My writing day begins the night before, in a series of promises.
I tell myself I will get up at 430 before the children are awake. It will be picturesque and quiet. I’ll make coffee quickly and go to my office at the top of the house.
If this happens, and it sometimes does, I am shocked at how grateful I am.
I sit in one of three places depending on what I’m working on. This sort of obsessive sorting is a side effect from years spent in academic life. If I’m writing a poem, I do it at a small desk in a notebook surrounded by nothing. If I am writing or editing a piece of academic prose, I do it on a laptop at a desk covered in papers, books, promises, deadlines, and reminders that there is a lot to do.
If I am working on the novel, I sit in yet a third place and type on a wild but useful contraption designed by clever people that acts like a typewriter and absorbs and guards whatever you type into it in the cloud. It seems dangerous, but also like a retro video game, so it takes the pressure off of writing.
Most often, I am trying to write poems and so I sit at the desk and try to focus as the sun rises over the other end of the house.
I will write a few lines and one of the children will wake up. If it’s my oldest she’ll cuddle up on the couch in my office and i’ll try to talk to her while finishing the line I’m on. If it’s my youngest, that’s enough writing for this morning.
[the day between 8am and 9pm is held off in brackets when the real work of teaching and day-jobbing, parenting and cooking, thinking and worrying take place]
At 9pm, there is a second chance to write. This time the room is transformed. There are no curtains in my office so I imagine the windows lighting up the neighborhood.
When I try to start a poem, I think of one of three things usually: an anecdote from distant family history, the woods next to the highway, or some wild thing one of the kids have said. I find these three things are a gateway to just about any topic if you’re patient enough.
If, and this happens sometimes, no writing comes that I want to pursue, I turn my attention to the work of journal editing and read other people’s work, sending submission responses that I hope are kind and grateful. I might send a long email to some old mentor or friend.
Then, as the night really settles in, I make promises again. For the next day. And the next after that.
Timothy Duffy is a teacher, writer, and scholar of Renaissance Literature from Connecticut. His poems have appeared in Pleiades, The Hawai’i Review, the Longleaf Review, Open Letters Monthly, and elsewhere. Beyond his scholarly publications, he is at work on a collection of poems entitled Rabbit with Prunes and a novel, Permission to Proceed.