"I think I've just done something rash," I say to my husband. I'm standing in the bathroom doorway while he finishes washing his face. As if standing just outside the room will somehow mean that I'm not breaking his ban against talking during the hour after he's woken up.
"What's that?" he asks, slowly, reaching for the towel. He doesn't realize it, but he backs away just a little bit as I hand it to him. This kind of thing is exactly why he doesn't want discussion in the morning.
"I think I just started a blog," I say, trying not to hop from one foot to the next. "A blog about writing!" By now my voice has spiked at least ½ an octave and I'm smiling fiercely, trying to convey that the only proper response is unadulterated enthusiasm. "You're kinda busy aren't you?" he says as he rubs his head. He pulls the towel down from his face, looks at me and asks "Why would you do that?"
Part of me that wants him to say "oooo, a blog on writing, lemme read it!" But that's not why I married him. I married him because even when he's only half awake, and muddling through his own backlogged to-do list, he always asks the most important question, kindly and because he is genuinely puzzled: Why, indeed, would I take the time to work on another writing project? Right now when I have another deadline looming?
One reason is because that's how my brain works. I've been toying with the idea of writing about writing for a good little while; wondering what I'd say, turning starting sentences over this way and that. I sat down several times, tried to work something up. I kept trying, but nothing made sense.
But when a piece of writing is on my mind, I usually wake up composing it. I don't unfurl into awareness. I lurch awake, mid-sentence, like someone who drifted off during dull party chit chat, and is suddenly snapped to attention by the question "don't you agree?" It's a foggy, unfocused, almost thick-minded state, but it's also incredibly generative. I've found it's always best to cooperate with it, even when I'm pissed off that it's only 2:53 a.m. Even when what's being written is not the thing I'm supposed to be working on.
Writing's refusal to be leashed and led is one of its most perplexing traits. If you want to get any writing done, you must make regular time for it. You have to create cages in your calendar that admit only you and your manuscript. You must scatter them throughout your week, then enter the cage, and engage whatever beast is inside. If you are lucky, you will come to some kind of agreement about how the beast will be: the quality of its roar, say, or the nature of its gait. Very often, you will leave the cage without having come to terms. Occasionally the scratches on your arm will well with blood.
And then there will be times when you're going innocently about your day, and look up to find that you are the one who has been caught and caged; the cashier is asking you to sign the receipt or the traffic light has turned green, but you look up and see only the beast, flicking its tail and, wait--did it just lick its lips? Now it's nudging the cage door shut with its nose.
I don't know if this is what it's like for other people. But if it is, I say: surrender. Excuse yourself from conversation and scribble things down; ask your partner to take the kids for 30 minutes and sketch the arc of your argument. Show up late for dinner (send a text first!) and rewrite that opening vignette. Get out of bed, seething if you like, but go to your office, open the door, and step into your cage.
Then later on, the next day perhaps, go back to the cages that you set up to trap the beast, and see what will come of that encounter. You'll want to bring some bandages, just in case. But go in anyway. I started that damn conference paper yesterday. I went through the notes and rescued what I could, I drafted incoherent power point slides. It's ugly and I hate it. And I'm not sure how much better it's going to get. And if I'm being honest, that's the real reason I started the blog yesterday. Cause being caught by the beast is always preferable to trying to catch her yourself.
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5/14/2015 01:02:25 am
you are so right. for awhile I kept my phone next to the bed so in the middle of the night I could record a voice memo with whatever sentence, idea, chapter outline had lurched into my brain and jolted me awake. that's me just trying to tame it so I can go back to sleep though. as you know, I'm no good without 7-8 hours of sleep...
5/14/2015 01:16:35 am
It's not just me??? I should have tried your plan. I was a wreck the whole day and am still catching up...
5/20/2015 01:10:29 pm
I love everything about this post.
5/20/2015 02:17:59 pm
Thanks Ellen! I love everything about that comment :).
5/22/2015 04:29:15 am
My beast is a tricksy minx. She's been playing hide and seek a lot lately. But I like the idea of just surrendering to her when she decides to play ball at inconvenient times...I think that will help make the other times easier.
5/22/2015 08:06:50 am
Of course she is. The better to keep you on your toes...
6/3/2015 01:15:39 pm
no pressure, huh? lol! Just you watch. After this week, I'm getting back in the cage...
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