If life faithfully followed my calendar, by the time the clock struck 7 am, I’d be awake, fed, caffeinated, and sitting with a pencil in handwriting fervently for the next 90 minutes. At the end of what would surely be an inspired writing session, what were once empty pages would be covered with well-wrought language, ready to transport readers (which would be lined up eager to consume said pages) to places of deep connections with a new understanding of the world we all live in. And I’d close my notebook, satisfied and eager to move on to the portion of my day dedicated to more practical endeavors, like work that pays enough money to pay the bills.
The real world and the brightly colored blocks on my calendar, however, seem to be in constant conflict. The invention of the snooze button proves impossible to resist at 5:30 am. Then by the time I’ve checked my email and Facebook, burnt the toast, fed the cats, and forgotten about my coffee and had to microwave it for the second time, sitting down with my pencil and facing an empty page evokes one of two (or possible both sequentially) options:
2: An impromptu nap.
Apparently, I confuse The Blank Page with a Mother Grizzly protecting her cubs and take the advice to play dead. As long as the Mother Page Bear is deaf enough to not notice my snoring, I make it through the session unscathed and move on to finding ways to procrastinate at my job. By the end of the day, my calendar resembles some alternate reality that exists on a parallel plane outside of my reach.
When I started a BFA in Creative Writing program five years ago, my hope was to graduate with a solid writing practice in place. Yet once my thesis was turned in, the “well-earned break” from writing turned into an existential crisis and a writing block that could span the Great Wall of China. So I did what any aspiring writer would do. I enrolled in an MFA program.
Two and half years and over a gazillion words later, surely the diploma that hangs above my writing desk would bring with it a well-established (albeit ridiculously expensive) writing practice? So…maybe I should reconsider going for a Ph.D.?
In fairness, I learned a great deal during my 5 years in creative writing programs and the process of gaining those diplomas has proven invaluable in ways I could not have foreseen. Yet with the ever-present pressure of deadlines, one critical lesson I did not learn was how to build a writing practice when nothing but my own need to write (and my own sanity) is at stake. Unlike musicians who are taught scales to practice or dancers who are taught how to warm up, creative writing programs (at least the ones I’ve experienced) tend to skip over the warm-up portion of the creative act of expression and leap right to a semi-completed work on the page.
After years of study, two questions linger:
1: What do I do about this blank page?
2: How do I do that consistently?
In order to resolve the tension between those beautiful blue “writing” blocks on my calendar and the harsh reality of the blank page, I need to explore those questions. Which is part of what I will do with these “Field Notes.” This space will also eventually include the exploration of other questions and, in the idealized world, also foster dialog. To that end, I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions for resources, or commiserations.
Thanks for reading,
2 thoughts on “Field Notes — An Exploration”
I struggle with the same issue. I am a morning person and I can’t seem to write in the evening. However it is so hard to get up in the morning and face the blank page. My next plan is to take it in pieces. Start with just waking up at a certain time. If I don’t write thats okay. Give it three weeks for my body to get use to the new schedule. Then the next three weeks build on the next step…making coffee…then….journaling…then…baby steps. Habits take effort and time but we have to be good to ourselves as writers and people. It will happen but slowly. Next year, you will notice the change.
Love your approach, Patty. Self-compassion is a great skill for any artist to have.