The Writing Life: As Told by Turtles

Summer is finally here in Michigan! It arrived with blistering heat this weekend and no shortage of distractions. I am doing my best to flee from these, but the Social Obligation Committee seems more intense in the sun; I’ve come to the conclusion it is powered by solar energy and tequila.

Attempting to run from social obligations….

These socialites simply don’t understand that I do not want to go to the bar every night because I have to get up early. My daily regiment starts at 5 a.m..

“But why would you do that?” they ask, blinking.
“Because,” I say with a smile, I enjoy being as miserable as possible.”

And I am sarcastic. I can’t express to them how incredibly fulfilled I am after a productive morning at the keyboard. But non-writers don’t get it. If I were not sarcastic, I’d sound like a walking greeting card spouting out vague proverbs on following my dreams and catching mythical worms in the wee hours of the morning. I won’t show them the detailed schedule I have written out because I don’t feel like revealing the extent of my lunacy.

So what do I look like at 5 a.m.?

I am no Zen master.

In theory, I go on my morning jog with our foster dog to warm up my brain cells. I should be done with this and showered by 5:30 a.m., and at my writing desk with coffee by 5:45 a.m. That leaves me two hours to write before I leave for work.

In reality, I am still in bed, wallowing in self-loathing at the productive, aspiring version of myself that came up with this hair-brained agenda. When I make it out the door, usually not before 6am, I am a zombie.

It’s safe to say our Shiba Inu walks me.

Zombies suffering from sleep depravation are not particularly excellent dog walkers. Especially when you have a Shiba Inu hybrid with the strength of the Hulk. So when I finally make it to my computer, I am crabby, still sleepy, and have lost an hour of writing time. Whenever I attempt to do a shortcut by skipping the run, I fall asleep at my desk.

Sometimes, when my husband comes in to check on me, he finds me in the most cherubic of states.

Don’t talk to me right now!

As a result of my body rebelling against my Muse’s desire to put words on the page, my writing has, well, slowed. But as we learned from the race of the hare and the tortoise, I firmly believe that if I continue the race and continue pacing myself, I will make it to the finish line with an story worth telling.

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An Absurdly Good Book

With my daily “read for an hour, write for 2” routine in full swing, I have been eating up books. Most people go to the deli or liquor store to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend.  I went to the book store.

After 20 minutes of searching Barnes & Nobles, I finally gave in and asked an employee where to find the books on writing. Ah, the “Writing & Publication” section. Of course. It’s located at the most inconspicuously low shelf in the store. Why didn’t I think of that? So, I squatted low, beholding the titles until I could no longer feel my legs. And then I sat like a child on the floor in the middle of the aisle and took out the books, one by one.

By the time I’d narrowed it down to two tomes, the clerk was ready to ask if I wanted a part-time gig dusting the floor. It pained me to leave the other, but could not take them both home. You can only share your four-day weekend with one. Books are jealous creatures that way.

But the book I chose rewarded my decision 100 times over.

Inspirational is not quite the right word for Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” That word is better suited for poetry on gardening and B-movies on the American Dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling inspired, but these “feel-good” stories are temporal. The motivation they bring passes away. So, inspiring will not do.

And it’s not an instruction manual, either. Sure, there are useful nuts and bolts in every chapter on dialogue, character, and plot, but I’d hardly classify it as a writer’s reference guide. It is bursting with too many deliciously candid anecdotes for that.

So what sort of book is it then? Like I am having tea with a twice-removed aunt I have never met before, but she knows everything about me from my mother. You know the one. She is in her 4os, maybe, and doesn’t go anywhere without a bottle of red wine and a leopard-print cane. She wakes up to a broken cuckoo-clock instead of the alarm on her cell like everybody else just because it sounds more “authentic.”

Don’t roll your eyes just because she may be off her rocker. She doesn’t have time for people like that. You’ll never get to know the fabulous, mysterious, and relatable truths she has stored in her alligator purse if you don’t reach in.

If you want to rekindle your love for writing and find something out about yourself along the way, she will offer a drink from the well–or bird bath–of wisdom that is oh-so-rich.

5 a.m. is Ugly

My husband is an EMT, so occasionally he’ll work super early hours. He had to get up at 4:45 a.m. today, so I used that as an opportunity to get out of bed and work on my manuscript.

As it turns out, this time I woke up before my creativity did. I spent a good chunk of the time staring at the screen, trying to stay awake. While I am already seeing the value of setting aside 2 hours a day for my story, I am also seeing the value of sleep.

Just one more page…

I’ll get used to this. And I will remember the coffee and wake-up work out for tomorrow.

Rhetorical Routines

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

We’ve all heard it: “Write every day.”

Oh, brother. I know what I am *supposed* to be doing.

Easier said than done, right?

If you’re like me, you’ve got a 99+ things demanding your attention. And they’re probably important. Things like fitting in exercise, or spending quality time with your family, or putting in extra hours at your 9-to-5 job. You can’t give them up, but they seem to do everything in their power to make you want to quit; they won’t hesitate to pry you away from your keyboard with a crowbar and rob you of your energy.

What do you mean ‘do the laundry’?!

And then, when you’re finally ready to open your laptop again, your muses have abandoned you at the dreaded Wall of Surmounting Excuses and Missed Opportunities.

It’s a demoralizing, guilt-ridden place to be.

Fortunately, I’m not the first fool who decided to up and write a novel. Plenty of crazies have gone ahead, and they’ve been kind enough to bring back words of wisdom from the top to those of us still in the mire. It’s their advice I fall back on whenever I run into that accursed wall. And thanks to the powers of the internets, much of this advice is accessible.

Wow, I love YouTube interviews.

So how do they answer the question of daily writing? Writer’s Digest interviewed Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple), and she had this to say:

“… Part of writing is not so much that you’re going to actually write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the space and the time set aside—as if you were going to have someone come to tea. If you are expecting someone to come to tea but you’re not going to be there, they may not come, and if I were them, I wouldn’t come. So, it’s about receptivity and being home when your guest is expected, or even when you hope that they will come.”

Okay, alright, that sounds fair. I already think of my characters as living, and feel guilt when I ignore them, so I suppose I could be a bit more…hospitable. But how can I possibly set the time aside?

And that’s when THIS “little” infographic hit the net. It depicts the different waking hours of Pulitzer Prize winners. And guess what? Many woke up to write at 4AM.

Were they crazy? Probably! Did they drink a lot of coffee? Most definitely. But to write when the rest of the world is still sleeping? That’s brilliant.

So, I’m starting my new routine: get up an hour earlier to write, and read for at least an hour each day. It’s an uphill battle, but I know I will get stronger with every step I take! Wish me luck!