Issue 9: Aspirational writing routines
Oh, how I wish I was a morning person. When authors are asked about their writing routines, almost all of them say they write in the morning, churning out hundreds or thousands of words before lunch. Not only that, they have little morning rituals like stretching, meditating, doing literal morning pages, or making coffee or tea before sitting down to write. There’s even scientific evidence that the peak of most people’s attention cycle is early in the day, which is when they are at their most productive.
You know what my morning routine is? Snoozing 3-5 discordant alarms (yes, you heard that right) a few times before blearily washing up, chugging a cup of coffee, and signing onto Slack. I work a full-time job but I know that’s not really an excuse. I’ve read about so many authors who also worked full-time jobs before their successful debuts. They stayed dedicated to their literary pursuits by toiling away for years, writing every day in—you guessed it—THE MORNING.
What’s really annoying is that on the few occasions I’ve actually written first thing in the morning, it works. Last November, I met with some colleagues in a cafe before work while we all worked on our National Novel Writing Month projects for an hour. Maybe it was the peer pressure, the limited hour I had before work began, my dumb brain proven right by science, or some combination of all three, but I found it easier to write.
God, I hate when advice is actually good but I just struggle to apply it to my own life. But then I wonder, is it actually something to aspire to if I can’t seem to stick with it? Am I just setting myself up for disappointment and more needless alarm snoozing? Why am I so obsessed with this routine in the first place?
Writing in the morning is aspirational to me as a thing that Real Writers do. Protecting your time. Putting in the time. Working in solitude. Being disciplined. I think these qualities are important, but I sometimes fixate on the process as if that’s the secret key to unlocking success. I end up spending so much time focusing on what I think a writer should do that it blocks me from doing the one thing writers must actually do: write.
I love reading about writing routines and advice as much as the next person, but I have to remember that what works for others may not work for me no matter how hard I try. Becoming a morning person won’t make me a writer. In fact, it will probably just make me extremely cranky. Being realistic is preferable, particularly when we all need to be extending compassion to each other and ourselves.
So I’m embracing my night writing habits. After all, I wrote this newsletter an hour ago.
- Toni Morrison on the work you do, the person you are: “I’ve had many kinds of jobs, but since that conversation with my father I have never considered the level of labor to be the measure of myself, and I have never placed the security of a job above the value of home.”
- “How to Find Your Voice as a Writer” by Drew Magary
- My favorite suggestion in this guide on how to overcome COVID-19 writer’s block is to “make art for those you love.”
- Mary H.K. Choi on writing (and not writing) in a pandemic
- Alexander Chee is teaching a class in October on how to write an essay collection.
Recent reads & other media
I read Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, which follows the intertwined lives of two Black boys who are sentenced to the Nickel Academy, an abusive juvenile reformatory school in the Jim Crow South. It’s a book that must be read to the very last sentence in order for it to have its full effect. It left me stunned and heartbroken. The prose is direct and unadorned, conveying horror and trauma with precision but without lingering on the violence itself. I’d also recommend reading the original investigation into the Dozier School for Boys, the real-life Florida reform school that the Nickel Academy is based on.
In need of some lighter, end-of-summer reading, I blew through Beach Read by Emily Henry. Two authors and college rivals challenge each other to write a book in the other’s genre by the end of the summer. I’m a sucker for any “enemies to lovers” plot.
I rewatched Mulan (the 1998 version, of course) with my family because we all agreed that shelling out $30 for a Disney+ rental went against our principles. I highly recommend listening to Nice White Parents, a five-part series from Serial and NYT about the overwhelming influence of white parents in American public schools and decades of school reform initiatives. I’ve made my way through the first 3.5 seasons of Taskmaster, a British game show where five comedians do silly tasks like “eat as much watermelon as possible in one minute” or “create a stop motion film starring a potato.” As an avid Floor Is Lava fan, this show is a perfect combination of ingenuity and sheer ridiculousness. All the episodes are now on Youtube.
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~ meme myself and i ~
Back-to-school edition. This art history professor’s lectures sound incredible. Why do middle school boys do this?? Math is a nightmare. Instructions on how to fold a piece of paper. I relate to these dorm decorations.