I just had to start writing again. It was driving me crazy. I write all day long, but it’s not the same thing. The writing I do for money consists of Internet articles that are bullshit, masticating and spitting out information that is easily available anyway to satisfy the cravings of commercial websites for content. These articles have nothing to do with my own work. But because we need money so badly I have been putting in many hours writing these worthless piles of word-turds and neglecting my own material. About a week ago I read an article about drive by another writer and knew that I had to somehow get back to my own stuff. It was building up inside me like puss in a boil and deeply depressing me. The only thing to do was incise it and let it drain.
I laid my life on the line decades ago to forsake everything else and find my own voice as a writer. And find it I did. As I recount in “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search“, in the beginning it manifested itself as something I could literally feel bubbling up from inside. I purchased notebooks and started writing the words down and they came so thick and so fast I couldn’t keep up with the flow.
Well, time has passed, and sometimes I have written and sometimes I have not, but now I realize I am not getting any younger, and if I do not use my talent, my one and only talent while I can, I will die with work unfinished. One would think that with a dozen published books and many more stories and essays that that would be enough, but it isn’t – because I am not over. As long as I am still here I need to do what I need to do.
But then the dilemma remains that I am a single parent with the responsibility to take care of not just myself but the sons that live with me, and my novels and stories and memoirs and so on don’t bring in enough to pay the bills. To make even a fraction of our expenses I work from around eight in the morning to eight or later at night, with short breaks to do household chores and take a brief nap.
Nevertheless, I knew I had to start writing again, so I contemplated my options. There were three.
I could get up an hour early and put in an hour writing my own material. A few months ago I tried that for three weeks. I got up at five instead of six to write, so that I wouldn’t sacrifice the rest of the day. I got three excellent short stories out of it too, but at the end of the three weeks, about midday on Friday, I collapsed both mentally and physically. It took me days to recover, and I realized that that was not a viable option for me. It was too exhausting. I want to live to write for many years to come, but I saw that getting up early like that would prematurely consume me.
The second option was to stop taking a nap. I have been taking a short nap after lunch more or less regularly since living in Bangladesh – so that’s almost three decades now. Because I sleep only a few hours at night and get up so early, the nap invigorates me to get through the rest of the day. It charges my batteries so I am fresh enough to put in more hours of work in the afternoon and evening. On days when I don’t nap I run out of steam by early afternoon. I am certainly no good for mental work the rest of the day. Okay, forsaking the nap was out, then. It was not an efficient use of my time.
The last option was to try to write at the end of the day, after everything else was done and my son who goes to middle school was in bed. That meant starting to write around eleven and continuing until around midnight. I figured I might as well try it. After all, I have been suffering from insomnia brought on by the stress of our financial situation and other personal matters. I might as well do something worthwhile if I can’t sleep. So I tried it last week and I not only got some good prose out of it, but I slept better afterwards too. Part of it was simply staying up until I was more weary, but part of it was putting my mind at ease by letting that word fountain flow. I realized that part of the reason for the insomnia was worry that I wasn’t getting my writing done. By satisfying that itch I was able to relax and rest.
I don’t know if my present solution will last long-term, but I know one thing: I have to write. I can’t stop, no matter what. Somehow or other I have to find a way. Ideally, my dream is to spend the optimum morning hours working on my own material and making enough at it so that I don’t have to do this Internet hack work. But it isn’t happening yet, and until it does I need some sort of interim solution. This is what I have come up with, at least for the present. The details may change again. The main thing, though, is to nurture that fountain and not bottle it up or let it dry out. I don’t want it to turn septic again. I want those sweet fresh waters to cleanse and purify my spirit. It reminds me of what Henry Miller said once, that he loved all things that flowed. I too feel the need to keep that flow going. Next time I get stymied I hope I come to my senses and figure out a solution more quickly, before the despair sets in.
It’s a constant struggle for time: time to write and time to do the mundane chores of running a household. My children have grown and gone but I’m still consumed with other tasks that take me away from writing. Thank you for an insightful post, John.
Thank you for this, John. This so resonated with me. Glad I’m not the only one who suffers the madness. But you are lucky to have the ‘hack’ work. I’m still searching for that – but there’s a lot of competition out there. Your books look wonderful – will be looking into those… In the meantime, write. It will make you happy and they say from happiness all things flow…
You’ve just described my writing routine. Day job, then family, then writing begins after the kids go to bed. Which could start as early as 9 PM or as late as 11. I’m usually up ’til after midnight. My alarm clock goes off in the morning at 5:55 AM. I’m sleep deprived, yeah, but it’s the only routine that’s ever allowed me enough regularity. You’re right–it *is* all about that flow. ‘Cause you know what happens when someone kinks the garden hose. Only we’re not dealing with water here. It’s brains.