Actually, it’s because I want to pass on my awesomeness to you. I’m super-uper-duper at writing fast and furious without a moment’s hesitation. I get out of bed at 5 am every morning and I’m at my desk by 5.15am, after I’ve done fifteen minutes of meditation, 3 yoga poses, prepared my kids’ packed lunches and put a load of washing in the machine. Oh, and I’ve eaten porridge for breakfast, fed the cats and knitted a pair of fluffy socks.
I then write non-stop till 7am when everyone else gets up (lazy sods.) For the next 55 minutes to 1.45 hours (depending on whether it’s a walking to school day or I am driving them) I give myself over to my family, tending to their needs and moods with infinite patience and calm. I would never, ever dream of checking emails or Facebook for updates during that time, nor of hiding in a corner while everyone yells, “Where’s my trainers? I have gym today!” Because that never happens in our house. (Though I might point out the incorrect grammar and explain it should be, “Where are my trainers?” Trainers being plural…)
When everyone has gone, I return to my desk and I do not look up till 1pm, by which time I will have written at least 20,000 words of a novel, three articles, six blog posts (3 of which are guest posts for other bloggers, because I am generous that way) and the next 10,000 words of my memoirs.If I have time, I might write a short story, just for fun.
But the way some poeple go on, you’d think that is what happens.
So back in the real world.
Yes, I admit, the reason I write so much about overcoming writer’s block is because I’ve had a lot of practice! I overcome writer’s block several times a week, and sometimes several times a day.
It’s not constant. Some mornings I wake up with so many thoughts racing through my head I can’t type or write fast enough to get them onto screen or paper. Sometimes I do write at 5.15 am, but usually I am still under the quilt then, using a torch (flashlight) to see by if my husband is asleep beside me. (And if he’s on an early shift then his alarm going off at 4.30 was what woke me.)
When the blocks do hit, I have tools. (And I don’t mean a hod for carrying said blocks.) I realise that it is just fear, so I welcome the fear and often it dissolves. I get started, and then a thought comes. Usually that thought is, “This isn’t working out properly. You need to change it.”
Another favourite is, “Even if you think this is good, it doesn’t mean anyone else will.”
Or, “You think this is good right now, but when later on you’ll realise it’s rubbish. You always do.” That one loves to turn up after those 5 am scribbles, when I have been feeling thrilled by my brilliant idea.
Only this morning, as I avoided writing by posting a status update on Facebook about how cold it was and how I was still wearing my coat, I realised something. In spite of all the many ways I’ve dragged myself through the fog of writer’s block to produce short stories, articles, blog posts, one completed novel and two half-finished ones, there was a niggling thought once again occupying my mind.
Well two thoughts actually.
The first was: “You’ve run out of ideas or forgotten how to write.” It was a version of the thoughts I’ve been aware of for years and have found ways to get round.
The other thought was sneakier, and masqueraded as useful advice. It told me that if I didn’t start right now I was going to do the same thing I “always” do and end up not getting enough done in the morning and so spend the evening working on a blog post due later today. (This post as it happens.)
That thought came accompanied by a gripping feeling in my stomach. It came accompanied by images of “everyone else” (whoever they might be) writing away while I waste time. It came accompanied by memories of rushing at the last minute, and of feeling guilt and shame because of that.
Not long ago I read an article about the rise in mindfulness, in which the writer explained she realised she’d been following mindfulness for years – only until now she’d thought it was called ‘wasting time.’ She was a big believer in the benefits of wasting time. The article wasn’t very serious, and her grasp on what mindfulness is was tenuous. (She cited ‘staring out the window’ as an example – I suppose it could be mindful, but it could just as easily not be.)
But what struck me was how this writer’s day began wasn’t that far removed from mine. By the time she’d got the kids off, done chores and checked social media, it was eleven o’ clock. Then she got down to work. Work lasted till she’d written an article that took an hour or two – and then she had a rest. I expect she was exaggerating, but her point was that wasting time could be seen as a good thing, and this did bring me pause for wonder. (This pause was either wasting time or practising mindfulness, you take your pick.) I didn’t keep the article and can’t remember who wrote it, so, sadly, I can’t waste time finding it and linking up. I’m sure you’d have liked to waste time reading it.
When I was a kid, I really believed that wasting time was a bad, bad thing. It was especially bad to waste time reading or drawing when I should have been doing homework or tidying my room. Or daydreaming when I should have been working. It’s what we hear over and over isn’t it? And yes, I’ll hold my hand up and admit I’ve probably said the same thing to my kids when I’ve seen them watching yet another gif on Tumblr.
In a culture that values busyness and productivity, and where the scenario in this post’s opening paragraphs is not far removed from the stories people tell about how we are supposed to live, it’s all too easy to feel we aren’t working hard enough or smart enough or enough enough.
Here are some examples:
“Your life is too precious a thing to waste.” (And to not waste it you must get up at 5am.)
“Rising Early: Why Successful People Do It & How You Can Too” (Um, so is Barack Obama not successful then? He gets up the same time I do – 7am.)
Of course, if it suits you, there’s nothing wrong with rising early. As this article 7 Benefits of Waking Up Early suggests, it can be beneficial to your health.
However, in the post Famous Writers’ Sleep Habits vs. Literary Productivity, Visualized, Maria Popova lists some famous authors by rising time and productivity. She found that late risers tended to have written more, though earlier risers had won more awards.
So even the post about late or early risers focuses on how work gets done!
All this talk of being mega-productive is not that different to the Photoshopped images of models that adorn every magazine. Neither is real. Nobody can maintain the kind of schedule some claim without risking long-term damage. Kate White of Cosmopolitan evens says, “I regularly do my work standing up at a rolling butcher block counter in my kitchen. If I were to work sitting down, I’d fall asleep.”
I appreciate her honesty, but really why would I aspire to that?
The funny thing is, I can remember, as a child, lying in grass and watching the clouds float by. I can remember standing on a rock in the Atlantic and imagining I could see America beyond the horizon. I can remember standing on hilltops and feeling the wind blow through my hair.
On none of those occasions did I think I was wasting time. Neither did I, when years later, as a new mother, I stood watching my baby sleep. If I stand on a hilltop now (even if only in my mind) and feel guilty for doing so, that is far more of a waste of time than doing nothing is. What I somehow learned to forget in my childhood guilt for wasting time was what these moments are what remind us of who we are. They are the moments that nourish us, the feed our souls. That’s never a waste of time. (And possibly worth getting up early for?)