Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.”
Today, please welcome writer JOSHUA MOHR.
One of the last things I say to my wife as she’s getting ready to go to bed is this: “I’m off to the mine.” Then I wander to our basement and turn off every light. I open my computer, pull up whatever file I’ll be clacking on. The only light shining in the room is my work’s glow from the laptop–everything else is pitch–and that’s how I do my best writing: when the only thing illuminating my surroundings are words.
Of course, it isn’t just visual. My process is equal parts audio. Namely, terrible punk rock. Take last night, for example. The Cramps cranked in my headphones. I wrote from about ten pm to three am, then got a few hours of shut-eye. My daughter wakes up around 6:30 and she and I will fry eggs, read about the venerable Winnie the Pooh. We might even play a full contact game of hide and seek, all before I shuttle her to daycare at nine.
There are those mornings that just gift you something, too. For instance, I’d been giving Ava a bath a few days back and we heard something pelting our house, and I said, “Hail!” and she said, “Hail?” and I said, “Let’s go!” and I bundled her up in a towel and we went outside to play in the storm. It was a perfect moment.
I’m lucky in that I have the sort of disposition that I can function on a few hours’ rest. I actually sort of like being tired if it’s for a GOOD REASON, like honoring my craft. Like everyone else, I despise being tired for other inaner reasons (aren’t bosses the worst!?), but, at least in my world, being overtired, being cranky, being whatever is the price you pay if you want to write consistently.
It’s up to every artist, after all, to show up and honor our books-in-progress. It falls under no one else’s jurisdiction. If we want to write consistently, then we need to set aside the time, and once it’s a habit, that’s the muscle memory component of being a novelist/memoirist. I show up in my darkened basement with The Cramps screaming in my ears. I do pull-ups and pushups to keep my blood moving. I even shadowbox, hoping, tenderly hoping, that nobody peers in the window and wonders if I’m having some kind of extended seizure.
I’m sure there are people of means who can carve out time during the banker’s hours to scribble, but, well, we are a family without much money. I teach. I edit. I hustle freelance gigs. All that plus being a husband and a dad doesn’t leave much time for writing.
But what other choice is there? If writing is truly a passion, you do what you have to do. You brew coffee. You stay up. You hope your muse likes punk rock, and the two of you are off on an adventure together.
FUN. Did I mention how much I dig writing? Can you feel that from what I’ve put down here?
I’ve identified a process that’s fun for me. When I write it feels like eleven minutes has transpired, and I look at the clock and it’s been hours. I’m thirsty and hungry and bleary-eyed and aging prematurely, but I don’t care. I can’t care. Artistic expression is one of the few things that makes sense to me on this planet. Besides that–and let’s keep this between me and you, okay?–I’m a confused person.
But I do know how to lope down into the mine. I know how to turn off the lights. Know how to open up a file, use its glow as sunshine. I know how to let terrible music blast through my head.
And hopefully, there will be a sentence or six that I publish and you get to read. And hopefully, if I’ve done my job right, you can hold that book up to your ear like a conch shell. Then you can hear my heartbeat.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What writing advice do you give that you rarely follow?
- That people should write every day. I am a binge and purge author, writing like crazy for a week or so until the cupboards of my imagination are bare. Then I take a few days off to regenerate.
2. What one word best describes your reading life?
3. If you find yourself with an extra 15 minutes, what do you do?
- Ava, who’s four, digs writing “books,” too. I never change any of her reckless syntax or nonsensical word choices. I’m just her underpaid secretary. I write down exactly what she dictates, and it’s always the highlight of my day.
By Joshua Mohr: