Precious Morning Hours
Who wants to talk about process?
This morning I got up early, a little confused because of daylight savings, and then fought the desire to go back to sleep. Instead, I stayed awake and decided to read, and the sensation was like I had lit a golden-hued kerosene lamp in the darkness. The streets outside were quiet. The dog was snoring at my feet. My brain was warm and receptive to the words.
Eventually I took the dog for a walk, to the café. I had a coffee and made myself type a conversation between two characters into my phone. I had been in this character’s head for days, writing her in a close third, and I really needed her to be talking to someone else, to see that person’s take on her, and to hear her try to hammer out her personal issues with another person’s help. I invented a character for her to react to, and to react to her. Then I just sort of shut out everything and typed for about twenty minutes, until the café owner came over and pet my dog and I remembered there was a world around me.
After that, I went to the gym, which was empty, because it was before nine on a Sunday morning. (Before you think I’m virtuous what if I told you I am just trying to stay sane?) I exercised and continued thinking about the two characters talking to each other. Eventually I arrived at a specific line of dialogue that felt so familiar I was concerned it was too average and common, but, on the other hand, it said so much and felt so potent it actually warmed my heart, and I thought: Keep it for now. If it makes you feel safe and secure to know it exists and is resting on the page, just keep it. You can always cut it later.
And then I thought about it some more, and I realized there was a phrase in the dialogue that felt like it could be a title of the book. I have been struggling to title this book for months now, feeling discomfort with all the working titles I’ve come up with. But this, again, felt specific and familiar and I knew what it meant, and sometimes all I want is that direct hit kind of feeling. Plenty of time to get weird later, muck things up, make the record scratch like a cool DJ. If I could arrive at the idea I wanted to express, that’s good enough for now.
Then I texted the potential title to a few friends to see if they liked it, and one had a question about it, and one didn’t like it all, and the rest did, quite a bit. I thought: That sounds about right. So it’s staying as a working title.
When I came home, I decided to organize some thoughts on the computer. I’d now been up and active and thinking for three and half hours. I had that little cardio high mixed with the rush of a good idea mixed with the just being alive on a sunny Sunday morning vibe. Why not push it a little bit further and see what I could get typed up in a document?
And while I was at the computer, without thinking, I clicked on the internet and it was as if a curtain had been pulled up to reveal reality, or perhaps a curtain had been dropped to hide the other reality — I can’t even tell you which it was — but my mood shifted dramatically, and I was incapable of getting much more work done, and also I felt a little bad, and sad.
I waved goodbye to that early morning self, grateful we’d had that time together. I knew, at least, I would have that early morning self back again the next day. There is always that fresh start every morning. It is just a question of how long I can make it last on any given day. I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like. I fight for it all the time. It’s the only way I know how to get my work done.
Melissa Febos is doing work like no one else right now in essays, criticism, and memoir, and I find her very inspiring. Her craft book, Body Talk, is coming out this Tuesday.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Tenacity is often cited as the most common characteristic of successful authors. Of the many talented people I’ve met—classmates, students, friends—many of them no longer write. The ones who have kept doing so have made it central to their lives both external and internal. Writing is hard. It is not the most apparently useful kind of work to do in the world. Most of us are not out here saving any lives but our own, though its power to do that (at least in my case) is uncontestable. The older I get, the less convinced I am about most things, but this is one of the great facts of my life.
I cannot imagine nurturing a devotion to any practice more consistently than one which yields the reward of transformation, the assurance of lovability, and the eradication of regret. No professional ambition could possibly matter more than the freedom to return, again and again.”
Have a nice week, everyone.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation once again went to the Direct Relief’s aid for Ukraine.