The Writer’s To-Do List
Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve written. While all you back-East readers are getting clobbered by snow, here in California?we’ve had?a mix of mold-inspiring rain and gorgeous sunny days. It feels so much like spring that I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been a little confused. Is it winter? Or spring? What’s going on here?
This time of year always feels so busy. I’m not sure why. The fall is busy, too, but with a kind of festive air: the start of a new year, soccer season, new friends, everything exciting and overwhelming. Then, the mad and fun rush of the holidays. By now, February, we’re well into the routine, which is both a blessing and a curse. L is happier at school and at aftercare, we’re onto indoor soccer, we never paused for reflection, and I’ve roared through the fall semester, over winter break, and have squarely landed in my spring teaching and writing routine.?Or what passes for a routine.
I spent the month of January a little confused by what to work on. This is not a familiar problem to me, or at least, in the past if I had too many choices it might have felt exciting. But I spent much of January thinking to myself, I should really get back to that novel?once I finish this essay, write a poem, start another essay, revise my memoir, apply to that fellowship thingy, prepare for the San Francisco Writers Conference, and submit my work all over the place. Yowsah! I never thought I’d long so much to just have one project on my desk. But I’ve been bombarded with ideas?and opportunities, and, feeling like I’m at a place in my career when I need to say yes to lots of things, I’ve kind of been going with the flow. So I’ve been making a lot of to-do lists.
I’m also at this point with my writing?specifically, with writing prose, since poetry never felt like this?where it feels possible to check things off a list. Some of the romance is gone, to be sure, but I also have this sense that if I write something like “revise ending of Will essay” on my to-do list that that’s, actually, an accomplishable goal. I can look ahead?on a Monday and think, yes, I can realistically revise that short story and send it out by Friday (as opposed to years ago, when I might have revised for months, or never gotten to it, or decided to scrap it, or decided what to work on the morning I sat down to write). Is this making any sense? I used to think that artists and writers waited for inspiration, wrote things, had things happen. Lately, for me, it’s more about setting small goals and achieving them. It sounds so boring, when I write that here. But luckily, luckily, when I’m in it?high on too much caffeine, 45 minutes until I have to get L or leave for work, and I just want to write all day?it still feels like there’s a lot of romance, a lot of?excitement.?So much, in fact, that I sneak moments the rest of the day to reconnect with whatever I’m working on. I sneak onto the computer while L is playing with Legos. I postpone my grading to edit one more paragraph. I drive my family insane because I can’t put down my work at dinnertime.?I fall asleep reworking the first line in my head.
So in a way, the to-do list keeps me in check, helps me focus and not get ahead of myself.
But I do long for a time when I won’t need one. In a few weeks?after I’ve gotten notes back from the book editor, and?sent out the personal essay a few more times, and finished that poem?I really am going to sit down with that novel I started during NaNoWriMo. It will be the only thing on the list. No, really.
I’ll be at the San Francisco Writers Conference this coming weekend, FYI. Reading poetry on Friday night, moderating a panel and presenting on a panel on Saturday morning. Should be good. Maybe I’ll see some of you there.
On the subject of writing routines and just getting down to it:
“Kazuo Ishiuguro: How I Wrote The Remains of the Day in Four Weeks”