I don’t know why I prefer to write in the dark. Maybe it’s not even a preference. Maybe it’s actually a function of my perception of having time. I’ve explained before that somewhere along the line I turned into an early riser despite my best efforts. Today it was 4 AM. I can’t even blame the dogs, as they slept downstairs last night. Gracie and Henry, the cats, slept with me – or, rather, in Gracie’s case, on me – but they certainly didn’t wake me, being cats and having an always-full food dish. No, I just wake up and that’s that.
I don’t necessarily plan to write in the early morning. My routine comes first, which includes copious amounts of coffee and checking in on a few websites or blogs that I read, plus catching up on a couple of games I play on my phone. (Words with Friends, primarily. I’m sure the friends I play with appreciate my early morning plays. I trust they have their sound turned off or otherwise I suspect they wouldn’t want to play against me.) Eventually my routine winds down and I’m left with a quiet house and time – at least on the weekends. That’s when I sometimes turn to writing.
My process isn’t complicated. Usually if I start to write it is because I already have something in mind to say. On those days, I just sit down at the laptop on the dining room table and begin to spill it out. The ideas take shape as I write. There is no preplanning here, in general, despite preaching to my 6th grade students years ago the importance of pre-writing in the writing process. I write in fits and starts, and I edit as I go, which I’m told is not the way to do it by folks more knowledgeable about writing than I am, but it seems to work for me. Sometimes my mind (and my writing) meanders along, with a barely noticeable thread of continuity. Other times I am very focused on something that feels fully formed and ready to come out of my mind as a whole. That doesn’t actually happen often, as you can probably tell if you’ve read some of my posts. The best example of my free-form writing are my pithiness posts, which really are just a way for me to get out a series of almost (or entirely) unrelated thoughts that can’t really stand on their own. Those are easy to write because I don’t need to tie them together. (During the writing of my dissertation, one of the nuns who taught a writing course insisted that we could find a way to “baste our chapters together,” referring to the sewing term baste, and every time she said it, which was often, she made a needle and thread motion with her hands. Sister was actually fairly sweet, as nuns go, but that used to irritate me, because those chapters had no interest in being basted together, and I thought for sure she was just making it up to drive us crazy.)
When I have a more formed idea or a more distinct topic, I still don’t preplan the post. I just start writing and let the piece – hopefully – come together. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I have 3 or 4 posts saved that I never finished or published, and it’s unlikely I ever will because those ideas are gone or no longer relevant. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I don’t really stress about that too much because I figure maybe it just wasn’t a very good idea. I don’t delete them because I like to go back to look at them occasionally to see if I can figure out where it went off the rails. When it does work, though, it feels pretty cool to see the piece as a whole. It kind of feels like I’ve been working a chunk of clay and it ends up having an actual workable form that is functional and pleasing to the eye. From nothing, something.
The hardest times, though, are when I have an urge to write but no idea driving that urge. Those are the times when I sit and stare at the laptop, and, often, end up getting up and walking away from it. I don’t quite know how to describe the frustration of this feeling. It’s almost like the feeling of opening the refrigerator and finding nothing that looks good to you even though you are hungry. You really don’t want a pickle and the leftovers from dinner hold no appeal, but you stand and look for another half-minute hoping that something might catch your eye before you close the door and walk away. Sometimes, rarely, you move the pickles and discover a hunk of good cheese that was waiting for you all along, an extra sharp cheddar or a smoked gouda, but usually behind the pickles is expired yogurt or a mushy apple. Yes, it’s kind of like that.
But when the stars align in the early morning dark, I’m able to sit and write for hours, comfortably tapping away, pausing to think about a word or a sentence, but generally moving the flashing cursor across and down the page in a somewhat steady fashion. Those mornings are relaxing to me, even when I realize that I’ve accidentally bumped the touchpad with my terrible typing technique and have been inserting the last 2 sentences into the first paragraph. When the ideas are taking form on the page, and the coffee pot is not yet empty, and the house is still quiet, I’m happy.
As the early morning approaches dawn and the coffee is gone, the urgency picks up. I do not like to leave a piece unfinished. I find it very difficult to go back and find that set of thoughts if I pause. I tend to always shoot for a complete piece, or at least a complete piece that only needs a last bit of editing. I imagine it would be like an artist trying to paint a landscape at dusk; if the light changes, everything changes. So I tend to start aiming for an ending as the sky starts to brighten. The moment is slipping away at that point. My time, that time when there is no guilt about sitting in the dark and writing, is ending. The piece must be born whole or risk not being born at all.
Today was a day when I felt the urge to write without a clear idea of what to write about. I have no idea if this piece will be of interest to any reader, but it’s a rare occasion when I was able to bridge that gap. It’s no better than a day when I am able to write easily from a workable set of ideas. It’s just different; it took more work. Who’s to say if the piece is better, worse, or even worthy. That doesn’t matter to me at this point. Neil Gaiman said, “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” This was a good writing day. But now the coffee is gone, the sun is full up, and the magic hours are over. Life intrudes and the typing stops, even if the writing continues in my head.