Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On finding time to write

Most mornings, my writing session ends with a drumroll.

That’s how it seems, anyway, as small feet make their careful way down the stairs and then run—pat, pat, pat, pat, pat—to my spot on the couch.

When my little one comes to claim his morning hug, the writing day is over—so the trick is to get up early enough to accomplish what I need to do. The hug is the most important thing, but the writing matters a lot to me, too, so it’s always a difficult balance.

What gives, usually, is sleep—and I don’t see any way around that. Ambitious writing means earlier start times, and with a family, there’s very little wiggle-room on when the day ends. I can’t easily go to bed at 9 p.m. when there is a need for homework supervision and bedtime stories and my own work of course planning and paper grading.

Sometimes the issue resolves itself in a midday nap, when time allows for it. I’m not as effective as a writer as my day progresses, so morning time feels crucial. I like to write when I’m fresh from dreaming and my ideas are not polluted by media of any type (including social). 

There is some writing work I can tackle effectively in the afternoon. That’s a great time for administrative work, like submitting to journals or refining the order and contents of a book manuscript. I need my dreamy, contemplative self for composing, but my alert, midday consciousness is capable of getting work done.

An ideal writing day for me doesn’t happen at home. I need a retreat, and that’s something I do every two months or so—I escape for full days of writing and noodling and snoozing and writing some more. The best retreats involve at least three nights in some private lodging away from home and family, and I work hard to ensure that I’m all caught up with professional responsibilities before I go. Otherwise, the opportunity is wasted.

While home life doesn’t allow for ideal writing days, if I configure each day carefully, writing can happen. Here’s how:

The night before:

* Charge my laptop.
* Get the coffee pot ready to go. (I have a very sweet partner who does this for me every single day.)
* Get to bed as early as possible.
* Jot down those good ideas that come as I’m drifting off to sleep. It’s OK that I won’t be able to read my dark-room handwriting the next day; there’s something about the act of writing that cements ideas for me.

First thing in the morning:

* While still in bed, remember what I can of my dreams overnight—something I find very difficult, usually. My trick: Focus on the feet, and tense and flex the muscles there; then work my way up the legs, to the torso, the hands and arms, the shoulders, the neck, the head. Sometimes I can squeeze a dream out like toothpaste from a tube.
* Get up, press “on” on the coffeepot, and start writing by hand to maximize the mind-body connection.
* At some point, switch to the computer to get down the hand work while I can still read it, and to massage form, especially lineation.
* Welcome the cat’s intrusion. He’ll want a can of food, but then he’ll curl up beside me.
* Write a blog post.
* Get interrupted by kid feet. Cuddle the kid. Watch the news. Get everyone ready for the day.

After everyone leaves:

* Now it’s time for paid work—editing, teaching, grading. No matter how much of this I do, there is always lots more I can get to.
* Absently pet the cat from time to time.
* Grow drowsy and curl up for an hourlong nap, or be too busy to allow myself to get drowsy and curl up for an hourlong nap.
* If I reach a point where I’m caught up and focused, try the administrative work of being a writer and literary citizen.
* Do something political—make a phone call or write an e-mail to a legislator, for instance.
* Read a book. Take notes in the margins of a poetry collection in preparation for a review.

When everyone gets home:

* Do home stuff. Tickle people. Eat things. Wrestle with the cat, who will go too far and bite my wrist and get yelled at for it. Repeat.
* Jot notes as ideas occur for blog topics, poem snippets, essay ideas, submission opportunities, etc.—doing this keeps writing central, and writers have to have writing at the center to be effective.
* Equip kids with devices to buy some time for writing a book review and preparing for the next day.
* Avoid housework. Artists don’t do housework.
* Tackle “The night before” list, above.

It’s readily apparent that this is not how one writes an enduring literary masterpiece. Rather, this is a recipe for modest pieces, and these accrue, obviously—they become a larger whole.

Perhaps in a future post we can explore how the U.S. economy doesn’t allow people to live an artist’s life, which must include long interludes of navel gazing and cloud examination to be fully effective. My schedule here reflects a typical artist’s life—having to be very calculated to fit everything in, when “everything” includes hours of poorly compensated adjunct teaching labor, for me, or underpaid full-time teaching labor, or a job on the clock, or a salaried position that claims more than its fair share of would-be private time.

The good news is that we can get a lot of work done in the time that is available to us, if we look carefully at how our days are configured. A writer’s life is generally incompatible with a sitcom-watching life or an hourlong-pedicure life or a darn-your-own-socks life or a take-up-the-flugelhorn life. But nothing is off the table if we approach life deliberately and treat time like the holy and limited commodity that it is.

No comments:

Post a Comment