Reflections on Writing Habits

Today I woke early with the intent of using the quiet morning to write for a few hours, to feel the energy that poet Mary Oliver pours into her work. I wanted to feel productive and virtuous and perky as my roommates  (husband and teenage sons) dragged themselves into the kitchen for breakfast well after sunrise. "Good Morning Everyone! I've written a thousand words!"

I lolled in bed instead, made a cup of coffee, read some of the New York Times on the floor while stretching my back, decided to experiment with a pumpkin-oatmeal waffle recipe, clipped dead stalks from the newly green oregano in the front yard, took my son to school, walked the dog, swam laps for half an hour. Now I am writing this blog as a warm up. It is 10: 30 a.m. Not exactly early, but I do feel perky and potentially productive. I'll work on feeling virtuous later this spring when the sun and I can agree on rising at the same time.

In recent weeks, my loving husband has been sending me excerpts from Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac. Because my husband is familiar with my erratic work habits, the excerpts are usually about successful writers and their work habits. Mystery novelist, Elizabeth George, for instance, keeps the kind of schedule that makes me look like a banana slug:

     She writes five days a week when she's working on the first draft, and when she's on subsequent drafts, she writes seven days a week. She always gets up at 6 a.m., she says, feeds the dog and takes vitamins and works out on an Exercycle for 30 minutes while reading a meditation book, then inspirational book, then a novel. And she lifts weights for 35 minutes while watching The Today Show. She meditates for 10 minutes, sits down at her desk, reads great literature for about 15 minutes — something along the lines of Jane Austen — and writes a paragraph or page or two in a journal. And then she begins to work on the novel she's writing. She keeps a plot outline, and everyday she writes a minimum of five pages, even if she's on the road for book tours or on vacation.

    George said, "The only way to succeed at the writing life is to be able to live according to a schedule that accommodates time to write."

 I am pretty sure this last line is a tautology and therefore (according to my rules) completely invalidates her "exemplary" writing habits.

In her wonderful exploration Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body, author Jennifer Ackerman writes much about the differences between the night owls and the larks (the early risers). "It should be noted here," she writes, "that despite the many proverbs praisng the virtues of the larks (Benjamin Franklin's 'Early to bed, early to rise," 'The early bird gets the worm,' and so on), science suggests that there is no health or monetary advantage to being an early riser, not is it necessarily a sign of mental well-being."

So today, at 10:59, my work day begins. I did wake early. I will work for four solid hours (and for some ragged hours on either side of that). I will write a thousand words, think a thousand thoughts about clouds, and work on a virtue or two. Right now, however, my son has asked me to play a game of Scrabble. I think this is just as good as (maybe better than) watching the Today Show with dumbells.