That title really begs for a nun joke, but since I don’t have one at the ready, I’ll just lead with a photo of a tin of Three Nuns, a pipe tobacco I quite like and was C.S. Lewis’ preferred blend.
Back to the topic at hand, my reference to habits doesn’t relate to pipes today, but to the habit of daily writing. Over the past year, I’ve had an off-again-on-again extended fling with my daily writing habit, and I thought it would be useful to talk about the five phases it has taken over the past year.
Phase One – Early-riser student
Just over a year ago, I went back to university after dropping out in 1998. That deserves its own post, so I’ll do that later, but for now, I’ll just say that being a full-time worker (50-60 hours a week) and having kids meant that I had to get creative when it came to finding study time.
My study routine was to wake up at 4:30 AM each morning, study until I got the kids up for school at 6:30 AM, and once they were out of the house by 7:30 AM, I’d go back to studying until I had to shower at 9:00 AM and go to work. Thankfully, my office allowed me to extend my work hours from the standard 8-4 to 10-6 for this effort.
Generally, this study session entailed a 70:30 ratio of reading: writing, but it wasn’t mere notetaking–I was paraphrasing concepts from multiple disciplines (English Literature and Philosophy) and writing practice timed essays in longhand. It was incredible to be back in the world of academia after a twenty-year lapse!
Once my exams were complete, I stopped getting up at 4:30 AM and I stopped writing in the mornings, all until I was lucky enough two weeks later to find a new writer’s group forming locally.
Phase Two – Creative Writing for fun and profit
Okay, that heading is purely rhetorical–all of my paid writing has been non-fiction to this point, but I’ll just go with it.
Joining Upstate Creative Writers was the catalyst I needed to get back in the swing of writing fiction again after a dry spell of a year or so. Unlike other writing groups I’d participated in over the years, this one was focused primarily as a connector for writers seeking critique groups. This was exactly what I was looking for.
I started by submitting my final project for my L4 Creative Writing class, a short story about a Soviet teenager and his mother who defect while in East Germany in 1967 and are on the run from the authorities of two countries as well as the mob in order to find a new life in America. I got a lot of great feedback and began expanding the short story out to a full novel.
For several months, I continued creating and writing daily and all was fun and games until I realized that nothing kills a daily habit like a new baby in the house.
Phase Three – Newborn Interregnum
Don’t worry–the new baby wasn’t a surprise–although that would probably make for a more-thrilling post. I knew my writing productivity would take a hit and that was a price I was more than willing to pay, but baby Monya had a few issues and after multiple hospital stays in the NICU and Children’s Hospital, we finally had her home a little over a month after she was born. Don’t worry, all is 90% well with her now, aside from a few issues with feeding and ongoing acid reflux. At almost four months old, she has finally topped 10 lbs, so she’ll likely be the runt of our litter, but I’m so happy to have her home with us at last. I’m hearing her coo in her swing right now, in fact.
Phase Four – NaNoWriNoMo
I figured that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) was a good way to get back in the daily writing habit, and since UCW had a write-in every Monday in November, it’d be a great way to get back in the saddle now that Monya’s health issues had been mostly sorted out.
It went really well for the first two weeks – I had no issues hitting a daily word count of 2,000 words, slightly above the 1,667 you need each day if you’re on track to finish a 50k-word novel by the end of the month. I even went to a gaming convention in Charlotte with my wife and stayed on task.
Soon, around the 14th, I found myself flagging at work, at home with my family, and I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was burning out quickly and decided that the arbitrary goal of NaNo was piling too much straw on my camel’s back and I chose to let it go. I immediately felt better, and I let this writing vacation extend out past my 40th birthday and Thanksgiving, and soon I knew I had to get back on task.
This has led to…
Phase Five – Morning Pages
I’m currently on day three of my new Morning Pages habit. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there was a part of me that hears a siren’s call to shirk off my duties for my work and family and plow through as many words as I can in a kamikaze attempt to finish 50k by midnight on Friday. That desire is definitely there and calls out to me like a little anthropomorphic typewriter on my shoulder with devil horns. “Forget about all of that,” Satan-Corona calls, “you’re a writer, what’s most important is writing.”
Thankfully, I know myself well enough at this point to know that the havoc that such a marathon writing effort would place on my life is totally not worth the arbitrary goal of winning NaNo. My comfort is that I began NaNo in an effort to get back into a daily writing habit and here I site writing daily. It’s not quite the path I thought November would take for me, but here I am nonetheless. That’s a microcosm of life, I suppose.
I was just now disrupted from writing this post by the awakening of my baby and I had to step away for twenty minutes or so to get her sorted out again. I could choose to be annoyed by the interruption, but then I remember my first principles and why I write and one of my favorite writing quotes comes to mind:
“Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” – Stephen King
My family is most of the reason I get up and write each day–they are a help, not a hindrance. Today is simultaneously the third-last-day until NaNo ends and my third day of Morning Pages. I’m taking that as both serendipity and providence that I’m exactly where I need to be, with my butt in chair writing and holding my baby in arm. I’m pretty dextrous like that.