Making it a Practice

Ever since I left grad school, writing fiction (my favorite kind of writing) has become a thing I do fleetingly–when I can spare the time–when I happen to be inspired–when I have run out of TV shows to watch.  Needless to say, all of my fumbling towards “being a writer” has been more like half-remembered dreams than like a vocation to which I am dedicated and committed.  You know.  Life gets in the way.

But life only gets in the way because I let it.  Because I don’t intentionally carve out time for the writing to happen.  Because I don’t have a set time to write.  Because I don’t have a dedicated space to write.  Because I don’t have a goal or a deadline.  Man, I am lame.

So.  If this business of being a writer is ever going to become something real, it’s time to make a change. And I will be following in the footsteps of many a writer who has had to do that same.

Of John Grisham’s routine (from a San Francisco Chronicle interview): “When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”  His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed.”

So, Mr. Grisham disliked his day job, too.

And Alice Munro:  As a young author taking care of three small children, Munro learned to write in the slivers of time she had, churning out stories during children’s nap times, in between feedings, as dinners baked in the oven. It took her nearly twenty years to put together the stories for her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, published in 1968 when Munro was thirty-seven. (From The Atlantic)

This gives me hope and pause, alike.  I am a step mother and wife and all of the chores outside of my “day job” really add up into something like a black hole into which all of my wherewithal disappears.  But if Alice can do it, can’t we?

When I started scheming up this plan to create a daily routine, I thought back to an interview I once read in The Paris Review about Toni Morrison’s practice (forgive the long excerpt):

Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits… I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy.

I was involved in writing Beloved at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.

Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I found these at Daily Routines, by the way.  It is truly fascinating to see how other people work.

So many authors seem to prefer writing in the morning or mid-day, but I guess I’ve never had a place and time in my “real” life (aka outside of being a full-time student) that I had the luxury to figure out what time of day is the best for me to “make the contact” with my craft.  I’ve always had to beg, steal, and borrow from time I’ve meant to spent doing something else.  But here I am, now vowing to find time everyday to write.  In all honesty, I am not even going to try for the morning.  I am a recovering night owl and sleep has become a friend of mine.  So often, I let work spill into a post-5pm place in my world, but I don’t really have to do that on most days.  So, this week, I am shooting for 5:30 – 6:30 PM as my writing time.  It’s a nice lull in the day when my brain is still “on” but I don’t want to think about work anymore.

I predict the hard part will be pulling myself away if I get in the groove of writing.  But how about dealing with that problem when it presents itself? And if this time ends up not working for some reason, I’ll reassess.

The challenge I’m setting for myself, then, is at LEAST one hour a day, write as much as possible during this time.  I want to have the equivalent of a chapter at the end of every seven-day period (eek!).  No backing up midweek to edit.  Just writing.  I have a plan for a space in which to write, so I’ll try it out and see how it works.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll move.  My first instinct is to just grab a pencil and loose paper and lean against a tall desk and start.  I might need music.  I might need it through headphones, even.  But I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes.  But it WILL go.  And hopefully this will be a way into the dream.

Set your own daily practice goal and give it a try.

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