I got home from Mexico last night. For the past five weeks I’ve been an Artist in Residence in San Miguel de Allende, living in a house with another writer, David Ramsey, and a photographer, Marico Fayre. I taught a fiction workshop class, but I also spent time working on my own writing. At least, that was the idea.
Thursday was the Artist in Residence Gala. When it was my turn to speak, I thanked the San Miguel Literary Sala for giving me this opportunity. I told everyone I’d spent the summer working on a screenplay, a short story, and a novel. Then I read Chapter One of said novel.
But the truth is, I didn’t spend that much time working on any of these things. I mean, yes, I wrote a short story. Yes, I started a screenplay. Yes, I wrote some on my novel, (and, I like to tell myself, I was letting my thoughts about it percolate). But my goal had been to finish the novel while I was in Mexico. And that, I certainly did not do. When I got here I had written 160 pages. Now, I’m at 175.
I realized something important about myself as a writer this summer. When I’m in the midst of a big project like a novel, it’s best for me to be in a somewhat rigid and anti-social routine. I need to sit down to my computer at the same time each morning, in a quiet room with no distractions, so I can pound out another five to ten pages. I need this so I can block out the world around me and really submerge myself into the world of my novel. And here in San Miguel, I found this hard to do. Instead of working on my novel every day, I ended up taking long walks and hanging out in the jardin, watching Mexican boys breakdance.
But I didn’t say that at the Gala.
After David, Marico, and I spoke, some of our students read from their work and shared their images… Then the karaoke began. David immediately began hamming it up in a most incredible fashion, belting out country songs and dancing around the room.
One of the best things about this summer has been getting to know David and Marico. I’ve picked David’s brain about non-fiction writing, and Marico and I have talked about our love of fairy tales as creative inspiration. Plus, Marico and I discovered that there are two charming sides to David’s personality. There’s David, the hard-working writer and committed instructor. Then there’s Baby Davey. Baby Davey is fun-loving and sloppy. His shoes are untied, his fly is down, and he probably just spilled guacamole on his shirt. He has a beer in one hand and a shot of mezcal in the other.
On Thursday night it was Baby Davey who was singing karaoke and doing a one-man second line around the room. When things started winding down, Baby Davey wanted to go out on the town. We headed to a little cantina in the Centro where, soon, Davey was doing shots of tequila with Benjamin, the cantina owner, and convincing him to get on stage and sing to us.
After a few Mexican songs to which we enthusiastically clapped along, Benjamin strummed his guitar and began singing “Country Roads” in a Spanish accent. Davey giggled like a school girl and rocked back and forth in his chair. “I love this bar! I love this man! This is the best night of my life!”
Okay, so I didn’t meet the goal of finishing my novel here in San Miguel. But I did some things that are just as important. For one, I met David and Marico, who are now great friends and creative resources. And those walks around San Miguel weren’t for nothing either. As I walked, I took in my surroundings: the bright orange wall dripping with purple flowers. The stray dog trotting down a cobblestone street. The American ex-pat in his cowboy hat and the old Mexican beggar with her hand extended. I fed my creative brain with images, emotions, and ideas.
A quiet room and a rigid routine are great for finishing a novel. But new people, different places, a shake-up in the routine: that’s good for creativity. I may not have put my nose to the grindstone in San Miguel, but I was filling my creative well, and now that I’m back home, I’ll be dipping into those waters; my time here will find its way into my words.
I certainly wouldn’t trade a cantina night with Baby Davey for five new pages of my novel.
And speaking of that novel, everyone loved the chapter I read at the Gala. Afterwards, people came up to me, telling me they want to pre-order my book. I laughed. “Well, I have to finish it first.”
“You’d better,” they told me. “I have to know what happens next.”
They don’t need to worry. Now that my well is full and my ego has been boosted, I can sit alone in my room at home and write my heart out.