How I Spent My Summer, 2017 Edition

I was not on vacation, even thought I was away from home for an entire month.

I seem to be unwittingly developing a habit for having “working summers”.

Despite occasionally going on what could be considered conventional vacations, some even involving trips abroad, over the past few years, I’ve not found much relaxation during my summers.

Part of this is my own doing – such as the years I spent my summer working on rewrites for my WIP, or researching for the next novel I plan to write, which is set in Ancient Greece.

A larger part of my recent summers, however, have ended up filled with work related to untenable life circumstances.  Such as the summer I had to unpack after being renovicted from my apartment and forced to move.

Or last summer, when I provided care to my ailing father, who later passed away in December.

This latter point came to influence how I spent my summer this year, which was without question the workingest one I’ve passed to date.

When telling people of my plans, I grew fond of saying I had three jobs to do during the month I spent in my hometown in Nova Scotia.  These three jobs included the following:

1) Housework

Living room of the house I grew up in, emptied of all furniture and belongings

When my dad passed away, he was still living in the same house I grew up in.

Although not a huge house, it was full of personal effects, both those of my dad himself, who wasn’t really one for getting rid of things, and even some belonging to me.

These were childhood items that I never bestirred myself to do anything about, even though my childhood days are now far behind me, and I haven’t lived in that house since I was 19 years old.

It’s not an easy task to clear away the remnants of someone’s life – packing it up in boxes and bags and making like it never existed at all.  Throwing away or give away, but for a few key artifacts and findings of personal use, everything the person spent the best years of their life working to create.

It’s also not easy because it’s friggin’ hard work to turn out the contents of every cupboard and closet and drawer and crawlspace.  Especially those that haven’t been bothered with for some time and bear a mantle of dust to prove it.  And especially during the sweltering heat of summer.

It takes a lot of possessions to fill a three-bedroom, two-storey house, and over the month of August almost all of them passed through my hands.

And weigh on my heart even still.

2) Work work

When I arrived at my mother’s house, which was where I stayed for the duration of my trip, the first words out of my mouth were, “I came here to work.”

But because I came with three different tasks, I need a way to distinguish between them all when reporting my actions to other people.

Work work” became my verbal shorthand for my day job, which I needed to keep doing remotely for at least for part of my time away in order to leave for a whole month to begin with.

Since a large portion of my job is administrative, my physical presence isn’t always required so long as I can connect to my office computer via VPN.  According to the agreement I made with my boss, I would put in at least a week’s worth of work from afar.

Luckily, my boss was amenable to my stretching out the hours of that week into a series of half-days.

Lucky also the large number time zones in North America, with my office being on the west coast of Canada and my location on the east coast.

This meant that I could put in a partial day at my dad’s house and finish in time do my half-day of work work at almost the same time I would’ve showed up at my office.

For two weeks straight I worked this disjointed double shift, which made for some very long days indeed, particularly given what else I was up to while on “vacation”.

3) Work-in-progress

Revising while on vacation: sticky notes of chapter numbers, marking my progress

Years ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about my efforts in writing while on vacation, the moral of this particular piece being that a) I completely failed at it, and b) if a writer truly wants to get writing done, they’d best just stay their behind home.

I’ve since come to discover, however, that revising while on vacation – especially a vacation that isn’t truly a vacation at all – is, no pun intended, an entirely different story.

When I told my mother I’d come to work, I’d already vowed that however hard I laboured on behalf of other people, I’d do at least and equal amount of work for myself.

This past July, I completed a read-through of my novel’s second draft, in the process making extensive line edits and notes on parts that need further revision.  At the same time, I started recruiting writers to join a critique group, which will begin meeting and workshopping each member’s novel later this month.

With each of my novel’s 31 chapters requiring some level of attention, the month of August was not very much time at all to get ready for the start of the critique group.

And so, I spent my evenings revising my novel – after six hours of clearing out my dad’s house; after three-and-a-half hours working remotely at my day job.

Sometimes these revision sessions lasted for two hours.  Usually, they ran four.  There was not one evening during the entire month that I went to bed before midnight.  Most nights, I stayed up until 1:00pm.

I arrived in Nova Scotia having already completed draft 3 of the first three chapters.  Chapters 4 and 5 required significant rewriting, which each took days to complete.

After that, I aimed to get through a chapter a night, with an ultimate goal – which I achieved – of making it to chapter 20 in advance of my return trip.

My summer, as it were, thus complete, I’m now gearing up for my goings-on of the fall.

How did you spend your summer?  Was it work-filled?  Leisurely?  A combination of both?  Tell me about it in the comments.

(Image source #1, #2 and #3 – J.G. Noelle)

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7 thoughts on “How I Spent My Summer, 2017 Edition

  1. It must have been a strange and sad experience going through your father effects, Janna. Though perhaps a period of contemplation and maybe inspiration.

    A few years ago I managed to complete my second novel during a week in a B&B on England’s east coast, but only because it was a dreadfully dull town 🙂

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    • It was sad, Roy, to have to be rid of the artifacts of his life. But it was also nice to be able to go through them all, as time consuming as it was, and to remember, and in some cases to laugh. The old photos were especially pleasing. My dad was quite the snappy dresser back in the 70s!

      That’s amazing that you wrote a novel in a week! I know I could never manage that, no matter how boring the town.

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  2. We are in the process of dejunking the house, so we can sell it, so we can move to a retirement community two-bedroom apartment (from a four bedroom house with basement and garage), so I have a bit of understanding.

    Our intent is NOT to leave the task to our kids (we are older parents, and they are just getting themselves established in life). It is unfair, IMHO, to leave messes for your kids, but after a certain point in age or illness, the will and the energy to dispose of your own stuff must go completely. It’s bad enough already, and my husband only retired two years ago. So much STUFF!

    The decisions are wrenching, too. So many memories. Even if you’re diligent, it gets hard to store pictures of what you’re discarding. The problem is that every day that we live we gather more memories!

    I’m amazed you have continued writing, especially since I know what a long and tough project you’ve tackled. Kudos!

    I can’t do it your way – I revise as I go, immediately after writing, and don’t go back for more than a touch or two – but it is a different mindset when you do a novel in drafts, and it sounds as if you have used your time wisely.

    Like

    • I think that dejunking for someone else is probably the best motivator for doing so for oneself. I returned home to my own place – just a one-bedroom apartment that is already decidedly not junky, I will add – and was ready to ditch everything. All my various possessions felt like a noose around my neck and an immoveable burden on my back.

      I’ve since calmed my zealousness, for any a simple life does require some necessaries. As well, as you mention, the memories are there and they are valuable. You have a great task ahead of you with your house, especially with the limitations of your health. It is good of you to think of your kids in this regard, but in some ways, I can see why some people who are still able don’t bother. I think one needs to be of a minimalist and not overly sentimental mindset to do this work most effectively.

      I find revising much easier than writing. Once the words are on the page, I actually enjoy reworking them. It feels like smoothing the rough edges off of the statue. That said, I do try to produce as clean and fulsome a first draft as possible in order to give me a solid foundation to work from and to not have me wondering what the heck I meant by that half-formed idea I included. I’m not really into TKs (space-holders) for that reason either.

      Liked by 1 person

      • People who are able and don’t bother are leaving the mess for someone else. Period. There is no other answer. Even if they say, “Just toss it all,” and they usually don’t, the person cleaning up has a lot of WORK to do as well as decisions to make.

        As you know, my plotting means there is no need to go back – the rough draft is so awful, I rarely find any words to keep. And I revised my plot top to bottom when I did the second versions, and all the pieces got different places.

        I think I can go to that place from the beginning, now that I know how the plotting works for me – and that I will be able to produce the text once the structure is in play. When I first started, not only was the text – the actual words – very far from the story in my mind, but I had no idea how I was going to improve it. Since then, I’ve learned to write. It helps. But I still make it final before I leave – I want it to reflect the passions of the writing time, as well as the contents and structure of the planning.

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