Before I left for California, I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. As I made my way through its pages, the shock of recognition was so great I blushed at how much this strange man knew about me.
It begins like this.
“What I Do: I get up, take a shower, have breakfast. I read the paper, brush my teeth. If I have phone calls to make, I make them. I’ve got my coffee now. I put on my lucky work boots and stitch up the lucky laces that my niece Meredith gave me. I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO nametag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, which my dear mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten thirty now. I sit down and plunge in. When I start making typos, I know I’m getting tied. That’s four hours or so. I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. I wrap for the day. Copy whatever I’ve done to disk and stash the disk in the glove compartment of my truck in case there’s a fire and I have to run for it. I power down. It’s three, three-thirty. The office is closed. How many pages have I produced? I don’t care. Are they any good? I don’t even think about it. All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for his day, for this session, I have overcome Resistance.”
There is routine, there is ritual, there is overcoming resistance, there is work. And that’s it, the key to the writing life.
Since I’ve been back, I’ve had a hard time finding the routine. I’ve been tired, I’ve been daunted. And maybe more so because of the challenge Pressfield has put before me.
Every morning I get up. Then I get my son up. I have breakfast—and make breakfast for him. I get dressed—and dress him.
Sometimes there is reading, sometimes there are games, always there is chaos.
At 9am, when Pressfield is sitting down at his desk, I am dropping Aidan off at school. Often it is then that I go to the gym. Because if I don’t do it in the morning, I won’t do it at all. Because I have a belly that still won’t budge. Because it keeps me happy, keeps me healthy, keeps me sane.
So what about my schedule? What about my rituals? What about my routine?
Lord knows I want and need them. Lord knows they are what I crave almost as much as financial security and a safe, happy life for my son.
Yet I don’t know how to get there.
Could I be at my desk (or a desk at the library) every single day by, say, 11? That would give me three and a half hours straight before I have to leave to pick up Aidan at 3.
The hitch: On Monday yoga goes until 11:30 (and then I have to shower, etc). On Thursday, I do a class at 11 or 12:15. Maybe on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, I sit my butt down by 11 and on Monday and Thursday, I do an hour of work before yoga and three hours after?
In any case, once I get there, those hours must be solid. They must be hours of typing, not checking email, texting, catching up on my UFVA work, going out for lunch or shopping online for shoes.
I’m not sure how to pull it off, but I do know this (again from Pressfield):
“…the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down ever day and trying.
Why is this so important?
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
Just as Resistance has its seat in hell, so Creation has its home in heaven. And it’s not just a witness, but an eager and active ally.”
Oh yeah, and this:
“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
But how do I do it? How do I pull it off?