I finished up my most recent writing project last weekend, Constant Reader. (At least as far as the rough draft – the re-writing, as we all know, never stops.) A number of my usual “social” commitments were cancelled last Sunday, so I had the entire day in which to bang out the last pages. My self-imposed deadline for the piece isn’t until later in the month, so for once I’ve managed to be ahead of schedule. As a result, I felt a particular sense of satisfaction when typing out “End of Play” this time around. Hopefully the draft is good, but my time management skills were on point.
I lament to say that it was not always like this.
We’ve all been there, I think. If you care about what you’re writing, then you’re going to worry about whether or not you’re writing it well – and as I’ve mentioned before, procrastination typically stems from a fear that you’re not able to complete a project as well as you want to, making you question the value of trying in the first place. And when we’re first honing our writing muscles, in high school and in college, there’s plenty of things to distract us while we’re doing all that questioning. Many’s the time in college when I’d come back to my room, after a day of classes, an afternoon of rehearsals for one show, and an evening of rehearsals for a separate show, to then sit at my word processor for four hours straight, staying up until three in the morning to finish the paper I’d only just remembered was due the next day. Once, at the end of my senior year, I wrote about ninety pages of a fiction writing assignment in the span of about forty-eight hours, at the end of the term. It may be an achievement, but it’s not an achievement I’m particularly proud of.
I think I’ve gotten better. I certainly hope so.
But the thing of it is, the part of my brain that handles the writing doesn’t seem to realize that the other part of my brain, the one that handles time management, has gotten its shit together. In terms of when I’m actually creative, when I’m able to sit at the keyboard and get those fingers flying, my internal clock is still set the way it was back in those long-ago student days.
Let’s go back to that recent productive Sunday. I had the whole day free; I could have written from sundown to sunup, treated it as a nine-to-five job (not that those really exist during the Quarantimes, but you get the point). But my brain didn’t want to do a damn thing when I woke up; those first beams of morning sunlight hurt, dammit, and it took me a good while to even get my breakfast together. Late morning and early afternoon were spent with emails, social media, and YouTube rabbit holes. I opened up my Final Draft document at around two, but spent a good chunk of time just staring at the screen reminding myself what words were and how I was supposed to use them. It wasn’t until around four o’clock that I started making any progress; if this were still winter, the sun would already be going down. And it wasn’t until after I’d my dinner, a little after six pm, that my juices really started flowing. And once that happened, I kept on going and going, a burst of creative energy that lasted me until typing out that blessed phrase “End of Play,” just before midnight.
Four pm to midnight. That’s when my brain wants to write. It’s too busy with basic life functions to want to do anything else in the morning or afternoon, and it starts to lose its focus and descend into a groggy miasma (or turn into a pumpkin, if you’re a Disney fan) once midnight is past.
And of course, this could simply be my natural circadian rhythm. But I have to wonder if it’s the permanent after-effects of my heavily-overscheduled academic days. If this is how I’ve trained my mind to work, without realizing I was doing so. One of the many lessons from a person’s school days that they never realize they were learning, until they stop and realize just how long that lesson has been a part of their life.