Writing is my job. It is also what sustains me emotionally and spiritually, but at the end of the day, it is my job, and as a result of that fact, I must adopt “employee-like tendencies” at times. The days when I could write (or not), and no one would have a problem with that is over. Sometimes I miss that part of my life when I was ONLY writing for me, but for the most part, I am happy about the path I am currently on. Deadlines help me stay motivated and focused. Deadlines force me to write with a plan, instead of by the seat of my pantyhose.
Now that I am a paid author, I not only have to honor the characters’ “voices” that live inside of my head, I have to honor the contracts that bind me to my agent and my publisher. I am not complaining. This was the life I always dreamed about, but it does add an additional level of anxiety (sometimes downright panic) to my already anxious mentality.
Writing in the “Age of 45” and the “Age of Covid-19” is not easy. My mind demands that I keep up with the antics of this current president. My mind demands that I pay attention to the social activism that is happening around me so that I can see the best way I can serve my community and my people. My mind demands that I hold in my mind and spirit the deaths of these 159,000+ dead in the United States and the 706,000+ dead worldwide due to Covid-19. My mind is demanding a whole heck of a lot from me right now, and even with those “things I carry,” I still must birth these stories. I still must find ways to polish these “diamonds in the rough” that lurk in my mind. Basically, I still have to find a way to be “creative” when all I want to do is sit in my comfy recliner, watch The Great British Baking Show on repeat, and eat Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches all day. That is what I sometimes want to do, but it is not what is most expedient for my chosen path which is to be a writer.
So, a routine, for me, is absolutely necessary. I start my day by writing at least a sentence. I keep a journal by my bed for just that purpose. Because I live with chronic insomnia, I am usually awake when the clock strikes midnight, so often times, I will reach over for my notebook or open a note on my phone and type my “one sentence for the day,” or more, depending on how I feel. That way, no matter what the rest of my day looks like, I am usually good to go with my “quota.” But, if I am fortunate enough to fall asleep, I usually get up with the chickens, and the first thing I try to do is write. Whether it is for ten minutes, half an hour, or the entire day…I do not click on Facebook or the internet, or phone a friend until I have that one sentence underneath my belt. I will break a lot of rules, but that is not one of them. Does not matter if I am tired. Does not matter if I am swamped with other activities or obligations. Does not matter if I feel sick. I WILL get that one sentence (at least) done so I can at least mark that one task COMPLETE.
Also, I have limited my access to the news. Once I am done writing my one sentence, I will allow myself the privilege of scanning the news, but if it makes me feel overwhelmed (which happens most days), I give myself permission to stop reading. Then, I pick 15-20 minutes out of the day to listen to/watch MSNBC or CNN, and I NEVER listen to 45 talk anymore and I never watch for long if the anxiety starts to rise (which happens most days).
I also have rituals that I follow when I write. I always light candles. I have a specific scent for research (vanilla scent), a specific scent for writing (lavender scent), and a specific scent for editing/revision (jasmine scent). I make sure I ONLY light those candles when I am doing those tasks because it is my way of training my brain and nose that when you smell THAT scent, you get busy doing THAT task. It works for me.
Maybe there is another routine that will work for you. I also like to write outside in my swing when possible. And when there is no Covid-19, I plan to go to Louisville to The Brown Hotel and spend the weekend writing and ordering room service. I have done that with my other books, and the atmosphere there, thanks to it being my “dorm” when I was a student in the Spalding University low residency MFA in Creative Writing program is always conducive to my getting work done. It is also nice to have the doormen recognize me each time I show up on the hotel’s “doorstep.” The Brown is expensive. It is my rare treat for myself. You could easily do the same thing at an AirBnB, Motel Six, your best friend’s house, a cabin in the woods or a tent in your back yard.
Sometimes, It IS helpful to get out of our familiar spaces and go somewhere new to create/revise/etc.
I truly believe discipline is the key to being a successful writer. I know a lot of "talented" writers whose careers stalled or didn’t take off in the first place and sometimes, it was for things beyond their control, but other times, it was because they didn’t put their butt into that seat, but more than that, they didn’t schedule times to put their butts into that seat. I know, at roughly 6 am or 7 am, I am writing. Every. Single. Day. I know this just like I know that every day, I am going to get up, shower, and change. Make the writing part of the routine and then show up. Even if all you can do is type: I do not know what to say. I do not know what to say. I do not know what to say.
I understand showing up is not easy. I have lived with depression and anxiety my entire life. I have been living with Bipolar Disorder most of my teenage/adult life. I understand obligations. I teach and do a myriad of other things, but the writing is ALWAYS first. Always.
Yes, we are dealing with some other worldly kind of trauma right now but remind yourselves of the fact that whether you write or not, 45 is still going to be president. Whether you write or not, Covid-19 is still going to be around. Whether you write or not, life is going to go on both positively and negatively and everything in between, so why not do the one thing you can control which is write?
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