That intellectually indefatigable, spectral league of experts called They, say a writer’s best ideas come in the morning. I never want to believe what They say. They, however, are, all too often, right.
Morning inspiration from brain to page doesn’t happen like one would think. It’s not always charming, romantic, and sophisticated. Often, it’s not even very nice. The sparkling river of words is supposed to gush forth after I’ve fully awakened, showered, my breath minty fresh, dressed in well-worn denim and a softened flannel, a burnished clay mug of hot coffee resting on the walnut desk in my Olde English study, seated comfortably with pad and pen in a sturdy leather chair, my golden retriever at my feet, on my time, by my will, at my discretion, when I decide to graciously invite the muses of Lewis, Salinger and Tolstoy over for a jam session.
You see, the upside of being a writer is the ever-present and always-entertaining ability to transform everything into an adventurous story. The downside is, it’s just a story. So, that little charming tale, above? That’s the novelized, poeticized, romanticized version. It never really works like that. The reality is much more savage.
Most of what I assume is my best stuff comes when I find myself inexplicably and violently shaken from what I thought was a restful sleep, somewhere between 3:02 and 4:47am, barely half-cognizant and tormented by exhaustion, the astringent, sour taste of a now fermented evening snack coating my teeth and tongue. On the other side of the cerebral fog, words and ideas appear; the clarity of language is astounding, although, it’s heavily catalyzed by a hazy, phantasmagoric, emotional rush, the stuff J.C. Powys calls, “the incongruous imagery in surreal art and literature”; I never quite know if I’m awake or dreaming.
The body’s willingness for physical cooperation is almost nonexistent, my eyes too sensitive to light to even look directly at my smartphone’s white screen, something I’m compelled to use because my handwriting can’t keep up with the speed of mind. At that mental pace, fear and anxiety are constant companions. I’m wary that a notion will rush past, unseen. I’m terrified of losing the prose. My arms and shoulders burn with the same acidic flush one feels when painting the ceiling of a large room, because, I tend to lay on my back and hold my arms straight overhead, thumb-typing all the while. Tired there, I’ll roll to one side or the other, a sure way to get one of the arms to fall asleep.
I type far too slowly for my own taste. Over 85% of my time is spent doing instantaneous editing, not for significant things like grammar and context, but because, “my hands are just too damn big to type on this stupid touch screen” and I end up with words like, startoign which I have to go back and fix every 7 seconds. For the record, the auto-correct spelling feature is a nightmare; it’s almost always wrong. I can tell it was made by humans who are just like me.
The entire experience is nothing short of an attack. There is an absolute compulsion to defend yourself from the pressure of not writing and, the method for doing that is to immediately begin writing, ironically, the most indefensible part of the process. You can’t stop until it’s all out. All the literary currency must be spent, the word-bank account emptied, perhaps even overdrawn. There’s a strangely satisfactory-cum-masochistic element attached to it all; you know the austerity is good for you and, so, the discomfort affords a certain level of accomplishment-based pleasure. It mostly affords a heightened sense of tormented insecurity about your work.
There’s a selfish component to what I do, something that extends into a repetitive inconvenience for those closest to me. In those dark morning hours my wife is there, roused from sleep by the ghostly, grayish light and, suddenly, but unintentionally, I’m imagining that she’s intruding on my private creative affair, leaving me eager to blame any being who disrupts my stream of consciousness, even in the ever-present innocence of a reasonable question like, “What time is it?” before she drifts back off to sleep.
Beyond all of this is the stark realization that I’ll momentarily replace the fury of writing with the fury of sleep, only to awaken at sunrise to discover that nothing which I’ve written, in my compelling pre-twilight hours, is any good. Every new experience must be met with an utter and profound humility, the exact same utter profundity that I believed defined my writing. The revisiting often begs the question, “Why is my brain wasting my time?” I’m still waiting for an answer, knowing, full well, that one will never come.
The stuff worth keeping is never more than a snippet, at best. It’s a conversation starter, an ice-breaker, broaching the extreme external surface of what we, reader and author, are meant to cooperatively discover. Get enough of those snippets, though, and, you have a page. Get enough pages, and, you have a book.
The first pages of the latest book are what you’ve just read, all of the verbiage flooding forth in early morning. When it stops, it stops. I don’t know what happens then. So, I keep coming back.
Pretty good morning.