Daily Habits

When I was an undergraduate, I took a creative writing class where the professor stressed the need to write daily. “Writing daily is like going out to the seashore every morning and gathering seashells,” he had said (this is me paraphrasing here). “You never know what treasures you’re going to find. But you need to go out every day.”

To be honest – I was kind of an asshole in college and I didn’t really like my professor all that much, so I doubt I raised my hand as I puffed up in youthful arrogance and said: “Well, why wouldn’t you just wait until the ideas come to you?”

I took the wind out of my professor’s sails (I was puffed up with youthful arrogance, he was staring meaningfully out the window having one of his moments where he was probably congratulating himself on molding the minds of young writers) and he looked at me in annoyance for interrupting his “moment” and with a little bit of pity.

Some 15 years later, I can admit two things: 1) I was insufferable in college. 2) He was right.

But here’s what my professor didn’t explain adequately (or maybe he did, but I had shut down and was daydreaming about my latest unrequited love or wondering if it was taquito day in the Caf). How do you carve time out of your day, put butt in chair, and write?   How do you weed through the distractions and not put writing off until tomorrow.  Or a better time?

Let’s have a moment of honesty here, shall we?  First and foremost, a lot of us who write fiction also hold down day jobs. I’m a proposal writer. I’ve also been an executive assistant, I’ve worked at a cab company, I worked in newspapers. Before that, I was a college student and I worked during college as well.  Work – it takes up a shit ton of time.

Also – if we are lucky beings, we are surrounded with people that we love. We are wives, husbands, parents, siblings – we are human beings who have obligations to others. I have two children under two, I have my own grumpy cat, and I have a wonderful husband who gets that there’s a weird piece of my persona that has told myself stories since a young age and that the woman he married has enough chutzpah to think that someday she might be able to produce something publishable.

What I’m saying is this: Life gets in the way. My life is full of deadlines and distractions. It is easy for me to get discouraged when my mind feels like the words I’m rearranging are shit. I’ve been dealing with a plot problem lately that makes me want to hurl. But I go down to the effing seashore every day and try to pluck godforsaken shells off of the sand.

And last night, I had one of those moments where my pen was zipping across the page of my notebook and my mind was ALIGHT with words and images. There were still distractions – my kids are young and they don’t like to sleep through the night. I was feeling guilty that I was downstairs writing while my husband was getting up and tending to their needs. But I took the time to satisfy the muse and to capture the moments that I needed in an outline so I could harness some of the magic when I had time to return to the page today. (And I’ll do something nice for my husband today. Or sometime in the future. Baked goods work. Dairy Queen treats work even better.)

So today as I was committing my notebook scrawls to Microsoft Word, I had a thought. And it was that the daily* practice that I’ve adhered to bore fruit last night. I was faithful to my practice and I was rewarded. And I think I have enough to power through my shitty first draft (SFD) and wrap it up by month’s end. But even if it stalls and I feel like digging my eyes out with my bare hands, I’ll still show up. Because my book won’t write itself.

“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” – Harlan Ellison


This post was prompted, in part, by this piece in The Kill Zone.

* – A note on my “daily” practice.  I do try to write every day.  However, I also have “other things” going on from time to time.  This weekend it is a reunion of some old friends.  Last weekend, it was a birthday party for one of my lovely nieces.  In these cases, I always bring my project notebook with me.  I never know when inspiration is going to strike and it usually serves as a talisman so I don’t lose momentum.

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