Some recent thoughts from writer Lauren Alwan:
“Each writer has a routine, because the act of writing demands a place and time. Sitting down to work requires separating from the actual world and entering the world of the story ...”
“Whatever the surroundings or schedule, writers need constancy; it supplies the structure that holds the unknown. In my non-writing life, I dislike routine and prefer variety in my days. Yet when it comes to fiction, I need routine.”
I could have written those words myself; I feel exactly the same way, particularly regarding the first quote: Sitting down to work requires separating from the actual world and entering the world of the story ...
Yes, it does. And my inability to do those things has been a huge source of angst in the past year.
One of the best times in my life was also one of the hardest times: Back in 2006, after I had quit teaching, and before I dove back into the corporate world, I had a year to myself. It was a year of healing, mostly; I was dealing with the worst depression I’d had since 1992. Instead of checking into a hospital, though, I got back on antidepressants, starting running, and spent four hours every morning at Panacea (the best coffee shop ever), and wrote.
I would begin with about 45 minutes of journaling. Then, I would move on to my novel. For the first part of that summer, I was working on something like my own version of Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress idea. Then, in January, once I realized I wasn’t yet ready to write my own “regress” story, I moved on to a novel, one that had first come to me in 1998.
Between January and May, I cranked out sixteen chapters of that novel.
Sure, I could have done more, but I was also working on several (freelance writing) projects at the time. (I wonder if there will ever come a day when I can give myself permission to work on nothing but writing if nothing else is pressing ...)
I dove back into the corporate world that June and haven’t worked on the novel since, except for Chapter 17, which I wrote during a one-week “staycation” that I took a year later for the very purpose of working on the novel.
So I read Alwan’s words with a knowing nod but also with some bitterness. Yes, I know we need routines. I know we need to set aside time to write.
But how do you do that when you work 50+ hours a week and have a one-year-old who doesn’t like to sleep and your husband is gone all summer and works late most nights the rest of the year, and ... and ... and ... ?
Alwan writes that she “began writing early when [her] daughter was an infant.”
I can try that again. It would require getting up at 5:00, since Anne wakes up at 6:30. That would give me an hour to write. I need at least four, but I’ll take one.
It would also require that I be asleep by 10:00, which isn’t usually possible. But I can try.
Dear Reader, I will let you know how it goes. This won't be the first time in my new life as a mother that I've tried this. But I need to try again. For me, writing = sanity. And I haven't had enough of either lately.
By the way, you can read more of Alwan’s post, and about her fiction, at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog: Getting Your Literary Life.
(HT: Kathryn Magendie, who introduced me to this and a few other writing blogs.)