Today I’m feeling a little envious.
Several days ago, I read a lovely interview with Margo Lanagan, the Australian writer. In it, she talked about her writing day. I’m always fascinated by accounts of how other writers do their work. If you’re a writer, go read it. Here’s a description of how she starts her day:
“Get up as early as possible and, before I’m awake enough to attack myself with criticisms, start writing (I write the first draft of everything longhand, in biro on lined bank-weight paper). If I can get in a couple of hours before breakfast, that sets me up for a productive rest-of-the-day.
“Breakfast, then head off to my rented Writing Room, two blocks from my house. Install myself there, immerse myself again. I still aim for ten pages a day – I’m not allowed to beat myself up about it if I don’t make the count, but I do have to try. I’ve found that if I’m on a roll and write substantially more than ten pages, I’m in fact stealing words (and likely slightly sloppy words) from the next day.
“Sometimes the ten pages are done by 11 a.m., sometimes it takes a full 8 hours to get them. Whatever’s happening, don’t let anxiety leak into the process. Keep it as enjoyable and hopeful as possible. Writing snacks: raw carrots, Vita-Weats, anything crunchy – but low fat (don’t want to get sleepy!) – I literally chew my way through plot glitches. If I can, stop writing at a point in a scene where something interesting’s about to happen, to make it easy to start again next day.
“Walk away from it and do unrelated things. Exercise is the best; rinse out my brain with oxygen. Put the book out of mind until just before going to sleep, then just gently prod at the scene I’m going to tackle in the morning, get it ready to take up on waking.”
Doesn’t that sound nice? It does to me. But of course, I was comparing it to what I was doing that day, which went something like this. I wake up at 7 a.m., get dressed, commute for forty minutes to the university, sit in my office and prepare for class, teach four classes in a row, sit in my office and hold office hours, commute back for forty minutes, pick my daughter up from school, and make dinner. Then, I sit in front of my computer and do whatever I need to – often, answer emails, type up a blog entry, do any writing work I need to (by which I don’t mean writing – right now I have an interview, a guest blog post, and an afterword to write, which I need to get done sometime this weekend). If I have any time afterward, I may try to write something, but honestly, lately I’ve just been too tired. Not every day is like that: I don’t teach on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so those are days to catch up on marking papers, but they will also soon be the days I schedule mandatory conferences with students.
It’s kind of a miracle that I get writing done at all.
When I was reading the interview, I also envied Margo’s writing room in an old Victorian house. I have a writing space of course, but it’s in a corner, and I can usually hear whatever else is going on in the house. And it’s also where I prepare for teaching. Before I go on to what I think of all this, I’m just going to say that Margo is a wonderful writer and has a book coming out, which I’m going to read as soon as it’s available. Here it is:
It’s all about selkies, and I love selkie stories. So I’m really looking forward to it. I’m very glad that Margo has a lovely office and the time to write books for me to read!
But her interview also made me think about my own life and the way it’s organized. I don’t like envying other people. For one thing, there’s something unworthy about it. If I want something that someone else has, I should figure out how to get it for myself, rather than envying that person. What will envy get me? (A blog post, evidently.)
What I envy, of course, is time and space, and there are many writers who have that. (Yes, I envy them as well. And I know perfectly well that, although they have more time and space than I do, they also have to do the same writing work, and often freelance work as well.) So how can I get that time and space? Those are the questions I’m thinking about right now. I don’t have answers for them yet, but at least they’re on the agenda.
Today, I did two things that made me happy. I went to one of my favorite antiques stores and bought a small sewing cabinet, sort of like a table with drawers. It’s old and elegant and mahogany, and I’m going to use it as a jewelry chest. And I bought two scarves. I don’t know why scarves always make me feel elegant: perhaps because they’re not utilitarian. I do have a sense, finally, of who I am and where I want to go. I just don’t see, yet, how to get there. But it will happen.