A Day in the Life

It’s a crisp morning and I can smell fall. The scent of earth. Sam, my dog, is roaming the yard, and I’m here in the shed doing my best to work. Mornings are fresh. There’s a blank slate and I like the idea of a new beginning. This is my time, this early day ritual. Sometimes I’m here in the shed just after sunrise, easy to do on autumn days when the sun is late to the party.

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I’m fascinated how creatives work. Well, maybe not so much about how they work, but when and where. Painters and sculptures have their studios and those come in many varieties. Jackson Pollack had his barn at the back of his modest home in East Hampton, NY. Frida Kahlo worked in Casa Azul, her blue-painted home in Mexico City.

Then there are the writers.

Thoreau in his cabin, Jane Austin at her tiny octagon table. Hemingway at his standing desk at first light. Jonathan Franzen at his small, bare table, sparse surrounding.

Here in my shed: a simple desk, a single desk light, a hard wooden chair. My leather journals around me. A watercolor of Dylan Thomas’ boathouse. A few small candles. But more than anything, it is the space, the walls, the solitude that is most important. The shed is a tiny 5X8. Barn wood walls. Tile floor. Painted white unfinished ceiling. It cocoons me. Aloneness.

On the chilly mornings, like many before, I first turn on the small space heater and go back to the house to make coffee. In time, the shed has warmed. For no more than two hours, I write, I edit. I do not check emails. I do not read Facebook or Twitter posts. I do not peruse the internet, unless I am researching, but that usually comes later. Two hours. Rarely more. I find when I work longer, I begin to rush and lose focus. The writing suffers. My thinking deteriorates. I may return later. Long stretches, however, do me no good.

It’s my routine. It’s what I do. My comfort space. And that, for so many creatives appears to be the singular thread that ties all. The unchanging pattern.

Kurt Vonnegut did regular push ups and sit ups to keep his energy level high. Haruki Marukami rises at 4 a.m., writes for four-five hours, then runs about six miles. He does this every day. E.B. White had a rule never to listen to music when writing. Hunter S. Thompson fueled his writing days (usually in the middle of the night) with Chivas Regal and cocaine, and weed to “take the edge off.” Henry Miller made it a point to work on only one thing at a time. Dickens stuck to a regimen of walking the streets of London as a break from writing, seeing the hikes as important rituals to his craft.

This morning, I’m working on edits to a new manuscript, which always, inevitably means more writing. I work on a small laptop and I mark, as I always do, where I left off the day before with triple Xs so I know where to begin again. Although, I actually start reading a paragraph before to sort of ramp up. It’s important for me to feel the rhythm of what’s been written, to rediscover the heartbeat of what I’m working on. Going back a few sentences helps this. Each time I edit, I read the new sentences aloud. I want to hear the words. Is there a flow? Is there music? If it sounds clunky, it is clunky. This morning, there is plenty of clunky. It’s not unusual. Letting my words ferment for a day always reveal the good and bad notes. And today, there’s plenty of bad. But, still, some good. This is my ritual, my two hours of shed work, my day in the life.

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I could easily turn this post into a Where Do You Write? segment. Ask you to share your creative spaces—you painters, you sculptures, you musicians. But that’s been done a million times. Finding your space, the right space is wonderful; it’s a revelation. But this Day in the Life is more about the actual job of creativity. It’s not about perfection, it’s not about checking your grammar, it’s not about plot (sometimes plotless is better), it’s not about final results, getting to a goal, although that may be reality in the end. Still, we all know what Leonardo Da Vinci is believed to have said: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” So, what is it about? It’s about the day’s work. It’s about word by word. And that is the beauty.

There are few places I’d rather be.

4 thoughts on “A Day in the Life

  1. Early mornings when my husband is sleeping, I usually spend an hour or so drinking coffee and reading – your blog this morning. As now, I’m often sitting in the front room with the door cracked open, letting in the cool air and birdsong as the dogs go out and in, busy with sticks and toys and breakfast treats. The best part of working an afternoon/evening shift is that mornings are for me. I really enjoyed this post. Good morning!

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    • Mornings are magical, aren’t they? No matter the time of season. I’m late to the shed this morning; but will be there soon. Thank you for reading!

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  2. A fine piece, Dave that probes but does not dare try to fully explain what is inexplicable. I note that you and I, as broadcast journalists, employ the same yardstick when we compose prose for the page: we write with our ear. More writers would do well to hone that skill.

    As for the writing process itself, among the authors with which I’m familiar, surely Thomas Wolfe’s routine stands as unique. As related in A. Scott Berg’s wonderful biography of Wolfe’s editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins, Wolfe, at 6’6”, typically stood at his apartment refrigerator and used its top as his desk. So fevered was the rush of his writing that he would use a pencil, scribbling a few words on a sheet of paper and then flinging it into the air where it would drift to the floor. Berg writes that the manuscript for “Look Homeward, Angel” amounted to thousands of these sheets gathered haphazardly and crammed into a huge wooden packing crate which was delivered to Scribner’s offices. It was there that Perkins was faced with the monumental task of lashing the novel together.

    I’ve always relished that image of Wolfe hunched over the top of his Frigidaire. It’s far more satisfying than picturing him feverishly tapping away at a computer keyboard.

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    • What a great story and image. Makes me think of Victor Hugo. The story goes that he was on deadline for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So he instructed his valet to hide his clothes so he couldn’t leave the house. He completed Hunchback in the buff. Unlike relishing Wolfe’s image at the Frigidaire, I do not care to consider Hugo naked. But yet, there it is. The image. In my head.

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