My writing day is never as long as a day. The last time I tried to take an entire two-day stretch of writing time, I checked myself into the Joshua Tree Inn because I wanted to get haunted by Gram Parsons, and, whether by ghostly interference or by my own overwhelmed and overworked brain, had an all-night panic attack. For whatever reason, I’ve found that I can’t write for longer than four hours without going a little nuts in a way that is…neither productive nor fun.
I have a full-time copyediting job, so, during the week, it’s a challenge to make progress on my personal writing projects. One indispensible aspect of keeping my writing going is transcendental meditation, which I do first thing every morning. I can’t count how many times I’ve wrestled for weeks with a plot or structure problem, only to have the answer coalesce before my eyes as I’m coming out of a meditation. Then, as I get writing ideas throughout the workday, I send myself texts, an ongoing conversation that would seem demented to any third party, but which helps me work through ideas. When I’m lucky, I’m able to snatch an hour or two after I’ve finished any pressing work tasks. In those cases, I pull up Dropbox and open up whatever I feel like working on (in addition to a novel-in-progress, I usually have a short story going). But because it’s hard to concentrate at the office when I know another “hot” project could come in at any moment, those times are usually spent editing, fiddling and moving things around—no real heavy lifting.
The real writing happens on the weekend, typically on Saturday mornings. Because my husband is also an artist with a day job, and we have a 4-year-old daughter, we trade off, with me writing for a few hours on Saturday and him painting for a few hours on Sunday, always juggling around birthday parties and family obligations and, and, and. This may well make me sound like a dilettante and dabbler, but as my daughter said recently, when I asked her why she took her shoes and socks off when we were about to get out of the car: “That’s just how it is, it’s my life.”
I don’t fetishize rituals but I do practice a few. On my writing Saturdays, I like to walk to my favorite coffee shop, Romancing the Bean in Burbank. The walk is important because it promotes a certain kind of thinking. As I walk, I put myself inside the story I plan to work on, inside the body of the character. It’s a kind of self-hypnosis that puts me in the right frame of mind to write, and makes it so, once I have my coffee and my laptop turned on, I’m already in the story’s mood. My other ritual is always facing the window. When I look up after working steadily for a good stretch, a few minutes of looking at people’s outfits and dogs is the perfect break for my brain.
I’ve never measured progress in terms of word count. I don’t count words at all until I’m looking for the right place to submit something. Instead I measure in beats and scenes, so I’ll go into a writing day with the goal of finishing a certain scene or getting to a particular shift in the story. Reaching a pivotal moment gives me a jumping-off point for my next writing session in a way that an arbitrary number of words doesn’t. Then, on the walk home, I invariably get ideas for how to proceed with the story, leading me to stop frequently to text myself, beginning the demented one-sided conversation anew. The walk home takes a lot longer than the walk there.
Anne-Marie Kinney is the author of two novels, Radio Iris (2012, Two Dollar Radio) and Coldwater Canyon, forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in October, 2018. Her shorter work has appeared in Joyland, The Collagist, Fanzine, Entropy, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Rattling Wall, Black Clock and elsewhere. She lives in California.