When Henry was little(r) and I had no time to think or shower, let alone write, I was convinced motherhood had killed my writing mojo. I kept trying to cram in writing time, usually before sunrise, but I would fall asleep on my laptop and then wake up hours later, having only written BBBBBBBBBBBB for twelve pages.
And then I read this interview between Jonathan Lethem and Paul Auster. I read this seven years ago, mind you, and I still remember it–especially this bit, because it was such an epic bummer to read.
JONATHAN LETHEM: What were you doing today before I appeared in your house?
PAUL AUSTER: The usual. I got up in the morning. I read the paper. I drank a pot of tea. And then I went over to the little apartment I have in the neighborhood and worked for about six hours. After that, I had to do some business. […] A typical day, I suppose. A mix of working on the book and dealing with a lot of boring, practical stuff.
JL: For me, five or six hours of writing is plenty. That’s a lot. So, if I get that many hours the other stuff feels satisfying. The other stuff feels like a kind of grace. But if I have to do that stuff when I haven’t written—
PA: Oh, that’s terrible.
JL: That’s a terrible thing.
A kind of grace, you guys. A KIND OF GRACE. I read that and I wanted to run through the streets of Park Slope with a pneumatic staple gun until I found them (at least Auster; he lives right here, I’ve SEEN HIM) and exacted my revenge. It’s possible I took their idle chit-chat a little too personally.
(But seriously, if you read this interview and don’t have the same murderous impulses I had, you are a far better person than I. They just come off as so smug and self-congratulatory. I met Jonathan Lethem once and he was perfectly nice. I’m going to blame this whole thing on Auster. Who’s probably just as likeable, but please don’t complicate things for me.)
My days, at the time–and, okay, even now–were filled with the “boring, practical stuff.” Like, oh, raising a child. Finding work that would pay me money. Making sure no one burned the house down. My days were lacking in grace! Where was my grace!
The idea that a writer must write for hours every day tripped me up for the longest time. I can’t just blame this Lethem/Auster conversation. (ALTHOUGH I WANT TO.) It had long been my understanding that I needed, oh, at LEAST three hours every day to write. And I didn’t have three hours. I didn’t have one hour. And if I did, I was going to fill it with naps.
It’s taken me forever to figure out how to cram fiction-writing into my day, and really most of that time was spent mentally flogging myself for not, oh, forgoing sleep entirely, or learning to write while cooking dinner, or something. So “figuring it out” wasn’t so much “coming up with strategies” as it was “lightening up a little for god’s sake.”
If I wrote a little bit every day, I discovered, I could actually get a decent amount done. Maybe not AUSTER-LEVEL CONTENT OUTPUT (Sorry for the caps lock, still mad). But a little, and if you write a little every day, you end up–well, a lot farther along than if you had written nothing. So my genius strategy was (and is): write as much as I can. If I can fit in a half hour, so be it. An hour is spectacular. That’s usually the best I can manage. And it’s fine.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that I could work however I needed to. There are no rules. This applies to all of us. Write when you can, however you can. One day a week is better than not at all. If you can’t write for six hours a day, you can still work for fifteen minutes. You can get a little of that grace for yourself. Don’t let Lethem and Auster hog it all.