I used to think I needed to be sad to write. That tired cliché that artists must be tortured in order to produce worthwhile art informed many of my writing habits. Throughout high school, college, and for some time after, I’d wait to write until everyone else in the house was asleep, until I was alone with the quiet, pale moonlight. I’d play sad music—anything low and slow with melodramatic lyrics—and maybe light a candle. My writing became ceremonial, my pain an offering.
It’s only now (nearly a decade after I started writing seriously) that I’m beginning to understand what it means to be a writer. I’m realizing that I don’t need to be sad or depressed to produce work I’m proud of. I don’t need to dig up bad memories to unearth a story.
My writing is not a werewolf: it does not come out only in the cover of darkness. My writing is not a vampire: it does not need to suck the life from me.
Now, my writing day begins with the warmth of the rising sun coming through my kitchen windows (I never write at night anymore, usually too exhausted to do anything more than flop in front of the TV for a couple hours before crawling into bed). My apartment gets a lot of natural light. When we first moved in, my husband took one look at the kitchen table awash in the sun’s honey glow, and declared, “I bet this is where you’ll write.”
And so, every morning, after the kettle whistles and my coffee percolates, I settle in front of my computer and I write and write and write.
Ideas for stories and essays come to me throughout the day—and sometimes the night—and when they do, I’ll jot them down on anything close to me: a notebook on my shelf, a CVS receipt at the bottom my purse, or in the notes app on my phone. These tiny, jigsaw pieces—snippets of dialogue or resonating lines or character descriptions based off people I see on the train—once written down so I don’t forget them will, the following morning, find their way into the puzzle that is a first draft.
A typical writing day will see me flitting back and forth between multiple projects. This used to be is limited to essays and flash, but lately I’ve been pushing the boundaries I’d set on writing, venturing into longer stories and exploring poetry. This year has been defined by expanding my interests and testing my creativity. I now push my writing into the uncomfortable places: essays that leave me feeling raw and exposed, a live wire; genres I’ve never written in before that feel simultaneously foreign and like coming home; and poetry, even though I hadn’t written a poem since I was eighteen and still writing at night.
I write as long as the ideas are flowing, the sun changing positions in the sky outside. Or, if the ideas are not there or aren’t coming out right, I don’t write. This is another thing I am relearning: I don’t need to write everyday. I think it’s a nice sentiment, and if it works for you then by all means carry on, but the notion that you must write every day in order to be a “real writer” is as harmful as believing true art demands pain and suffering.
This is the beauty of being a writer (of being anything): finding what works for you. Some writers do their best work at night over a glass of wine or finger or two of whiskey. Some write early, before the kids are awake, before chaos rules the day. Some can only write on the weekends, their weekdays eaten up by meetings and deadlines. Some write by hand. Others, computer. All are just a myriad of stories waiting to be written.
I’m enjoying the consistency of my days. I know that, tomorrow, I will wake up and make myself a cup (or three) of coffee. I know I’ll write. Maybe I’ll write a story or an essay or a poem. Maybe I’ll edit, cutting away the jigsaw pieces that don’t fit. Maybe I won’t write, and this is okay, too.
Who knows if years from now my writing day will look like this? Process, like anything else, changes. I find comfort in this constant, forward motion.
Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor living in Chicago. She was born and raised in Michigan. Her work has appeared in Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, and more. She is the managing editor of CHEAP POP. You can follow her on Twitter here.
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