Gone are the days when I wake up an hour early to write. Long gone. This morning I was up at 5:15. That early alarm setting allows forty-five minutes of quiet self-care—coffee, news, cereal—before my kids grudgingly get out of bed. They require constant and sometimes not-so-gentle nudging towards door to start their school day. If I got up an hour earlier, it would be the middle of the night.
Today I’ve got that extra hour. Susan is driving the kids to school. It’s on her way, but it’s typically not on her schedule. She works an hour away. When the kids are due at school, she’s usually deep into her commute. Today is Friday: she thought she might relax her morning with a late start. It relaxed mine. It gave me time to write.
Recently, most of my writing is done at night.
After dinner, after dishes, sometimes after Eli’s math homework, there’s a solid ninety minutes of free-time. I usually spend this time reading. I start with blogs and then finish up with immersion in a novel. Susan follows a similar pattern, but her computer use is reading news, not blogs. Eli focuses on YouTube and endures admonishments from his parents: “Ten more minutes, then switch to reading.” Sophie, eleventh grade, honors-everything, has hours of homework.
These days, I only sit to write when a topic has partially formed in my head. Kim McCrea’s recent essay, Dog Magic, reminds me that my old habit of setting aside dedicated time to write every day is a better strategy for improving my craft. But if I did that now, I’d never have time to read—and that would erode my writing skills as well.
Last Monday night, a topic nagged at me, begging for attention. An unfortunate conversation a few weeks earlier, in the heart of Christmas celebrations, left me with an ugly impression, a sour taste in my mouth. Someone offended me, and weeks later I couldn’t let it go. I skipped my evening reading and churned out a tight and fiery seven-hundred words.
I’m unable to accurately judge my writing. From my perspective I often knock out some mediocre pieces, but on occasion I’m sure I’ve completely nailed one. Those times I think I’ve hit a home run, I post my story and wait. I sit at my computer, anticipating likes and comments, but they don’t come. My best stories are ignored. Any and all praise is saved for the stories that feel like filler. That stuff I post to “keep my blog active.”
On Monday night, I killed it. I wrote one of those pieces that leaves me feeling proud. It was smart, funny, informative. It made good use of dialogue, and it made a point. I stuck up for people with disabilities and shamed a person for discrimination. As icing on the cake, I blasted a major American retailer as well. I couldn’t wait to post it.
This has happened to me before. I’ll complete a story, edit, rewrite and rearrange. And then I’ll read it over looking for those final typos that always seem to make it through to publication. And then, finally, I’ll realize, “I can’t post this, people are going to read it.”
My favorite story of all time, something I wrote years ago, has never been published… anywhere. I manage a second blog, an anonymous blog. A space that can’t be traced to me. The names and places are all made up. It’s just another random website among billions. A place to air grievances and work out problems without hurting feelings. I know I’m being overly paranoid, but I can’t bring myself to post the story on this blog. The fallout could be toxic. Relationships ruined.
My Monday night piece is a little bit like this. I’m building a collection. Stories that only exist on my hard drive, stories read only by me. Maybe they’ll be blogged posthumously. Or someone can read them at my funeral. But for now, I’m holding off. I’m keeping the peace. I’m censored by decency.
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