In the 1990’s when I was attending a course, the instructor asked us asked to define in writing, our desired perfect week. We were asked to describe in glorious detail, events and activities of each day from Sunday morning to Saturday evening. It was an exercise in clarifying personal aims as a part of goal-setting. The theory was that dreaming is the first step to being.
Day two of my perfect week involved waking up on a tropical island in the Great Barrier Reef. After feasting on a sumptuous breakfast, I strolled down to my cabana at the water’s edge to write. The week consisted mainly of writing a novel on my laptop, in between sipping tea and gazing out across the pale blue waters. A gentle breeze rustled the branches of a line of palm trees and the bright sun accentuated the brilliant white line of sand the green grass and the blue-green ocean. When the heat intensified, I slipped into the pool or reclined on a lounge chair beneath an enormous umbrella.
During my ultimate week I crammed as many activities and milestones in as possible. While I didn’t want to waste precious days on an author’s tour, I scripted a phone call from my publisher confirming appearance on a publicity tour for the following month.
My dream life included glorious views and sunny days spent pursuing rewarding creative goals. I carefully described a life that had the perfect balance of joy, creativity and meaning.
Within 15 months of completing the course I had actually experienced almost every part of my perfect week. I’d had a book published, enjoyed a publicity tour complete with chauffeur driven stretch limousines to collect me at the airport, television appearances and enormous suites in grand hotels and yet, it took more than 20 years to tick off the last item; an afternoon spent in a cabana, located between a poolside lounge and a tranquil, pale blue ocean.
The dream was very different from reality. Over the years I discovered that books are best written in rooms where my surroundings are less interesting than the screen before me. When the view is enticing and ever-changing, precious little writing is actually done. Grey, dreary days spent in a room with chalk coloured walls and an empty teacup on the desk beside me while I sit hunched over a black keyboard, without music, visitors or phone calls to distract me from the task, is much more productive than the idyllic dream.
Even if I stand up momentarily to stretch my legs, I glimpse an A2 sized piece of paper on the floor that is covered in post-it notes, outlining the chapters, ideas, statistics and marketing ideas of the book I’m working on. Having completed ten books in the past two decades, I was staying on Hayman Island recently when I glimpsed the cabana from my poolside lounge. I took the photo above as soon as I recognised that this was the final piece of my imagined and carefully scripted seven days of bliss.
Although the writing environment I currently have is less distracting and more productive than I once dreamed of, I have access to this beautiful cabana in my mind. On closer examination, I’ve noticed that the shutters on my dream cabana are the same colour as my office walls.
As the 1990’s faded, publicity tours for authors have become shorter, more cost-effective and much less salubrious. Budgets were tightened so that television appearances were mostly local, which meant driving myself to the studio. Radio interviews were conducted on the phone, as were magazine stories and research for blogs.
These days when people ask “What is it like to be a writer?” I remember a scene from the film Wonder Boy, where Rip Torn, dressed in the classic writer’s turtleneck sweater and wool jacket, is delivering a speech to a crowded auditorium. Staring out at row upon row of eager faces, he begins with the line
“I . . . am a writer,” fading off to resounding applause. He then continues in his most grandiose tone by asking the question “So how does one get from the seed of inspiration to the far flung shores of accomplishment?” This scene made me laugh so hard that I memorised the whole speech before venturing out to purchase a turtleneck sweater. The 1990’s might be a distant memory but the day may yet come when I find myself standing on a podium before a sea of expectant faces, delivering that ridiculous, pretentious speech. If I can deliver the whole discourse without once laughing, I’ll have earned my BA in BS.
© 2014 Paul Fenton-Smith