I’ll begin by confessing that most days I do not write, at least not the poems and nonfiction that I consider creative work. I probably have twenty to thirty days a year at most when I experience the right combination of motivation, material, and available time.
So when I call something a “Writing Day,” all I really mean is that it is a day not specifically preoccupied by teaching or some other commitment. But I’ll often hone the idea for a poem in my head for a week before scribbling down a single word. Sometimes the most important “writing work” I need to do consists of reading.
I’m also generally wary of the hours between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. unless it is Sunday and I’m cooking succotash, or my husband is up making grits, and our morning consists of coffee and the New York magazine crossword puzzle.
My typical weekday wake-up is 8:50 a.m., when Champneys pops back into the bedroom to wish me luck before he heads out to his day-job in art handling. For the first hour, I putter: unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the coffeemaker, checking whether the plants need watering. One thing about working from home is that I find it very difficult to jump into my own work with visible mess around me. Instead of breakfast, I’ll have a glass of orange juice, one cup of black coffee, and a handful of almonds.
From 10 a.m. to noon, I’ll deal with whatever emails seem most urgent. I’d call myself an “Inbox Zero” person except I’m realistic and slightly superstitious, so the rule actually “Inbox Fewer than 13.” I’ve spent the last decade essentially self-employed, so there is always an unruly mix of inquiries attached to different commitments. Unless I have to get dressed, I’ll typically stay in my pajamas for this part of the day’s work.
Around noon I’ll eat properly. That might be leftovers from the night before, or a simple quick-dish like Cento canned tuna, tossed with rice and spinach and lemon pepper. I’ll maybe grab a shower—which can be particularly helpful if I’m working out a draft in my head, maybe just an opening line—and I’ll get dressed.
My most consistently productive daytime stretch is between 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Usually that’s spent prepping for a class, since I often teach in the evenings. But on a Writing Day, I might get excited about revising a few pages of an essay. Or I might go down a rabbit hole of research, gathering notes toward a poem.
During this period Sal the Wonder Cat is typically stretched at my feet under my desk. I use the term “desk” loosely, since my laptop sits on a card table that my husband brought home from his studio. I face a sliding glass door that leads to the balcony and, beyond that, a 9th-floor view of my city. This room hosts all my poetry books and office supplies, an industrial-size filing cabinet with lateral drawers, the general storage closet for the apartment, emergency pandemic supplies, a dozen plants, and—if needed—an inflatable air mattress on the central floor, since it is our de facto second bedroom.
I should mention that none of the visible artworks in these office snapshots belongs to my husband, though we have his paintings up throughout the apartment; everything within sightline was made in Mississippi, which is a second heart-home for my writing self.
By 5 p.m., the light has shifted. If I’m going to run out for neighborhood errands, it will be in this early evening window. Though working from home can mean going days without talking to anyone other than my husband, I’m actually a social extrovert. So I’ll strike up a quick conversation at one of the shops on the Wharf, or the Maine Avenue fish market, or at the building’s front desk when I pick up packages.
Dinner is the meal where we put our energy. If I’m cooking it might be a dirty pasta with a tomato sauce laced with anchovies, olives, and capers, and a side of tossed greens with a homemade vinaigrette. If Champneys is cooking it might be cornmeal-fried perch with sautéed kale and black beans. Cooking is our shared creative space. We eat late, often just past 8 p.m., and we generally try to eat together, since it’s often the first time we’ve talked all day. We’ll split a bottle of wine and watch a few hours of television before one of us falls asleep.
Here’s the thing: On many nights, I wake up at 2 a.m. and, panicked about deadlines, put in two or three more hours on pedestrian work like emails and grading. On a good night, I sleep all the way through. On the best nights I wake up at 2 a.m. and return to the notes I made earlier in the day, and that’s when the real writing happens.
Sandra Beasley is the author of four poetry collections—Made to Explode, Count the Waves, I Was the Jukebox, which won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Theories of Falling—as well as Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a disability memoir and cultural history of food allergies. She served as the editor for Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. Honors for her work include the 2019 Munster Literature Centre’s John Montague International Poetry Fellowship, a 2015 NEA fellowship, and five DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities fellowships. She lives in Washington, D.C. www.SandraBeasley.com
She is married to the visual artist Champneys Taylor. http://www.champneystaylor.com