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.


God Helps Those Who Wake Up Early

R says God helps those who wake up early. I don’t know if he’s right. I don’t know if I feel helped; if God is helping me, or if I feel different, or what. But I’m here. I’m breathing in and out, I have coffee and a little bamboo plant is keeping watch over my desk. I’m here. I’m writing. Maybe I’m helping myself. IMG_2179 (1)

I need to be doing more things to help myself. That means yes, waking up early and writing. If I’m not writing, I’m not myself anyway. Maybe, I’m loath to say, that means drinking less coffee and more water. Eating radishes. Going to yoga. Learning to be gentle with myself, and to be firm with others. Whatever the case is, I need to carry my body through this place in a way that’s helpful. Today I’m starting by waking up early.

FullSizeRender (2)This morning I went out on the balcony to finish my coffee. The neighbors were unloading tires from the back of a pickup truck. Birds were stringing invisible garlands between trees. The sun already good and hot on my back. I noticed a dead bee on the railing of the balcony. Curled up there, like he had lay down to take a nap and just never woke up. I know that’s silly to say, because bees don’t lie down to sleep. I can’t remember if I learned it from Tom Waits or Amy Leach (funny, how their interests coincide), but (I think) if a bee wants to sleep outside the hive, he attaches himself to the stem of a plant, stretches out at a right angle, and falls asleep with his legs dangling down like wind chimes.

The point is, a few months ago I lay myself down and didn’t want to get up. But I want to get up. Being good to yourself isn’t easy. It’s work. But God helps those who get up early. And I’m here. I’m up. It’s early. And I’m doing what I can to help myself.



Mallard Island: 2017

My problems are small. Everything is small, except for the pot of coffee I made myself when I got up to write this morning. My problems, my life, my everything; everything is small.

rockLast week I lay on my back on the eastern-most rock of Mallard Island and saw the whole Milky Way. I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller: all these stars making their long way to this grey rock, and me: a lone cigarette curling into itself, burning slowly out. I have never felt so neverwhere.

Mallard Island has a special way of making you feel like nothing and everything both at once. This is the fourth summer I have been to Mallard Island. It has guided me through many griefs. The first summer I was at Mallard, 2012, my close friend had just committed suicide. Though it was a writing retreat, I did little writing. I walked around the island in confusion: crying, putting my body in the water, sitting on rocks, canoeing out and canoeing back in. I listened for loons wailing. I watched the deer on faraway islands chewing the weeds. The island is small, and has no internet. No running water. No television. Mostly I sat with the terrible feeling. I swallowed it like a boulder.

deskThis year was similar, but a different grief: the day I left for Mallard, my divorce was in the process of being finalized. When I got to the island, I wrote like crazy. I wrote a lot of poems about horses telling me how to live my life. (I have a series I’m working on called “Horses Explain Things to Me”). Many of them were funny. I think  I was trying to push my emotions away from me. But at a quiet time, the island said, now, girl. And I wrote what I needed to write.

Those six days weren’t all tears and grief. The island has nurturing and restorative properties .There are over 12,000 snake.jpgbooks on the island. I was there with ten other women poets. We wrote together, learned together, swam together, cooked dinners and ate together, laughed, played, shared stories, and explored the small island.

On Mallard Island I feel like myself. More like myself than anywhere else. A better version of myself. I’m not scared of spiders. Okay. I can co-exist with them, at least. I wrote twenty poems. Not all of them are good. In one of them, I eat Taco Bell with a horse. But I wrote. A thing I hadn’t done since late February. I swam, I practiced yoga on the front dock, and I picked blueberries, and crossed paths with a snake. I woke up with the sun and I didn’t feel busy because there was nowhere else I needed to be.

Brett Elizabeth Dot Com

Here we go. I’m starting this thing. My name with a dot com after it. I have a lot to write down.


This, I guess, will be the place where I do that. I had an old blog called The Angry Grammarian. I did a lot of writing there, about what I was reading, events I attended, things I was doing around the city, poems I published. But I’m starting a new life. A brand new life. Everything in my life is different than it was just months ago. So I bought my name dot com.

Here I go.