Here’s the way an ideal writing day goes: I wake up early and do the knapsack/lunchbox/breakfast/off-to-school thing and my family toodles down the driveway while I still have a clear, unperturbed mind. I make my second cappuccino of the morning and climb the stairs to my office where I do a quick email check, find nothing aggravating, then a scan of the news, and by eight a.m., I have settled in to work.
I turn the software program “Freedom” on, disabling the Internet on my computer, in the event that the lure of checking Facebook or Twitter proves too much for me. I work, uninterrupted, for a couple of hours. I head back downstairs, take the dogs out for some air, then throw ingredients for a stew into the slow cooker. Back upstairs I go. Another hour or two of work on my book. A one-hour yoga break at lunchtime. Revision, and the business of writing in the afternoon. By the time four o’clock rolls around, I’m spent, feel good about the work I’ve done that day (not to mention the dinner in the slow cooker, the yoga) and I drive to my son’s school to pick him up, cheerful and available for quality family time.
How often does a day like this happen? Well, I had one yesterday, which is why this description is so fresh in my mind. But really–how often? Probably about once every two weeks, if I’m completely honest. Something usually gives.
I struggle with getting to the page in the morning, and it’s noon before I begin to accomplish anything. I get sidetracked by a disappointing email, or an exciting email. It almost doesn’t matter what the content, a full in-box is always over-stimulating. I don’t get to the yoga mat. I don’t make dinner. My work suffers. Four o’clock rolls around and my head feels like it’s about to pop off my shoulders, and when I pick my son up at school, I am in a fog, emotionally unavailable and hating myself for it.
The question, really, is why? Rarely, it happens that something legitimate gets in my way. Say, a leak in the house. A blizzard. A call that a friend’s parent has passed away. You know, life. But more often than not, the only thing getting in my way is me. Sound familiar?
It seems so simple, so obvious that all we need to do is get out of our own way.
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Set up some ground rules (no internet, no email, no phone) and just follow them. But we all know that it isn’t that easy. And the reason it isn’t easy is because writing is hard. It ain’t for sissies. It’s painful, exhausting, and it exposes nerves we didn’t even know we had, not to mention turmoil. It unleashes the beast of memory.
Left to our own devices, we will do anything to avoid it. Even though we know that we’ll feel better if we just sit down and get to work.
Consider this a challenge. Just this morning I saw a tweet (yep, today wasn’t as good as yesterday) about a 28 day meditation challenge. Well, how about a 28 day writing habits challenge. Do just these three things religiously: 1) Begin your day by reading something nourishing, remembering Jane Kenyon‘s advice to always have good sentences in your ears. 2) Wait until you’ve been at work for a while––say, an hour––before checking email or going online. If you can’t do it on your own, download Freedom. And 3) Take a yoga or a meditation break––even if you don’t do yoga or meditate. Even if you’re totally resistant to the idea. Just try it.
Dani Shapiro’s most recent books include the bestselling memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion and the novels Black & White and Family History. She teaches writing workshops nationally and internationally. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, O The Oprah Magazine, Elle, Vogue, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications, and have been broadcast on NPR’s “This American Life.” She lives with her family in Connecticut. You can also follow Dani on Twitter and Facebook.
Image courtesy of Julie Jordan Scott.