Daybreak in Corolla.

Good morning. It’s the early bird here. Except that I feel more like a robin that’s been startled from its roost in the dead of night. I’m not one of those people who springs out of bed singing. For someone who’s attempting to have some kind of a writing life and who also works full-time and parents, this presents a challenge.

The way I figure it, I have two windows during which to write: in the morning–the very early morning–before the family needs to get a move on for school and work, and in the evening, after dinner but before the nightly dog walk and bedtime routine. Only one of those time slots feels guiltless–the one where I rise before everyone else and begin writing when there are no expectations that I will be a contributing member of the household.

Here’s the rub: I’m tired. Really, really tired. I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to sit down and just start producing anything worthwhile or even coherent. Even the “shitty first draft,” advocated by Anne Lamott and adopted as my writing mantra, eludes me (and this blog entry only qualifies on one of those counts, since I typically don’t do more than one draft).

This is not news to anyone who writes, but a lot of writing time is spent staring. Or maybe that’s just me. But I need a while to paddle around in the stream of thought before I can start to make sense of things. I’m sure John Gardner said something about settling into a meditative state in The Art of Fiction, or maybe in On Becoming a Novelist, but I can’t put my hands on either of those books right now and I don’t have time to go rooting around for them. I just lost two minutes in the kitchen, forgetting what I was there for (waiting for a muffin to warm up in the microwave, which takes all of ten seconds). How can I, in the words of Gardner, create “a vivid and continuous dream” for the reader if I’m not even conscious enough to make breakfast?

Recognizing that the pre-dawn hours are quickly slipping away, I find myself grasping at anything that feels like writing. Say, thinking or reading about writing. I love reading books about writing, and if I could find the Gardner books, I would be leafing through them at this very moment. I did manage to retrieve Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Annie Dillard’s Living by Fiction and The Writing Life, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. At my right hand is the new issue of Poets & Writers. I could just give in to the vicarious satisfaction of someone else having written something, but just yesterday I read this admonition by Rick Bass, one of my favorite writers, to write well-rested and without distractions: “In a day’s works, quit when you start to feel tired–not after. Quit while you still know the direction of the story, or at least the next thought or even sentence, so that when you pick up the next day, you’ll have that necessary momentum right from the beginning. Each day, get a full rest. While writing, concentrate: Don’t have any distractions nearby, don’t write in a room full of books if you can help it. Don’t browse through anything else when the going gets slow.”

Quit when you start to feel tired. Check.

Unfortunately, this just makes me want to read more Rick Bass right now. But daylight is peeping through the blinds and I still have a tepid cup of coffee to swill before walking the dog, making lunch for my son, and maybe taking a shower. Maybe.