When you read someone’s tweet about what they had for breakfast, you may have sighed and moved on. (Cereal today, by the way.) But in knowing that all writers are deranged in their particular ways, I have read with fascination how some writers work. Truman Capote said, “I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down.” I guess you could balance a typewriter on your chest, but not easily.
At the risk of fascinating you, here’s a take on how a writer—this writer—delays, er, prepares for their writing day.
The Day Before and the Morning Of
If I need a glass of electronic water thrown in my face the next day, I’ll post a frantic, “You need to write this or die!” note in my Apple calendar to frighten me into action. Or further stupor.
Mornings begin early, before six, with coffee, blessed strong coffee. I used to read the news on my iPad while drinking the blessedness, but the news has been so wretched of late, I read email instead, which is more bitchy, less wretched. And sometimes it’s even fun. I don’t attempt to answer any business or personal email then, but just dip my toes in the waters to see if they are warm or cold.
Meditate, It’s Great
Every weekday, before 7am, for somewhere near 3.5 years, I have meditated for 20 minutes or so, seated in a comfy office chair, eyes closed, feet on the floor.
My Sanskrit is limited, so I repeat a series of words for an eight-breath count: One on the in-breath, Two on the out-breath, repeated four times, then Breathe In on the in-breath, Breathe Out on the out-breath, repeated four times, then the same counts on the words Peace, Strength, Calm, Wisdom. And then I start over again.
Because I am a cheapskate, I use the free timed sessions on Apple’s Mindfulness app, which let me add cheerful background birdsong or ocean sounds to the voiceover, mostly using the 20 minute one, which has a simple bell chime every minute for the last 10 minutes or so.
I also use the free (cheapskate) meditations on Christiane Wolf’s site; I’m partial to the 20 min. Mountain and the Mindfulness of Breathing mediations. I’m also partial to the 19-minute free (yep) Complete Meditation Instructions on the UCLA Health site, because I like to cuddle with the disembodied voice on the program.
I always end my sessions with Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breath method, which seems a good sendoff to the meditation. (His recommendations for dark chocolate are good too.) I am anxiety’s child and frequently sup on depression’s cupcakes, but these sessions over the years have helped me settle in during sour times.
CYA (Covering Your Art)
Then it’s on to actual writing work. I have been pitching articles less and less these days while getting ready to publish my shoplifting memoir. Here’s a WriterUnboxed (great writing site!) detailing of my working with a book cover design team for a couple of months, showing the evolution and final outcome of the cover possibilities.
These past few weeks, I’ve been narrowing down the best (and most practical) approaches to marketing the book, which likely will include a pre-order, with an incentive to get a free download of Flowering, my book of short stories, guest posts on writing sites that will let me link back to the book, and reaching out to some local and wider press. There are scads of other minor marketing matters I’m sifting through.
If I don’t have actual deadlines (and deadlines do help spur the laggardly writer), around 4pm or so I’ll do some reading of whatever books I’m currently reading—right now, Edwidge Danticat’s book of short stories, Everything Inside, and the Lonely Planet Guide to Malta and Gozo, because me and my gal are planning on gozoing to Malta.
Exercise, almost always, at mid-day, whether a walk on the nearby slough trails, a walk through our hilly semi-rural neighborhood, or a walk on the beach, which is blessedly near enough to make it easy. A 30-minute tour on the recumbent bike inside if it’s not a walky day.
In the Wee Hours
And those are the hours between six and nine, because I get up early and need my beauty sleep. I rarely work during these hours, unless there is something truly pressing. I will check email once and might have to address something in the eve, but more often than not, it can wait. And because I know how you feel about those breakfast tweets, I won’t tell you what I have for dinner.
Weekend work? Once in a while, but often not. So, that’s it. I’ve written a number of books and had perhaps a thousand articles published, so these structures have worked for me.
Your heart undoubtedly stopped once or twice while reading this thrilling itinerary of a writer’s processes. I know it’s not like Victor Hugo’s habit of writing naked, or Honoré de Balzac’s 50 cups of coffee a day, but give me time: I could always start on those tomorrow.
Links to Thinks
Continuing a theme I’ve employed for a while, below are some articles that offer helpful ways to deal with the madness of our days, which these days seems to be the madness of our years.
Effortless Effort: Relaxing While Trying Hard
“You can cook, wash dishes, talk to people, answer email, without needing to be tensed all the time, without needing to exhaust yourself. Notice if your torso is tensed up, your jaw clenched, your temples tight. Then relax.”
The Four Enemies to a happy life and how to defeat them
“If anger, hatred, and fear come to dominate our lives, they will separate us from everything in life that gives us joy. In their passionate, fiery maw, there’s little room to do anything else, let alone be present with others.”
How to Put Life on Easy Mode
“Do things as simply as possible: We overcomplicate things. What’s the simplest way you can approach the things you have in front of you? How can you make decisions with ease, instead of overthinking it?”