Happy National Writing Day!

Happy National Writing Day, according to the dark cabal of Twitter Hashtags!

Writing is both my favorite and least favorite activity. It’s saved my life multiple times and inspired countless suicidal thoughts. I’ve devoted most of my life to perfecting this craft. Someday I’d like to be paid for it.

I decided to be a writer in second grade. My motives weren’t based on any deep artistic inclination. It was 1997, and I heard somewhere that JK Rowling had more money than the Queen of England. More money than the Queen of England felt like a good starting paycheck, so I started writing.

Then I kept writing.

And kept writing.

And kept writing which brings us to today. I have significantly less money than the Queen of England. I’ve made peace with not being J.K Rowling. I’m still writing and, somewhere along the lines, I found artistic inclination. The revelation that I would keep writing no matter what else happened surprised me, but it’s true. Even if I never make another dime, I will keep writing.

Please don’t misinterpret the previous statement. I still want to be paid. Artistic inclination is a poor substitute for food, rent, and healthcare.

So how do you keep writing? That question is not rhetorical. I love hearing about everyone’s process. I love specific advice to ignore or embrace. A process is a method and conditions creators use to create. They evolve and change over time. If you don’t think you have a process, you probably have many. I have at least two, depending on what I need to accomplish.

My day starts at 6:30. My phone alarm goes off at 6:30. I turn it off and go back to bed. If I remember to charge my phone in the kitchen, I have to physically rise to turn it off. Then I can feed my cat. If I fell asleep with my phone by my bed, I turn it off without getting up, and Sherbert bites my feet. I recommend getting an alarm clock that bites you.

By 7 or 7:30, I am awake enough to make coffee. Then I go back to bed, or I get dressed. After I am dressed, I take my medication, or I go back to bed. My bed may as well be a magnet. Eventually, I go to my job if I don’t go back to bed.

I pay the bills with pet sitting. Dogs and cats don’t require a lot of mental focus. If I don’t have any extra duties, I go home after about an hour. When the job is over, the work begins.

First, I clear my mind by cleaning the apartment for a half hour. I clean the same four areas every day: my desk, my bed, the cat box, and the dishes from the night before. These tasks don’t always take thirty minutes, but I always find something else to do. Focusing on menial labor allows me to free my mind of distraction before I write. Finishing these tasks gives me a feeling of accomplishment that creativity seldom affords.

After I finish cleaning, I write. My daily minimum is 250 words, though I usually write more. When I was younger, I could write thousands of words in one sitting. However, those sittings were few and far between. Now I focus on consistency rather than breaking records.

I usually have three to five projects going on at once. I write essays for this blog, prose for publication, scripts to be performed, and new comedic material. I try not to write on any given subject for more than a half hour at a time. After forty-five minutes, I become sluggish. I get into my own head about editing or originality or money or any number of distractions. When that happens, I close my computer and do something else. When I’ve done something else for thirty minutes, I return to writing, and the cycle starts again.

Something else encompasses the entire rest of the universe. On bad days, I fall into the vortex of the internet and lose hours of creative time. To avoid that sticky spider web, I go off screen.  I count creative activities, like writing longhand, drawing or painting, and reading books for research or inspiration as time spent working. Exercise, eating, cleaning, playing with my cat, or taking a nap are necessary for my physical and mental health. Physical and mental health is required for writing.

Incorporating health into my creative routine is the hardest lesson to learn. Yes, I can ignore my aching back, grumbling stomach and drooping eyes to finish a project on time, but it’s not sustainable. We have a vision of the starving artist, squinting in candlelight with blisters on his fingers, breath visible in his thatched hovel. Reject it. Suffering can lead to art, but life will provide plenty without your input. You do not have to sacrifice health and comfort for creativity. I write much better with my anti-depressants, sugar loaded coffee, and my cat at my feet at the desk I love than I would in a cardboard box with only a bottle of cheap whiskey and negative self-talk for company. Life is necessary for art. Make caring for your body and mind a part of your routine, regardless of your creative inclinations.

I can keep the write/something else cycle up for most of the morning. Once I accomplish my word count, I am free to seek out other diversions. I may pick up some extra jobs, go to the library and research, or socialize. I seek out new opportunities and complete the mundane tasks of promotion and budgeting. I keep writing. Writing is fun. It can frustrate or depress at times, but most of it is fun. I couldn’t have kept writing for so long if it wasn’t mostly fun. My process keeps the work fun for longer and helps me navigate everything else.

Enjoy your work, your creativity, and your life. Find your own process.

If you enjoyed reading about my writing process, you should check out Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, a book detailing the creative process of such figures as Georgia O’Keefe, Leo Tolstoy, and dozens more. Also, How Do You Write, a fantastic podcast where author Rachael Herron interviews other authors about their process has become a part of my process! I listen to the show while I clean in the morning!

Things I Like

With everything happening in the world, my depression seems less like mental illness and more like a reasonable response. However reasonable, being sad doesn’t often serve me. It’s not fun. So here is a list of five things that make me happy. In no particular order, these are things I see every day that make my world a little bit better.

  1. Podcasts

I listen to podcasts every day. They’re a great way to make menial tasks, like driving, dog walking or cleaning the apartment, entertaining. Currently, I am working my way through the archives of Hello From The Magic Tavern, an improvised comedy podcast about a Chicago man who becomes trapped in a world of wizards, elves, and shapeshifters who basically only take the form of talking badgers. It’s DEFINITELY fictional and not proof of other dimensions. It’s also hilarious. Other great podcasts include My Brother, My Brother and Me (a comedy podcast where the McElroy brothers give terrible advice), The Adventure Zone (these same brothers play Dungeons and Dragons with their dad), The Art of Process (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo interview creative people about how they make their art) and everything on the Escape Artists network (weekly short stories of fantasy, science fiction, weird fiction and YA fiction). Whatever you’re interested in, someone has made a podcast.

  1. My Kitten

His name is Orange Sherbert and he’s currently trying to murder my shoe laces. My neighbors found him and his sisters in the dumpster behind our apartment: small, scared and covered in fleas. We bonded almost immediately. So suddenly, despite our finances, a one bedroom and my roommate’s allergies, we had a cat. Sherbert is the best impulse decision I ever made. Against all odds, he’s happy and healthy, with all his vaccinations and a recent neutering. He runs to the door when I come home. He meows and natters when he sees the neighbor cats or his food dish or a red dot. He walks across my laptop and snuggles with me early in the morning. He’s staring at me right now, probably waiting to bite my fingers. I love him so much.

Sherbert on my desk
  1. My Bed

I swear I am not getting paid for this post. I bought a Casper mattress last week and it’s changed my life. For nearly five years, I’d slept on an Ikea mattress on the floor. It was never super comfortable but recently it became a torture chamber. Casper has been advertising on my favorite podcasts for years so I knew it would be inexpensive, easy to return and delivered. I got twin XL mattress, base and bed frame for less than $800. It’s amazing. I actually get up feeling rested, allowing me to actually get to work on time. You spent a third of your life asleep. Get a mattress that you love.

  1. My Desk

My Desk is easily the most beautiful item I’ve ever owned. It’s green and weathered, topped with reclaimed wood. I found it at the Melrose Trading Post, a weekly flea market benefiting Fairfax High School’s extracurricular programs. I haggled thirty dollars off the original price and a sweet old man named Ziggy delivered it the next day. I put it next to my window. I can see the tops of buildings, a few trees and squirrels on telephone lines. Every day, I strive to live up to my desk.

  1. Singing

I wrote 50 words about how much I liked candles and then a song came on shuffle that I needed to sing with. There are a lot of songs like that, where I have to stop whatever I’m doing and sing along. I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. I can carry a tune, but I am no great talent. Part of the joy of singing is that I don’t have to be a great talent. I can just do it. I like the sound of my own voice and the way the words seem to lift up to the sky. Whatever wrong note or mistake comes out of me disappears into the ether. Music connects me to people I’ve never met and loved ones I’ll never see again. Music inspires me and I love to be a part of it, even if it’s only belting along to the radio.

The world is hard. Remember the simple joys that help you through it.