The science fiction author Jerry Pournelle has been keeping a blog on the internet since before the word “blog” was invented. He simply called it a journal and it is located at www.jerrypournelle.com. Every so often, he’ll comment that “my day was devoured by locusts.” The phrase itself is derived from the Bible, specifically the book of Exodus. After several of the plagues had devastated the country, locusts beyond counting descended, eating everything that hadn’t been destroyed by the earlier disasters.
Jerry Pournelle is not suggesting that his day was a disaster when he writes that it was consumed by locusts. Instead, he means that his plans for the day—writing—never came to fruition. Instead, his day was taken up with one distraction after another.
Every so often I have a day like that. Take a certain Monday not all that long ago. Not much of a surprise that a Monday would be consumed by locusts, since Mondays are the days that murder the weekend.
Who likes Mondays?
I had good intentions for getting a bunch of writing done, despite the rejection on a short story over the weekend. Even published authors will still receive rejections. In fact, my rejections come nearly as frequently as they did before I got published.
If you’re an unpublished author, disabuse yourself of the notion that publishers will swoon over your every word just because you got a positive response from one editor. There are still hundreds of other editors who have never heard of you. They don’t care about your past success. All they care is that you give them something they want and need today. And it’s really all about the individual editor’s requirements just now: they need to fill a hole in their magazine that is 1200 words deep. If your story is 2000 words, guess what? You’ll get rejected. Your story simply didn’t fit. It had nothing to do with talent. But the editor won’t explain why you got rejected. You’ll still get the standard form letter.
In any case, my head was not in the best place that Monday morning. I had just sat down to start writing when my wife sent me a text. She had forgotten her lunch. Could I please take it to her?
So, up I got, put on my shoes, and headed across town to her school.
An hour later, I was back at my desk.
Then my daughter called. She didn’t feel well. Did I have the phone number of the doctor?
I looked it up. Just because my children are not at home, just because they are in college or high school, does not mean they cannot interrupt my day nearly as frequently as they would if they were home. They have cell phones.
Once again, I turned my attention toward my computer. The phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. She needed to tell me about a strange phone call she kept getting. “It’s some 800 number and they never leave a message. They must know when I’m at home because there were no calls like this when I was out of town.” Um, you were out of town. How would you know?
She wanted to call her phone company to see if they could do something about it. But she didn’t have their phone number. So could I find it for her?
She has a computer, but she doesn’t really know how to use it. And she knows I’m good at finding things like that, so a phone call to me was easier than using Google on her own.
Before I knew it, it was lunch time.
After lunch, I suddenly had emails that needed my response. Then there were more phone calls. Then the dog needed me to let it into the back yard so he could bark at the neighbor’s dogs. Then the dog wanted to be inside instead. After that, the cat decided that she didn’t have enough food in her bowl—she could see the top edge—so she meowed loudly and plaintively until I made it mound up again.
She has me well-trained.
Then I remembered that my other daughter needed me to wash her bedspread because the cat had thrown up on it last night.
There is more to writing than just pounding at the keyboard. Interruptions are deadly to the creative process. One needs to collect one’s thoughts, and formulate the words. It takes some doing to get oneself into the state of mind where writing happens. A certain amount of uninterrupted time is vital for the words to solidify in my thoughts and make their way from my brain to the computer screen.
But on this Monday, the locusts kept swooping down and eating the words. Every time I was about to write, an interruption chased my thoughts away.
On a good day, a day not consumed by locusts, it is easy to write my normal goal of two thousand words. On a day of locust swarms, I’m lucky to make even two hundred words.
By the time the locusts were finally gone, the day was also gone. I had to get in my car and go pick up my children from school. My wife would be home soon. And then I would have to make supper.
That particular Monday wasn’t a bad day. There were no disasters.
But as far as writing was concerned, as far as fulfilling the goals I had for the day, it just didn’t happen. Jerry Pournelle’s locusts were fat and happy. Me, not so much.