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Writing With Friends 

By Carol Hoenig 

I'm sitting at my keyboard doing what usually keeps me centered. However, as I sit poised to write, resuscitating the characters back to life in the novel I'm working on, guilt creeps in, prodding me to get up. The guilt is precipitated by the sounds of hammering, the smell of fresh paint and the voices of my friends working feverishly to make the handy-man special I recently bought into a home. Weeks earlier, it was nothing more than a grim shell with broken floorboards, but thanks to my friends, it is beginning to take shape. I turn my back on the fictional world I'm trying to create, the characters gasping for air, and go see what I can do to help.  

There is molding to be put up, an upstairs bathroom that needs plumbing, and floors that are waiting to be scraped and coated, but unlike my friends, I'm clumsy with a hammer and nail. I find painting walls, no matter what vibrant color they will be, tedious and tend to slap the roller, dripping with paint, onto the sheetrock with little thought and a sloppy mess. Knowing how to make certain that shelves are level eludes me. I'm a writer. The homes I build are within narrative dimensions.  

Yes, I am a writer, which means I don't have disposable income, so the generous help from my friends is very much appreciated. Therefore, how can I tap away at my keyboard when they are grunting and lifting, their clothes soaked with perspiration?  For that reason, I suppress the creative juices and see if a ladder needs to be steadied or a Philips head screwdriver retrieved. After all, these friends are volunteering time when they could be doing something for themselves. It doesn't matter if they are sitting in front of the television or mowing their lawn, the point is, they are investing their time into creating a home for me. Therefore, lately, when I sit down at my PC, I get something I never had before: writer's block; or rather, writer's guilt.

When my children were growing up, I would sneak in a break here, another there, at the typewriter. Daylight hours afforded me time to write while they were in school, once the errands were taken care of and the house straightened. I didn't feel badly when I turned down shopping ventures with a friend, even though she was clearly insulted, because I was forever done with changing diapers and could focus on my writing. Still, I was expected to be the chauffeur for play dates, attend softball games, and eventually ponder over college applications.

Early in my writing life, there was no fruit from my labor, except letters of rejection from publishers and agents as evidence that I was wasting my time.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for my literary forebears as they scribbled and scratched and sent their manuscripts to publishers and waited eons for a response. The time they invested in writing had to be difficult to justify to those who were in careers with visible results. Railroads began to span across the country and mouth-dropping high-rises reached up to the heavens. Writing stories in hopes of publication hardly compared.  

For me, though, my children are now adults and I am free to write without interruption. Well, I was until I bought a fixer-upper. So, even though the smell of fresh paint overwhelms the house and hammering is reverberating all around me, I cannot wait for the dust to settle nor can I allow those characters to flounder any longer. When I am finally able to get back to them, they just may give me the cold shoulder, leaving me with nothing but an unfinished draft.

As for my very real friends, the ones with the sweat on their brow and calluses on their hands, they will soon be packing up their tools and getting back to the routine of their lives. I'll miss their voices and laughter under the hum of construction. But I'm hoping someday soon they will get to meet my fictional friends and discover that even though I'm not too handy with a hammer or paintbrush, they'll be amazed that I, too, can create a world where there had been nothing but a shell.


Carol Hoenig's articles, essays, and short stories have been published in a number of venues, including RawStory.com, MetroChannel.org, Radical Academy, Generation X, etc. Carol's novel, Without Grace, was published in September and received great reviews and is a finalist for Book of the Year by ForeWord Magazine. Carol writes a daily blog for WhereIStand (www.whereIstand.com/Carolhoenig) and she writes a weekly column on Literary Culture at Suite101.com.


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