What it takes to write

In her piece for the New Yorker titled, “How I get to write,” Roxanna Robinson describes the precious, sacred morning time between the end of sleep and the beginning of writing. The time — or more precisely, the space, the gap in the day when remnants of slumber still linger before the day’s demands become all-consuming.

I brush my teeth, get dressed, make the bed. I avoid conversation, as my husband knows. I am not yet in the world, and there is a certain risk involved in talking: the night spins a fine membrane, like the film inside an eggshell. It seals you off from the world, but it’s fragile, easily pierced.

The “fine membrane” of the previous night is one I want to stay with for longer than I usually am able to, save during breaks and time away — that is to say, physically away. While I don’t agree with all of what she writes (i.e., I love breakfast and, when I allow myself to indulge, truly enjoy the taste of coffee) —

I go down the hall into the kitchen. I don’t like breakfast, but it’s necessary to get through it in order to get to coffee.

I drink instant because I don’t care how it tastes, all I want is the kick. And I don’t want to wait for perking or dripping.

— I do have a deep appreciation for her articulation of the importance of undisturbed times to delve deeply into the gossamer hints of thought that require space to germinate and sprout.

So I don’t read the news or listen to it. Nor do I make a single phone call, not even to find out if the plumber is actually coming that day to fix the sink, which he has failed to do now for five days in a row. One call and I’m done for. Entering into the daily world, where everything is complicated and requires decisions and conversation, means the end of everything. It means not getting to write.

The reason the morning is so important is that I’ve spent the night somewhere else.

This is nowhere I can describe exactly, only that it’s mysterious and limitless, a place where the mind expands.

****
Being awake and ready for writing and being awake in order to be social are two utterly different things. My family knows this well…

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Still more daily routines of writers were made available recently by Maria Popova over at brainpickings.org:

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

including, Ernest Hemingway:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.

Maya Angelou:

I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution. Then I go out and shop — I’m a serious cook — and pretend to be normal. I play sane — Good morning! Fine, thank you. And you? And I go home. I prepare dinner for myself and if I have houseguests, I do the candles and the pretty music and all that. Then after all the dishes are moved away I read what I wrote that morning. And more often than not if I’ve done nine pages I may be able to save two and a half or three. That’s the cruelest time you know, to really admit that it doesn’t work.

Don DeLillo:

I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle — it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent — you don’t know it’s passing. No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes — I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet. A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.

William Gibson:

When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.

Anaïs Nin:

I write my stories in the morning, my diary at night.

and, for E, the wise musings of Benjamin Franklin — seen here in this graphically organized daily routine:

Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule

and now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare to sleep so that I can get up and write.

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5 Responses to What it takes to write

  1. Veena says:

    Funny, we spent a great deal of time reading about others’ writing process and thinking about our process in our doctoral seminar. It was rather relieving to know that even the greatest writers struggle and also have spent time thinking about the process.

    Love the excerpt from Ben Franklin’s diary and am taken by the theme of early morning/ before the world wakes approach. I find that 1-2 hours when I wake up first and I am not responsible for anything else is such a productive time but it’s hard to carve that out. A goal for 2013?

    • sabonseine says:

      A lovely goal — to make that time. The fruits that come from carving out that time, too, are occasionally otherworldly, always generative. My small accomplishment has been to not check my phone as soon as I wake up. Two days straight! (small steps) 🙂

  2. Suzy Victor says:

    This journal reminds me of the days I used to write a journal almost every day, when I read it I feel I am reading a story, except this is mine.. I did write what I need to do during any given day, I used to set goals for myself, nothing spectacular but still it was important, somewhere along the way, there was no need to write, it just happened.. now and then I do have the urge to tell this compelling story but chicken out for whatever reason.. but perhaps will start writing again, this has inspired me to do so.. 🙂

  3. kniyogikim says:

    This was lovely! I love reading about the other people’s routines, mostly to gather tips on how to create a routine that accommodates my now-crazy life. I am always amazed that writers go back to re-read their work- don’t know why, it only makes sense but i imagine words coming out effortlessly and perfectly the first time. I am inspired to follow Ben Franklin’s evening routine, particularly “put things in their place” and “examination of the day.” And of course “sleep”!

  4. E says:

    Thank you for sharing with the world Ben Franklin’s organizing scheme!! Mathy and thoughtful. I particularly like “put things in their place” as a euphemism for “clean up”!

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