During the past week, an item from The New Yorker‘s “Page Turner” blog lit up the writerly Internet. Everywhere I looked, it seemed that people were admiring, sharing, and otherwise recommending Roxana Robinson’s “How I Get to Write,” which details the routine that the author follows to bridge that gap each morning between awakening and reaching the moment when she “start[s] in, tapping at the keyboard.”
But in some venues–a listserv for freelance writers, a Facebook discussion–I noticed that a few people were commenting that Robinson’s routine, while idyllic, sounded highly impractical. Some noted that their partners wouldn’t be as accommodating as Robinson’s husband is to the habit of “avoid[ing] conversation.” Others observed that while Robinson can focus on simply preparing her own morning coffee, many other people have children (and even pets) to feed and prepare for the day. For my part, I was acutely conscious of the absence of any mention of a need to leave the house and commute to a 9-5 job where writing fiction certainly wasn’t part of the position description.
To be sure, Robinson wasn’t necessarily prescribing a routine that the rest of us writers can (or should) follow. At some point, I think, we all realize that we need to find our own paths, even if others’ examples may prove to be illustrative. Personally, I appreciate knowing about others’ paths–sometimes. I’m simply not that interested in “how I write” accounts from those who seem to have few obligations beyond their own pages, or who are blessed with reliably ample chunks of time to structure as they choose more days of the week than not (yes, I’m talking to you, professors who teach one or two workshops each semester, and whose own writing, moreover, is considered part of the research/scholarship component of your college or university appointment).
Much for instructive, for me, is a piece like another one I read this past week. In the latest issue of her weekly FundsforWriters newsletter, C. Hope Clark shared “How I Break Up My Day.” Although she is no longer showing up to a 9-5 office job, Clark isn’t writing fiction full-time, either. Even if our circumstances differ, Clark’s article simply struck me as far more practical and therefore illuminating than Robinson’s.
Both Robinson’s and Clark’s pieces reminded me of my own recent Q&A with author David Abrams. I’ve admired David’s productivity for a long time, so I was eager to ask him this: “David, you have a full-time, nonacademic ‘day job,’ plus family commitments, plus an extraordinary and ever-updated book blog. I’m dying to know a) when you sleep and b) what a typical workday looks like for you.”
I do work a 9-to-5, 40-hours-per-week, Monday-through-Friday day job, so by necessity that dictates my writing time. I get up every day at 3:30 and fill the next five hours with as much creative writing, blogging, email, exercise and reading as I possibly can. It’s all fueled with strong cups of coffee, but if you notice some of the posts at The Quivering Pen are a little fuzzy around the edges, the writing not as sharp as it could be, that’s the reason. If I want to get any creative, non-blogging work done in the morning, it has to be the first thing I do, before the tyranny of email distracts me. The only way I can possibly discipline myself to do this is to kill the Internet connection on my computer the night before. I’m a morning writer, so when I come home at 5 o’clock, the evenings are devoted to spending time with my wife, my best friend in the world. We cook dinner, watch TV, and play Wii games. All in all, it’s a good life – even if the day does start well before the crack of dawn.
My friends, h*ll will freeze over before I will start my day at 3:30 a.m. So, again, David’s response doesn’t necessarily solve my own writing challenges. But what I love about it (similar to Clark’s remarks) is its sheer practicality–and potential.
Despite the rebellion I anticipate from my brain and body, I could get up at 3:30. One day, I might transition back to a freelance life for which Hope’s routine might provide useful guidance. But I can’t imagine that my routine will ever resemble Roxana Robinson’s. Which is why, notwithstanding all of those shares and RTs and “likes”, her essay simply doesn’t speak to me.