This morning I am thinking about the exhortation to write every day: Do you have a daily writing practice? What does that look like? What would it look like if you had your way?
Long before I read The Artist’s Way, I was getting up early in the morning to write, for an hour or more. Mostly nothing has come of this writing, by which I mean that most of it hasn’t been published. Instead, this writing has been for me. There were years when I woke regularly between 4 and 4:30 am – this never got easy. Initially, I had to trick myself to get out of bed, using my caffeine addiction. Even though I knew how much better I felt when I was able to get up and have time in the dark with my notebook and words, the only thing that would make me actually get out from under the covers in those early morning years was setting up my coffee pot to start brewing at 4 or thereabouts – my alarm would go off and I would smell the coffee (that’s right); it was the fact that I didn’t want the coffee to burn that got me up. I dragged myself out of bed to pour the coffee into a carafe – and by then I was up, so I also made myself a cup, laced liberally with sugar, lit my morning candle, and sat down at the kitchen table where I’d left my journal the night before.
Daily writing has been the way that I found myself. I used the page as the place where I did what Brian Andreas describes in the story “Open Heart”:
He told me that once
he forgot himself & his
heart opened up like a
door with a loose latch
& everything fell out &
he tried for days to put
it all back in the proper
order, but finally he
gave up & left it there
in a pile & loved
I called these writing writes my core dumps – I wrote in order to get it all out in front of me: worries and frustrations, trauma memory and work struggles, trouble or longing in my relationships. This was where I could be all of myself: petty, whining, disappointed, hurt, brilliant, furious, desiring, turned on, curious, frustrated, catty, joyful, wondering. While much of my daily writing has not emerged from the notebooks, I often write first drafts of essays or erotic stories, longhand, during daily writing sessions. After getting the core dump out of the way, I found I had energy to get imaginative, and would work on poems or stories.
I like it to be dark when I’m into the morning writing – I like to feel cradled and held, I like to feel as though there’s nothing else I should be doing. So often I have felt like I’m stealing my writing time: from partners, from my job, from chores that need attending to. This thing that I do in the dark (thanks to June Jordan) with my pen and candle, it doesn’t make any money. It’s time just for me and for the words. I used the pages to try and make sense of myself – verbatim.
I learned to record my first thoughts, sentences that made no logical sense or lines that I didn’t believe when I wrote them – words that were surprising or confusing, words I liked the sound or feel of – just write it, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t move out of this place of deep connectedness with who I really am (which wasn’t pretty after all, but was, in fact, quite a mess). I kept going. Sometimes when I wrote exactly what came to me to write, I got to be surprised by what my subconscious offered – images or metaphors that made me make sense, or words that complicated some part of my life I had thought was together and fixed.
Writing myself whole has meant writing myself loose: messy, poetic, contradictory, confused, questioning.
When I talk about daily writing, I say simply that it saved me. Writing has been the place I trusted the most, and most consistently. And I have been fortunate to live with significant others who treated my writing with respect, who did not read journal, who treated them as if they were as private and inviolate as the inside of my own beating heart. I have rarely shared with anyone what I write in these notebooks – the morning writing was a place for me to work things out, my companion, my best friend’s ear, a steady companion who did not judge or criticize or interrupt or tell me what to do. I have needed this kind of sacred and protected, nonjudgmental space – meaning I have needed to learn how to treat my whole self as sacred, to release myself from judgment.
You’ve learned all the recommendations. Write every day. Nulla dies sine linea: no day without lines. Julia Cameron says three unbroken pages every morning. Anne Lamott says to try and sit down at about the same time every day, in order to train your creative unconscious to kick in for you. Natalie Goldberg says, “My goal is to write every day. I say it is my ideal. I am careful not to pass judgment or create anxiety if I do not do it. No one lives up to his ideal.” There are other productive and producing writers who don’t write every day, and who say that the pressure to do so hasn’t served them.
You find what works for you for awhile, and do that. And then what works for your writing will change.
I don’t allow too many days without writing – when I do, I begin to lose track of parts of myself. I begin to believe too much in my surfaces, my public performances, my personae. Writing practice brings me back into the mess of my human realness: I don’t have all the answers, I am still complicated and ridiculous and loving, I am not as shiny as (I think) my packaging appears, thank goodness.
Even after all these years of daily practice, I still struggle to give myself what I need: those earliest morning hours devoted to the skin between dreamtime and waking life. Every morning I get to decide to show up for my creative and healing self all over again.
What works for your writing practice? Do you write every day? Do you want to? What would that mean for your writing and yourself?