Two big things happened last week. I made it page 600 in Anna Karenina, and I began to write the first draft of my new book.
I have been inching toward page 600 for a while. And I have been ruminating the stories for the new collection much longer. And I have been telling myself every Monday, that this will be the week, this week I will begin the last quarter of the the Tolstoys' novel and begin the writing my own new stories.
Each week it didn't happen.
So when a colleague of mine said she was getting back to her early morning writing practice, I asked if I could join her. We do not write in the same physical space; she lives in the next state just south of me. But through the magic of technology, I know there is someone waiting for a response to her 6AM text: Making coffee.
I reply: Making tea.
And we begin.
The first day was easy, like the first day of most things: school, marriage, job. But Tuesday's writing was harder and slower work. Wednesday found me jiggling my leg and fidgetting in my seat, but I stayed right there. Thursday, I woke up late, but I managed to do some writing before the day was over, in part because my colleague texted me toward dinnertime, asking how things were going.
Friday was a bust. I overslept.
But I wrote Saturday.
I took Sunday off.
Monday another bust.
And today, this morning, I was restless in the bed at 5am. I rolled back and forth until finally I could not wait any longer. By 5:30, I was in the kitchen, boiling water for tea, putting away clean dishes while I waited. While the tea steeped in the pot (no single mug for me this morning), I lit the fire in the living room, got out my new binder, took out paper and pen.
Did I mention that I am writing the new collection by hand?
Yes, just as I round the bend toward the last leg of an 800 page novel, I embark on a new exercise in creative torture. I don't know why I am doing it this way. I only know that something suggested that I needed to get these ideas down on paper. By hand.
So let's time travel back to last week again. Each morning, after I wrote, or failed to write, I put away Anna Karenina binder and pulled out my other one. Well, actually, I left the binders where they were and moved my body to a table in another room. That was easier, and got me out of my seat, like walking from biology to English class in high school.
Each day, after I coped three pages of Anna Karenina, I took a walk and wrote my daily essay in observation, a practice I have had with another colleague. She lives in the state to the west of me.
Then I had lunch and read for an hour from Four Sisters, a book about the Romanov Grand Duchesses in the years leading up their murder during the Bolshevic Revolution.
After that, I collect eggs from the chicken coop.
Then I sit down to submit one or two stories to literary journals or writing contests.
The rest of the day played as it does for most of us: making dinner, washing dishes, folding laundry, and yes, to be honest, watching a little mindless television.
When I would finally lied down in bed and fall asleep, some partly conscious part of my brain was writing down my dreams. In the morning, all I could remember were words: dandle, atmosphere, cricket, running. The only visual memory I could recall was seeing my hand scrawl those words on my dream.
The life of a writer. This was supposed to be exciting and organic. Instead it is the same thing day after day.
A couple of years ago, I read a quote, written on a post-it note stuck to the desk of another collegeague, in the state to the east of me. "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Flaubert, another old, smart, white dude (I'm quoting my colleague,whom I contacted after I failed to unearth the quote, because I thought it was written by Proust).
Still, there is truth in it.
In five days of practicing (and I do mean practicing) this routine, I have written about feeling for phantom uteruses, developing a vaccine to prevent adultery, drowning mice in the toilet, and rescuing baby opossums from a dead mother's body.