I had a friend in graduate school who would wake at five every morning to get at least two hours of writing in before his day started. He did this every day. He was, of course, a prose writer and a very good one at that.
I am not a prose writer and the grind of writing everyday not only doesn’t appeal to me, but also has never rendered good work from me. I’m something of a time-magpie and I gather and pile up as many flashing shards of blue time as I can to write—an idea comes to me on the train I’ll jot it down in my phone’s notes, I’m lying in bed trying to sleep and a line suddenly crystallizes so I roll over, hit the lamp (thankfully my husband sleeps heavy) and get it on paper before it’s gone, I’m in the tub and repeat a line as I dry myself off so it doesn’t go down the drain like so much tepid water.
New York, for all its storied history of poets and writers is not a city built for writing or writers. I don’t know a single poet my age living who doesn’t have to hustle sun-up to sundown to cover the bills. I work a full-time job as an editorial assistant in children’s publishing and act as a freelance editor, mostly for women’s interest novels. When you add in sleeping, eating, drinking (quite a bit of that to be honest) there’s really not much else one can do with what time is left.
But sometimes, some magical Saturdays or Sundays, the day opens up before me and I can step into the fantasy of what I’d like my writing life to be every day:
6:00-6:45am – Wake and brew English breakfast tea, leaving it to steep as I sit for what I wish was my daily Buddhist meditation
6:45-7:15am – Shower, being sure to put my hair up in a bun hoping for curls and waves later in the day
7:15-7:45am – Do a tarot reading at the kitchen table where I’ve gathered all the work I hope to contend with that day and—the light through the north-facing window in the morning is truly rejuvenating; the reading will often to address specific life or internal blockages that have kept me from writing
7:45-8:00am – Waffle about what to do first: read, write, revise, review (I write book reviews), or submit poems to magazines and manuscripts to prizes (I pretty much always end up making toast and eggs instead)
8:00am-12:00pm – Finally sit and hammer out about half of what I wanted to get done in a flurry of fairly erratic activity (most of my work is produced in these manic [perhaps clinically manic] bursts; my first chapbook Major Arcana: Minneapolis (Burnside Review Press, 2018) was written over the course of three weeks as I learned to read tarot and prepared to move from Minneapolis to New York; I wrote a second chapbook-length project on Robert Rauschenberg over two weeks after visiting a retrospective put on at MoMA five times); often I will move from one project to another, spending time with someone else’s work until it sparks something in me, then I begin writing my own; drafting new work often leads to a new understanding of old work and gets me started on revision which can be so taxing that I need a break and so return to reading the work of others etc
12:00pm-1:30pm – Wake my husband so we can make lunch (grilled cheese or a salad with chicken maybe) or buy lunch (pizza, Thai, turkey clubs), continuing to re-wake my husband as we wait for butter to brown the bread or red curry to arrive
1:30pm-5:30pm – Try and fail to read all the books, write all the poems, and be brilliant while husband goes to a museum (and somehow still feel accomplished for having done anything at all when I could have played games on my iPad all day instead)
5:30pm-8:00pm – Make some elaborate dinner (recently we made pan-seared salmon with charred lemons, roasted root vegetables, and ice cream sandwiches with Tate’s cookies and salted caramel gelato)
8:00pm-10:30pm – Drink too much Côtes du Rhône while watching something stupid in bed (when it’s me and my husband it’s Schitt’s Creek; if I’m watching something on my laptop by myself it’s either Midsomer Murders or a cooking show where they make me feel okay about how much butter I used on the grilled cheese)
10:30pm-until the next morning - Chew two melatonin gummies and still sleep badly
Now this kind of fantasy is only made possible by my regular and obsessive reading habit. I had a grad student teacher in undergrad who told me we should be reading two hours for every hour we write. I find I need even more than that myself. I’m currently reading The Spirit of Zen by Sam van Schaik (Yale University Press, 2019), Doomstead Days by Brian Teare (Nightboat Books, 2019), Natality by E.G. Asher (Noemi Press, 2017), Spring and All by William Carlos Williams (New Directions, 2011 (facsimile of 1923 edition)), Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 2019), and Love Had a Compass: Journals and Poetry (Grove, 2019).
When I can’t achieve this sort of blissful transcendence I grind like everyone else through the day and sometimes am gifted a poem. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get a residency so I have concentrated time. But ultimately the cornerstone of my writing life is simply that I do it, that I simply keep on writing.
Trevor Ketner is the author of Major Arcana: Minneapolis, winner of the Burnside Review Chapbook Contest judged by Diane Seuss and Negative of a Photo of Fire (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019). They have been or will be published in Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day, Best New Poets, New England Review, Ninth Letter, West Branch, Pleiades, Diagram, Memorious and elsewhere. Their essays and reviews can be found in The Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Lambda Literary, and elsewhere. They hold an MFA from the University of Minnesota and have been awarded residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. They live in Manhattan with their husband.