Now that I’m back rewriting my book, I find that my most important work every day is putting a few sentences together.
On Monday, Jan. 4, I started my new writing discipline. I did well the first day. Then, I got sick with a terrible cold.
This is what I’d planned before I got sick: I force myself out of bed in the morning at a decent hour and sit right down to the work with a cup of tea. Previously, my routine included reading the newspaper, which took at least an hour and put my head out of commission for writing. I found that if I get right to it, I have at least four hours of writing time before my mind begins to wander and my eyes begin to droop.
After four hours, or around noon, I take up a book or go to an AA meeting. After about an hour with a book or a meeting, I take a nap. I’ve taken a nap every day for years and things just don’t seem complete without it. A nap separates the morning from the rest of the day. It gives me the energy to face what awaits me. (I married my wife, in part, because she was the first woman who didn’t worry me over taking a nap every day.)
I go to the gym for an hour in the afternoon. It’s something I hate. I don’t like standing on a trainer for a half hour and lifting weights bores me. But I do it. It’s something that comes with age. Inertia. Getting the body moving by exerting psychic force. Once in motion, it stays in motion until acted on by another force. The clock runs out. Entropy sets in. The body comes to a halt and I walk home.
For a few days last week, I slept until noon. The illness paralyzed me and I couldn’t write or get anything done around the house. I’m on the hook for walking the dogs every day, and a couple of days last week, the best the dogs got was a simple saunter around the block. This isn’t enough. Both these dogs have energy and get keyed up if they don’t get out for a good two to four miles every evening.
This week was better for me. I went through my morning routine but had social engagements every noon. This is the last week before school starts. This semester, I teach every day at the noon hour, and I won’t be able to see friends I usually have lunch with until May.
This meant that I cut my writing time short. But the new discipline worked. The important part of the process happens in the morning. If I get right to the work, work gets done, even if my time is limited.
I’ve been able to make quite good progress on my book and another writing project I have, even if I have only been able to give it a few hours a day. The miracle probably won’t happen every day as it has over the last few days. I will sit down to the computer sometimes for four hours and stare at it. I will waste time and energy. I will bang my head against the wall.
But if I sit there, I will get something done. It’s like the old saying, “Hang around a barbershop long enough and you’ll get a haircut.” If I sit in front of my computer long enough, I will get something written.
And that’s the most important part. There is something beautiful and pure about sitting down to an empty piece of paper, or, in the modern case, an empty computer screen. I get excited. I feel a sense of adventure. What’s going to happen? Who knows and who cares. Something will happen.
In many ways, that’s why I sit down to write. I want to see what happens. Every time, it’s different. It never goes the way I want it. There’s a cut-off between what’s in my mind and what winds up on the paper. More important than my own frustration is the interaction between me and the paper. I am not as talented as I need to be in order to make what’s in my head come out on the paper. But a relationship arises between what I want to say and what I’m able to write. In some ways, I settle for what makes it to the paper. But I am talented enough to shape and form it to something I can accept and, sometimes, even be proud of.
Another aspect of this is that I often don’t know what I want to write. The writing becomes a process of self-discovery. What is it that I want to say? Sometimes, like tonight, I sit down to write just because I haven’t had enough. I wrote this morning for about three hours. But late in the day, I find myself with time on my hands. I’m sitting here watching television. I like watching television, but sometimes it makes me feel like I’m wasting time. I only have so many hours left. I don’t want to waste any.
I think I’m lucky. If I knew all the time exactly what I wanted to write, I’d be a much different writer. The interplay between paper, need, longing, wanting to live all result in an essay just like this.
I worry tonight if I’m repeating myself. I’ve written about writing enough lately and I ought to find something more interesting than my writing process. But that is what I have for now. I had an hour, an empty computer screen, and a sense of longing. I wanted to say at the end of the day that I did something. I put those sentences together. I did the most important work of my life.
Tomorrow, I have the day free. That is, I have nothing and no one to answer to. The discipline kicks in and I get to live it to the fullest. Get up. Get to the work. See what happens.