My favorite recurring fantasy involves a strict schedule. Yes, that is weird. Whatever. In this fantasy, I am a workaholic down at the desk by 7 a.m sharp, Monday-Friday, come hell or high water. Nose to the grindstone, slaving away on research and words, words, words. I would finish those four projects languishing away in boxes and drawers and tattered notebooks for the better part of five years. I’d rescue them, complete them, then move on with fiery diligence to THE NEXT GREAT THING. My only breaks from writing writing writing, would be to mine for gold in stacks of submission possibilities. I would flood lit mags and presses. They, the hundreds of thousands of possibilities, would never escape my fiery diligence, my flood of work. I would astonish them all with my doggedness.
Family and friends would beg me to visit, just get out of the house once in awhile. Sure, I walk the dog and venture out occasionally for food, but come on. A person can’t type ninety hours a week and remain a healthy, normal human. But I can! I would swear this in a passionate voice! I am happy, in fact, I’ll work longer hours. I walk my dog, and carve out a few minutes each week for the grocery store and bills, and maybe talk to people I love most, read to them.
Maybe, after a year or so, I’ll go see the world. Hang out. Follow a story, sniff out ideas and hang out. Observe. Listen. Involve myself in the story until it becomes multi-dimensional. Until it becomes so goddamned irresistible, I have to drive miles up into the mountains to one of those legendary writer’s cabins, nice and rustic in early spring, and there I’ll work ninety hours a week until I have a manuscript that proves once and for all I am the writer I always thought I would be. This will, of course, inspire celebration. A nice break from writing long enough to shop the manuscript, get a terrific book deal — one that will make other writers wistful and teary eyed.
Until then, I’ll be sitting down to sketch out my plan of attack, to map out my schedule. The map will not include by-ways of procrastination. No guilt over a messy abode. No worries for not having a “real job”, no panic attacks, no sense of failure. The road will be clear, wide-open, as endless as my dark little heart desires. On day one, in those wee hours when the birds haven’t yet gathered their voices, I will walk my dog, do a few chores wearing earbuds from which the wisdom of memoir and literary journalism themed audibles will enter my brain and trickle down to build muscle memory. Once satisfied that dawn will break any moment, I’ll put away the earbuds, turn on some music, shower then dress, and take breakfast to my desk.
For eight hours I will rip away lines from old poets, paste them to the titles and endings of younger lesser-knowns, weed out genius word by word by line from dreamy-eyed dead folk and weave it all between the lines of contemporary feminists. With one hand I’ll keep an ink and white stack of citations, with the other, I will type and type, compile new work from the old and famous. Eight hours a day, for forty days will make a masterpiece that outshines my first attempts at a cento collection the same way the sun outshines a 40 watt bulb. But that’s just the first eight hours of the first in a forty-day stint.
An hour will be spent stretching the stiffness from unused muscles, feeding my dog, giving the hubby a loving phone call. Then, with a dinner plate next to the laptop. I’ll stand at that cute little pub table in the dining room, surrounded by Van Gogh reproductions, facing a window looking out toward a wink of the river. There, I will have dinner and get to that essay a small paying publication is anxiously awaiting. This will pay the rent and there might be some left over for the best doggy treats on the market. I will hit the send button and yawn. That’s a good day right there.
Day one will be so impressive that years later I will chronicle it an anthology piece, the opening to a brief synopsis of my success story. Just imagine what could be accomplished on day two, three, ten! I’ll need a bit of help, of course. A professional editor for the poetry collections. And once I’ve dug out those old pieces of speculative fiction and essays, saved them from languishing away in the dark, I’ll be keeping that editor so busy she will have to quit her day job. The essays will sell quickest. Let’s face it, readers are absolutely inundated with speculative fiction these days. And poetry, well, most people grimace when the P-Word is mentioned. Nevertheless, after the three collections are out in the wind and a dozen or so lit mags pick up individual pieces, who knows? The P-Word might be pronounced without a grimace by a few less readers. A few. But I won’t concern myself with that now. What’s important is the work. Do the work.
That’s what one of my favorite professors used to say. Be loyal to the work. She also said that I should send off Emancipation and I Am Not an Evangelist right away — that was four years ago. I never sent them anywhere. It’s as if when that class ended, when I no longer had reason to receive or send emails to that professor, I no longer had reason to consider what life those words would have outside the confines of my files. These messy files that have been packed and repacked, hauled from one end of the country to the other, digitized then lost, transcribed in the middle of the night, then shoved into the corner.
Why? Lots of things kept getting in the way. Mostly, basic survival. The last four years showed me something contrary to what that professor declared to be the ultimate truth, the ultimate goal of every creative. Sure, be loyal to the work … when it’s actually paying the rent. Or, if some benevolent deep pocket is paying the rent. For those of us who don’t have deep pockets dishing out the basic necessities, there’s forty hour weeks to be put in elsewhere. And to get through those, of course, there must be distractions. Distractions become as necessary paying the rent when a creative is punching a time clock, and spending distraction hours on poetry seems to make poetry less somehow. A shot of good whiskey and an hour of TV can save a life. Don’t waste breath in argument. It’s fact.
Before the next random person can spout a tired old platitude or start jabbering on about first world problems, four years have blinked by and here I sit with boxes of old notebooks and no real body of work. Before I can fully recall just what I took away from that brief university lecture about the importance of avoiding sentimentality in art, I realize that I can no longer introduce myself as a writer, or a student. I don’t write, I don’t study. I’ve got a job that affords me the opportunity to do neither. But the lights are on. The rent is paid. I’ve run Netflix out of good distractions. The whiskey bottle hasn’t been touched in months, and I’m sick of being a non-writer.
Lately I’ve filled free moments with fantasizing about putting in a 30-day notice and driving home to sit at my desk and start a new chapter, so to speak. It’s past 10:30 p.m., and tomorrow is coming at me way too fast. But I won’t concern myself with all that now. The work is priority.
So, let’s get to mapping out that schedule.
7 a.m. Monday: DAY ONE.