Faye Rapoport DesPres

The Early Hours

For the past month or so I have been waking up at 4:45 a.m. and writing between 5 and 7. Well, the truth is I write for much of the day, but after 9 a.m. the writing is about business and bill paying and involves everything from corporate blog posts to web content. Before the sun comes up, the writing is all my own. This is my time to be alone with my “real” writing before the pressures of the workday bear down on me.

I’ve heard varied opinions about the necessity of writing creatively every day. Some writers swear by it: “not a day without a line.” Others are more flexible; they believe that what’s important is to make time for your writing on a regular basis, however that works within the schedule of your life. Almost everyone seems to agree on one point, however: the one strategy that does not work is to write only you feel inspired. Inspiration comes and goes (and sometimes it doesn’t come for a long time). If you wait around for it, you’re likely to spend a lot of time not writing.

I’ve come up with a compromise that seems to work for my own writing life. I get up early Monday through Friday, so that I can use the hours when I feel the freshest and most peaceful for writing. I work out after my writing hours, leaving the rest of the day to handle things like paying work and household responsibilities. I feel more relaxed throughout the day knowing that I’ve paid my writing dues; if I don’t write, I find that knowing I didn’t make the effort nags at me for the rest of the day.

On the weekends, I give myself time off — or I write in a different way. Maybe I’ll write a stream-of-consciousness journal entry that doesn’t carry any expectations of being “good,” or I’ll pull out a pen and my notebook and try to draft something new by hand. If the mood to work on one of my regular pieces strikes me, I go with that mood and head to my writing room. But if that doesn’t happen, I give myself a break. For me, taking a break makes it easier to dedicate myself during the week (never mind that it also gives me a chance to get some sleep).

Sometimes, when I work on an essay morning after morning, the piece seems to get worse instead of better. I find myself deleting half of what I wrote the day before and wondering if I can ever make the thing work. I get lost trying to figure out what I’m trying to say in the piece, and then I doubt my ability to say it well. Sometimes, after a couple of weeks of hard work, I’ll get “thisclose” to giving up on the essay completely.

At this point, usually, a strange thing happens. If I force myself to give it another try the next day, to my surprise something clicks. The essay suddenly comes back to life. It might come together in a way I didn’t expect, and I might still find myself deleting a good portion of what’s there, but the piece does come together. I see the meaning and how to get there for the first time. On those days I feel relieved that I didn’t give up, and I know I owe the credit to those voices that tell you to sit at that desk (almost) every day.

Don’t get me wrong; I often have to set aside an essay for a few weeks or even months (and in a few cases, a year or longer) before I can glean any meaning from the setting or situation I’ve laid down. It is the rare occasion (although it has happened) when an essay seems to flow naturally from beginning to end within the first few drafts. But either way, once I’ve gotten to that place where a piece is “do or die,” when it’s either going to be finished or tossed aside for good, I find I have to stick with it in order to take the final leap.

Every writer is different. What works for me might not work for you. Sometimes it doesn’t even work for me. There are a lot of things about my writing process that I’d still like to tweak; for example, I’d like to be more free with my early drafts and not to get caught up too soon in trying to make something “good.” I also realize that a mere two hours a day isn’t going to make me as prolific as I’d like to be; I envy writers who have a gift (or the time and peace of mind) for producing more work more quickly than I do.

But for now I am doing what I can and what seems to work. What about you? Feel free to leave a comment.