Monday, October 17, 2011

Early Bird: Grabbing the Words Before Sunrise

If I could, I would write only when I’m inspired, when the sun hits the walls of my office at just the right angle, when I’m alone in a silent house, have finished off my cup of French press coffee and read a little poetry to put me in the mood. I would look out my oversized window at the ducks skating over the pond and the poplars swaying in the wind, lean back in my chair, close my eyes and wait until that perfect idea, that perfect word, entered my head. I would write it down and keep going. I would build up steam as the hours flew by, losing myself completely until it hit me that morning has become afternoon.

Oh, the dreams we dream.

Fact is, there’s no pond outside my window, no swaying poplars or cute little ducks. All I can see is the dirty gray vinyl of my neighbor’s garage ten feet away, which blocks out most of the light. There’s no coffee, just me and my morning breath. And if I waited until I was inspired to write, I wouldn’t be writing at all, because that only seems to happen when I’m washing dishes or brushing my son’s teeth and there is no paper or computer in sight.

Most of my writing happens before 6:30 a.m. This is not because I’m a morning person. Far from it. But the fact is, I have a three-year-old and other commitments taking up most of my day, and early mornings are usually quiet and they’re my only guaranteed times to write. I wear my pajamas and slippers. Sometimes I brush my teeth. I am not a morning person, but I have found that in the morning at least I have my subconscious going for me, my half-awake dream state.

Even so, when my alarm goes off at 5:15 each morning, I struggle with myself. The conversation usually goes something like this:

“I have nothing to write. I’m too tired.”

“So what. Write anyway.”

“I’m hungry and I have a headache.”

“So what. Write anyway.”

“It’s so warm under the covers.”

“Write anyway.”

“I’ll write tomorrow. My mind is blank. Anything I write today will be total and complete dreck.”

“So what. Get out of bed, drag your lazy ass downstairs and write.”

So I do.

I’ve been doing this for about a year, ever since I enrolled in a class last that required ten to twelve pages of new draft writing every week, plus a hefty amount of reading. I broke it down. If I could wake up five mornings a week and write for an hour, I should be able to produce 500 words a pop, give or take a few, which added up to approximately ten pages a week. The trick for me was getting up. Often, I dragged myself to my computer, rubbed my eyes and stared at the glowing monitor with no idea of what I would write. But once my fingers hit the keys, I realized I did actually have some ideas worth pursuing, some memories worth rehashing. And even if it seemed like dreck while I was writing it, I tried not to go back and edit. I didn’t have the time, for one thing.

An hour a day doesn’t seem like much, but week by week, the writing began to add up. It began to feel substantial. I found that often I left my desk reluctantly (I was just getting warmed up!) but this made me excited to come back the next day and pick up the thread. I seemed to benefit, in fact, from the forced break because my mind seemed to be composting material even while I wasn’t writing, readying me for the next go-round. Sure, there were some mornings when dreck was all that came, but I was surprised to see that some of the writing I’d thought was awful actually wasn’t half bad a few days or weeks later. Some of it was even pretty good.

By the end of the semester, an hour a day added up to 90-plus pages and the start of a thesis project. A semester later, I enrolled in another writing-heavy class, kept waking up early and churned out a hundred more pages. I wager that maybe half of these pages are usable; even so, that leaves me somewhere around one hundred to work with. Now, a semester away from starting my thesis, I’m continuing this ritual, not because I have a class that requires it but because I know how fruitful my early-morning time has been for me up to now. Sure, I still want to stay under the covers most mornings, but I usually don’t regret getting up. It’s like any habit. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And frankly, there’s something kind of sweet about knowing you’ve finished your daily writing even before the newspaper has hit your front stoop.

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