on writing

Every morning, I try to write three pages, longhand, in a scrap notebook with a boring, Bic pen.

I picked up this tip from a book I tried to read this summer, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. According to Ms. Cameron, the Morning Pages will change your life. They will help you dump out your brain in the morning and prepare you for more creative work in the daytime. It will help all kind of artists – writers, photographers, painters, actors, dancers – to foster a more creative life.

I don’t know if I agree with Julia yet. It’s been months of on-and-off morning page writing and my life doesn’t feel transformed. In fact, I have yet to have a single profound vision during the time I spend with paper and pen. Nothing life changing. Nothing even worth remembering. And the days I skip, I don’t long for my pages… I don’t miss them when they are gone.

Perhaps this is a case of a lack of committment. I fudge the rules – I don’t make myself write on the weekends, or sometimes on a busy day at work. I rarely roll out of bed and land at my desk. I like time to wake up to the world…. not to mention muster the brain power to open my eyes, hold a pen steady, form a coherent thought, et cetera. So if I was a good Artist’s Way-er I wouldn’t stand for any of that nonsense. I would buck up and THEN the benefits would roll in.

Humph.

Today I came to my pages after many (6) days away from them. This small phenomenon I enjoy: when I go too long, I feel like I haven’t talked to myself in awhile, like missing an old friend.

This small phenomenon I don’t enjoy: like my best friend, who stops calling me whenever she decides to get back together with a nasty boyfriend, gets engaged when I think it’s too soon, or any small infraction against our friendship, I avoid my pages to the point it makes me anxious to revisit them.

I don’t want to hear what myself has to say about my lack of writing.

Yes, yes, there it is. A lack of writing.

The summer of 2006, I wrote my first novel. It was not a fun process. Actually, it was quite painful. Halfway through the book I changed the plot completely, and revisions along the way were both neccessary and god-awful confusing. The next semester, I revised (half-assedly, I realize now) to have it ready for a grade.

It got a good grade.

I tinkered with this book and dipped my toes into other stories for months. When November 2007 came around, I geared myself up for the beast that is NaNoWriMo. It was fun. My second novel was better. A better idea, more options for plotlines, characters I really cared about. I finished my first draft in 30 days, and then knocked off another draft a month later. At this point, maybe my committment was flagging. I’d have weeks, months where I’d bust my ass revising – every night from 10:00 until I slept, I sat with my print-outs and Word Doc. I put the pieces together. But another week arrived and I forgot my book existed. Soon, I was forgetting more than I was remembering. I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again, and in November 2008, I had a new story ready to go.

My November novel was challenging in an entirely different way than I’d expected. In retrospect, it was a story that needed more than a month. I’m an advocate of the fast draft, but maybe not for every book. When you are switching to an unfamiliar POV, trying to write convincingly about a location you’ve only visited briefly, and exploring a plotline that should pack an emotional whallop, perhaps there’s something to be said for taking your time and tinkering as you go. But I was going to finish my wordcount. Until Thanksgiving, when I got sicker than I’d been in years. We’re talking a good 3 days of fever, chills, fatigue, popping Tylenol to calm the aching head… not only did I find it impossible to give the proper amount of attention to this difficult novel over a holiday weekend where I was under the weather, I lost momentum. I abandoned the book and have yet to pick it back up.

But that was 3 months ago.

That’s plenty of time to pick up the pieces and move on with my writing life.

My excuses are many – who has time to launch a new project in December? Especially while applying to graduate school! And it’s not like I have hours and hours to blow in my life. I’m working part time, but I’m also commuting an hour and a half a day, in a long distance, weekends-only relationship, and committed to working out whenever I can.

But in the end, they are just excuses.

The Big Excuse I keep returning to is that my life is too disorganized and messy to fit in the structured writing time I need. So I defrag my life – my morning pages this A.M. soon derailed from a “why am I not writing? rant to an elaborate, well-markered and highlighter-ed schedule. I felt I needed to identify my free time as to adequately fill it and still have time to do the things that keep me sane (gym, packing lunches, showers, games, etc)

The answers I found were not unexpected. I have little time on work days (Tuesday, Thursdays, Fridays), large chunks of time on Monday, and slightly less large chunks on Wednesdays. Weekends are hit or miss.

An important questions I asked myself as I scheduled and planned…

What would it take for me to do the kind of writing I would like to do?

What am I asking from myself?

And, with my own personal schedule in mind, where will everything fit?


1. I need a private, writing space that is comfortable, quiet, and clean 90% of the time.

2. I need large chunks of uninterrupted time to get a lot of stuff done.

3. I need a regular habit of daily writing, at the same time, each day.

4. I need to give myself permission to fail during this writing time, to have a bad writing day, to take 7 days of no writing before I get to one day of putting words on paper.

5. I need to focus my thoughts during this time so I can turn my small ideas into bigger, novel-esque ones.

6. I need to commit. Which means patience, persistence, and sacrifice.

It looks easy when I see it this way.

1. I can clean my desk off and keep it that way. I’m okay with that. I asked for a nice chair for my upcoming birthday, which will hopefully be a good spot for both reading and typing.

2. I have Mondays and Wednesdays to play with. Maybe even Tuesday mornings if I really want to.

3. I can go back to my nighttime writing schedule, even if I am getting sleepy earlier in the evening these days. 10:15-11:30ish, I’ll be there, at my desk.

4. This will be harder, obviously, but again, workable.

5. This will probably be even harder…. Perhaps turning off my wireless during writing time would be beneficial.

6. Committment…

The hard one is the last one.

Sacrifice means not doing something fun so you can write.

But it also means I can squeeze my budget so I can afford two cups of coffee a week to accompany my long writing periods.

I like coffee.

But commitment does not mean things like this, found written on the very schedule I crafted this morning:

“Try to get some writing done today before X o’clock”

I need not to be “trying” to write. Because lately, “trying” to write means making schedules and lamenting and reading and feeling vaguely sorry for myself.

So let’s review:

* Facilitate my “Dream” writing lifestyle

* Be prepared to suck

* Be prepared to make sacrifices

* Focus on DOING rather than “trying”

That is what I will be doing. This was part of a kitchen-timered hour of concentrated Writing-ness. Now I have 23 minutes left to sit and actually DO something instead of just trying.

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3 Comments to “on writing”

  1. =( I was JUST thinking about this during classes. (Why do I get all my ideas during class or work? Get on schedule, brain!) I have so many ideas but never time to write. But actually, I just don’t MAKE time to write. I have so much time I spend being unproductive, and could consolidate everything and give myself time to write. I think before bed would work best for me too – my mind is usually wired at that point. I’d have to take out my wireless too, I always get distracted online.

    What do you write about in the mornings? Is it supposed to be only thoughts about YOU, or can it be fiction writing? I was going to write down the title of the book, but you said you “tried” to read it this summer, so I figured I wouldn’t make it through, haha.

  2. You’re just supposed to write WHATEVER, to empty your head. Write “i hate writing” for three pages or fiction or just stupid journal musings… just whatever! then you’re supposed to close the notebook and put it away, don’t go back and reread, just move on with your day/life. it’s kind of fun, kind of centering… like i said, it’s comforting to hear yourself talk sometimes.

    Artists Way is a very feel-goody type book. I would definitely read the first couple chapters at Barnes and Noble if you can 🙂 But it’s also a “program,” like… Week One do This, Week Two do That, and that’s why I didn’t finish it. I felt like I should read and DO week one before moving on… so that’s why I didn’t finish!

  3. I read a couple author blogs, but I hadn’t been keeping up lately so I caught up tonight and found THIS!

    http://www.cmmayo.com/d5mwe.html

    Some of them are pretty funny, and 5 minutes from a prompt sounds better than 3 pages from my head, haha, for me anyway.

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