In interviews I’m often asked about my writing rituals, and I always give a borderline sanctimonious answer about how I think it’s dangerous to get too reliant on routine. That I’m very conscious of making sure I don’t need to depend on said rituals to get the words flowing and that I can write pretty much anytime of the day and pretty much anywhere, so long as I have a laptop. I do think it’s too easy to almost fetish-ize the act of writing. In other words, to have a list of must-haves in order to sit down and actually write smoothly: a cup of coffee, a certain desk, a time of day, particular music, special underwear, you get the idea. Writing is such a scary act—someone famous whose name I can’t remember now—and yes, I’m too lazy to google it—once compared it to sitting down every day and slicing open a vein. And so I think we often turn to routine as a way of taming our very real fears of the page. If I did it exactly this way yesterday, the thinking tends to go, then surely I can do it again tomorrow.
Well, someone should come over here and kick my sanctimonious ass, because I’ll admit it; I’ve fallen into that exact trap I’ve always warned other writers about. Two weeks ago, it was a long holiday weekend here in the UK, and I found that starting on a Tuesday made it practically impossible for me to get any work done. Seriously. That was my excuse. Not I have a headache, or I’m tired, or I’m at a tricky point in the manuscript. No, I honestly told myself I was having trouble writing because it was Tuesday and not Monday, and that was just too weird for me. You obviously cannot start a good writing week on a Tuesday. And then of course came Wednesday, which tends to happen after a Tuesday, and since the day before hadn’t worked out so well, I again wasn’t feeling it. On Thursday, which of course tends to happen after a Wednesday, I finally called the week DOA as far as writing goes, since I usually take Fridays off to spend with Elili, and there seemed little point in trying to sink myself into the manuscript for just one day and then get yanked right back out. So there it was, an entire week wasted for absolutely no reason at all.
Of course, an entire non-writing week led me down a shame spiral, since I hadn’t even used that non-writing time to hang out with my kid, or cross off my million and one to-do list. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even shave my legs. Nope, I got up each morning and went to Starbucks, as per usual, and even sat at my trusty table near the outlet (which should have been clue number one that I haven’t been following my own rules) and eavesdropped on other people’s conversations. I remember I once read somewhere that you are much more likely to go to the gym multiple times during the week if you always go on Mondays, and maybe, I told myself, the same is true of writing. But IT’S NOT TRUE. I’ll say it out loud and in all caps, because I obviously need to hear it: THESE ARE JUST EXCUSES.
Now, I don’t think the shame spiral was altogether necessary. We are human, and at a certain point, I tried to let go of the guilt and pretend it never happened. And instead of making myself crazy with scary expressions like “writer’s block” I did sit down the following Monday morning and got right back to work. But I do think there is a certain lesson to be learned here, that I still haven’t quite taken to heart.
This morning, for instance, I woke up with the best of intentions to make huge progress on my manuscript. I have ideas. BIG IDEAS. And I want to implement them. But something happened on the way to the coffee shop. I lost my bag. I won’t bore you with the full story—the tears, the panic when I counted in my head just how many credit and debit cards I’d have to cancel in two countries, not to mention my driver’s license, remembering the two new lipsticks I had just treated myself too, and of course it was the only nice bag I own, blah, blah, blah. Cut to an hour later, a call from the police that all had been found. (Note to self: there is a reason why I never clean out my purse. They tracked me down via an old baby shower invitation. So old, in fact, that the baby has since been born and now has his own driver’s license. Okay, I made that last part up, but the party was a long time ago. Long enough that the baby has outgrown the gift I did buy him at said baby shower.) Relief, excitement, jubilation followed and yes, the realization that I’m the luckiest person on the planet. And, apparently, also the stupidest. It seems I dropped by bag on the street and didn’t notice. Shall I say that again, because I still can’t quite believe it myself?: I dropped my handbag on the street and DID NOT NOTICE. See two blog posts ago about how I tend to wear my clothes inside out, and be, what was the euphimism I used? Oh yeah, distracted. (Apparently, I wasn’t exaggerating.)
What does this all have to do with writing, you might be rightfully asking? Well, once the excitement wore down, and my heart rate slowed, and it was clear I didn’t have to make any more telephone calls breathlessly canceling cards, etc., what was my very first thought?: Well, today’s writing day is shot. But here is the funny part. What time was it when I happened to think that? NOON. Yup, as in not even AFTERNOON. Just NOON. And I had written off the day, even though there were at least six full hours left of prime writing time, and just because my routine was shaken up.
So dear universe, I deserved that bitch slap this morning when my bag was stolen (umm, did I say stolen? I meant dropped?), and I deserve another for thinking that means I get the day off. No, Julie, you do not.
And just to prove the point that I will no longer be a slave to routine, I WILL be writing this afternoon. And not at my usual comfortable seat in Starbucks. No trusty table for me. I gave up that privilege when with a straight face I used Tuesday as an excuse for not writing. Nope, this sanctimonious ass will be sitting in her desk chair at home, and will start her writing day at—gasp, gasp—THREE on a WEDNESDAY. And now let the vein slicing begin…