Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.”
Today, please welcome writer MANDY HAYNES
I wake up every morning before sunrise, sometimes as early as three a.m., but if my pups are snuggled up close and snoring, I’ll stay in bed a little longer. Pearl, a Jack Russell and the sweetest little mean dog you’ll ever meet, is usually the first to notice I’m awake, and the good morning belly rubs begin. It’s hard to wake up in a bad mood with a pack of terriers expecting some sugar and confirmation that they’re three of the best dogs on the planet. We used to take our morning walk on the beach to watch the sunrise, but this month has been so busy we’ve had to skip it. They know after they have their breakfast, I’ll take my coffee outside to feed Albert, my rescue turtle, and check emails while they chase lizards in our backyard. Soon, I tell them, we’ll get back to our schedule. But not today.
I got an email from the editor for a magazine I freelance for. I opened it expecting it to be confirmation he received the three stories I sent in for November. It’s not. It’s a request for another story, a possible cover story for the fall’s Wedding edition due “as soon as you can get it to me.” I’m a sucker for a story, and the last bride I interviewed in the summer was full of them. Plus, the job was a complete surprise that fell in my lap a year ago, and I’m grateful to have it. I look at Pearl’s brothers, Moe and Curly, and hope they don’t mind waiting a couple more days for a walk on the beach. I look at the sky and hope my writing muse doesn’t mind waiting a while longer for me to hear what she has to say.
After I finish my coffee and they finish their business, it’s time to get in my office and clean off a spot on my desk so I can work.
Cleaning off my desk is a daily occurrence. I was that kid in school who couldn’t sit still, and I’m a constant doodler. And somehow things I work on in my studio end up tucked under notebooks or hanging off the monitor. Today I find a scarf I made for a friend’s birthday present back in August… I think I put it there to remind myself to mail it, but I don’t remember why I waited. Oh, I remember! I want to felt a head wrap to go with it.
The workday starts with a last edit of the November issue of Reading Nation Magazine so I can check that to-do off the list. I started it in April as a way to get the word out about my books and the books of other authors who are members of The International Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club. I thought it would be a quarterly thing, but it turned into a monthly magazine that’s received over 34,000 views. It’s been a great distraction from the pandemic and a fun way to connect with authors and readers. It also takes up a big part of my day. Between making the “ads” for the authors in the issue, gathering interesting content for the free pages like photo essays, authors and their art, writing workshops, pet interviews, and creating graphics of each book to promote on social media sites, I spend about four hours a day on the magazine.
After working on the magazine, it’s time to put in a couple of hours of editing on an anthology, another project for the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys. Luckily, I edited as I added each submission because the stories are so good I keep forgetting to take my “reading” glasses off and put my editor hat on. But it’s time to buckle down. I hope to send it off by mid-November. I had no idea what I was getting into in January when I accepted a volunteer position as executive director for The Pulpwood Queens, but to get to know Kathy L. Murphy and her story has been a treasure. To help her run her book club, and to support so many authors, has been an experience worth its weight in gold.
Time for another cup of coffee before I interview people for the Amelia Islander Magazine. I have a standing column called “In The Neighborhood” that’s actually two stories: the story of, and the story behind, local business owners. Sometimes I have extra articles that run anywhere from six hundred fifty to twenty-five hundred words, so it’s hard to make a writing schedule. But that’s fine with me because I’ve never been a writer who sits down at a specific time to write each day.
I’m a daydream-wait-for-the-story-to-settle kind of writer. If the story isn’t ready to be put on paper, I’ll work on art, go looking for shark teeth, dodge alligators at Eagan’s Creek, take the pups on a walk, or make graphics for Reading Nation Magazine while the plot thickens and my characters decide what they want to say.
But that’s going to change in November. Robert Gwaltney, a good friend and great new author, and I made a pact to get our butts in our seats and hold each other accountable. His debut novel comes out in February, and he’s working on his second. I have a first draft of one novel, another that’s about halfway through, plus a third collection of short stories—all in the works. The plan is to check in with each other every morning and write until he has to leave for the office. I’m excited and at the same time, I’m terrified. It’s been a while since I’ve focused on my writing. My first collection of short stories came out in 2019, the second one came out in the fall of 2020, and I’ve been so busy getting the word out about them that I’ve put writing to the side. I left Tennessee and a twenty-six-year career in the medical field to write full time so it’s time I get back to it.
But today will be spent on the phone with a wedding coordinator, a call to the venue where the wedding was held, and a conversation with the new bride. These last few months have been hard on all of us, but they’ve also taught me some valuable lessons. As humans, we have to be able to go with the flow. As writers, well, we should never turn down an opportunity to hear a story. Pay attention—there are characters everywhere.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your writing life?
2. Is there a book you would say changed your life?
- Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’.
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- I am a self-taught obsessive crafter. I have to create things with my own hands. I’ve tried silversmithing, copper smithing, welding, ceramics, crocheting, knitting, weaving, painting, scherenschnitte, building furniture, and way too many things to mention. My newest obsession is wet felting and nuno felting.
By MANDY HAYNES