring in advances and royalties to keep my family fat with school uniforms, Pop-Tarts, books, car insurance and Christmas gifts, but that's a gamble, isn't it?
I write these stories because I have to. They eat at me until I can get them on paper, and some of them even turn out pretty good. These are the ones I think are salable and that I dream of seeing on a bookstore shelf one day. It's a dream the way the lottery is a dream for some, or playing time in the NFL is for others. Do I think it will happen one day? Sure. Someday. But I don't have a timeline the way I do for a newspaper profile or magazine feature. There is no guaranteed paycheck with the conclusion of a short story.
I'm lucky to have the time to work on stories I make up. I'm fortunate that my days aren't filled with meetings and conference calls and site visits. I'm free to lean way back in my chair, put my feet up on my desk, and imagine where it is Agnes goes after she leaves that bookstore, or whether or not I should just do away with Lucas Spoke for good.
Now, I'll certainly have to put my feet back on the floor again to get down to business and make those phone calls, meet up with a source and craft those thousand words that follow a byline. Time cards wait for no man, whether real or made up.
Business is business.
The trick is balancing the business of writing with the love of writing. It's a plot I'm still working my way through - one that includes stolen mornings, intrigue, devotion and duplicity - and I can't wait to see how it might end.