Writing Habits

I like to think of a writing habit like a thing a nun puts on when she sits down to write. Maybe that’s a little bit what I need to do. Get a uniform or an outfit that I put on in the morning when I sit down at my desk. A writing sombrero. A pair of writing overalls, or special writing underpants.

The past couple of mornings I’ve been trying to get up early and write. I’ve never really been a morning person. I like to sleep in, and getting up before 7 or 8:00 is kind of a pain for me. During the semester, when I’m teaching, I do get up early and (I admit) I kinda like it: to have the whole day ahead of me, time to get things done while the sun is still up. I teach early morning classes, hold office hours, and am usually home before noon, so the rest of the day is mine to work and write. Getting up early does have its benefits.

My summer job at Whole Foods, selling meat and fish, usually has me coming in around 2:00, so I’ve been taking advantage of being able to sleep in late. But I realized I need to make writing a priority, so I’ve been trying to get up earlier. I can’t write when I get home from work. I used to be a night owl: staying up until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning in college and writing terrible poems while I looked at the moon and thought about how terribly special and alone I felt. All college poets feel terribly special and alone.

A few years ago I entered a love poem contest through Common Good Books in St. Paul. My poem didn’t win, but it was chosen as a finalist by Garrison Keillor, and I was invited to a small poetry reading celebration to honor the winners and finalists. GK read my poem aloud, which made it sound very serious, like a serious poet had written it. But after the event, I asked if I could take a picture with him, and he obliged. I don’t remember his exact words, but he told me he admired my poem and “fought for it.” He told me I was young (I guess next to Garrison Keillor anybody would look young). He told me to keep writing. And then he leaned in close like he was going to tell me something very secret. “Get up early,” he said. He says he writes at four o’clock in the morning, when nobody else is awake.

I don’t think I’m ready for the four o’clock writing habit, but I think I’m ready to try out a regular writing routine. When do you do your best writing? What are your writing habits? I find that I don’t usually write at the same time of day, nor do I have any special habits or traditions that follow me into my writing practice. I just kind of have to sit down and do it. It’s the sitting down that’s the hardest part: just starting.

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