I have experienced the routine of writing novels during the same block of time, day in and day out, sometimes for long stretches. There was that time, after graduating from college and having a nine-to-five job, I wrote every night for a few hours before bed on the chapters of a book. And I had produced a very, very rough draft after about a year or so. Another time, in my early thirties, I landed at my sister’s home in Texas, feeling out of sorts about my life and my choices and what comes next. I set up a schedule from morning until the afternoon, treating these daylight hours of writing as if it were a full-time career. I typed out this other novel in the span of six months that to this day remains also in a very, very rough draft form. But writing short stories for decades now hasn’t been as routine, sitting at a workspace during the same time every day or night. I write short stories when I can, a practice since the age of twenty. My writing moments.
Moments are all I can muster. I think obsessively about a character’s dialogue while cleaning the dishes or walking to the market or taking the trash bins out to the curb for the next day’s pick-up. A few lines quickly scribbled down into a composition notebook. I know all writers do this obsessive mulling regarding their characters, but I can’t tell you when my mulling will become a significant typed draft. It happens when it happens. Maybe when I gain a free moment during the lunch hour or late at night. Moments outside of my writing work dictates when this occurs; I am a day-to-day caretaker for disabled and stricken family members.
I’ve sat in a variety of ICU, hospital rooms or waiting rooms throughout the loneliest time of the early morning, constructing in my mind a string of revelatory character actions (or maybe more discreet movements) over and over, so not to forget.
I’ve built settings while cleaning up the shit, blood, and piss of a loved one who is unable and dependent, preparing these places for my characters to inhabit.
I’ve rounded the gradual bend of a street (like the one in the picture above), out on my morning walk, when I can get some coverage, and new story ideas come to me. A fragment of a conversation. An image. Once I saw a man standing in the driveway of his house, looking perplexed into the trunk of his car. He turned and said hello to me and asked how it was going. “Could be better,” I said. “You need to tell my father that,” he said back to me. I thought about this encounter for the rest of my walk. I made some notes back at home. I found the sporadic moments to sit at a computer, typing out drafts and working through revisions, all depending on what the moments between these writing moments called for.
I marvel at writers who can sit down and work on a story in the same place and at same time every day. Structured, unwavering, focused on everything playing out on the page. Many of my writing moments are grasps in the dark. I grab hold of a sleeve sooner or later, a shoulder, and once I felt a character’s backpack. I let these characters guide me. More so now than ever before.
I hope my writing moments will continue for as long as I can find them. But for now, I appreciate not only these moments more than ever (particularly as I type this last line) but also all of the other loving, heartbreaking, and conquering moments filling my days, realizing they won’t last.
Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, New Flash Fiction Review, New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and North American Review. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts creative writing fellowship in fiction. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses for Ottawa University, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him athttps://dancrawleywrites.wordpress.com.