I’m an inconsistent writer. Always have been, probably always will be. It’s not that the writing itself is inconsistent (though that’s probably also true, from time to time, as is the case with anyone who ventures to do a thing as ridiculous as writing), it’s that I’m inconsistent when it comes to writing habits. For my entire writing life, it’s been peaks and valleys, bursts and lulls. I’d much rather be a consistent, flat road, straight line kind of writer, but, well, here we are.
Ever since I had kids, I’ve found that the best (and really only) time to write is early in the morning, before I need to put on my Dad hat. In some ways, narrowing my window of available writing time has helped me. I know that if I don’t wake up and get after it, it’s just not going to happen, and that I’ll probably feel “off” for the rest of the day. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really hard to wake up when I need to wake up, in order to get it done.
For the last several years, my “ideal” morning looks something like this:
5:30am – Wake up, shower, coffee
6:00am – Butt in the chair, writing
7:00am – Walk the dogs
7:45am – Put on Dad hat, make breakfast, start the day, etc.
A morning person, I ain’t, though, so over the years, I’ve employed a number of tricks to get myself up and keep myself up. Most recently, my go-to trick has been to keep my phone far enough away from the bed that I have to physically get up and out of bed in order to turn the alarm off. This worked well enough for a long time, at least when I found myself in a creative burst, but then, as it does, winter came…
The winter spanning 2020 and 2021, specifically.
There was something about this past winter that really threw a wrench in my best laid plans. I’m not sure whether it was pandemic fatigue, or seasonal depression, or just a lack of that creative spark (realistically, it was probably a potent mix of all three), but I just couldn’t bring myself to wake up and do it. I wanted to. I always wanted to. I just…couldn’t. My first alarm would go off at 5:30, and I’d get out of bed, stumble into the bathroom, either snooze it or turn it off, and then stumble back to bed. This scene would repeat itself three or four times over the course of the early morning, until I’d invariably wake up, mad at myself, and needing to start the day proper.
If, by some miracle, I was able to wake myself up at 5:30, I still didn’t “have it,” so instead of writing, I’d read. Throughout the Winter and early Spring, I was bouncing back and forth between Ken Kesey’s, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion,’ ‘Deep River,’ by Karl Marlantes and Barack Obama’s memoir, ‘A Promised Land.’ There was a period of about a week where I tricked myself into writing a short film that had been gestating for the previous several months, and at least when I was reading ‘Sometimes a Great Notion,’ and ‘Deep River,’ I could convince myself that it was for research purposes (I’m in the middle of research for a screenplay I plan to write about logging in the Pacific Northwest in the late-19th, early 20th century – more on that in a bit), but still – by and large, I wasn’t doing the thing that I claim to love to do most, and the fact that I wasn’t, was eating at me.
And then I happened to listen to an episode of the Filmmakers in Advertising podcast, with guest Noam Kroll. The entire interview was extremely inspiring and informative, but by far the most useful thing I took away from the entire episode was a little trick to wake up and write, involving an index card and some rubber bands.
In a nutshell: write down your intention for the day (in my case, it’s 500 words per day), and secure it to your phone using a couple of rubber bands so that when your alarm sounds, you’re forced to undo the rubber bands, to remove the index card, to turn off your alarm. I tried it the next morning, and it worked.
This new trick, coupled with a neat function in the screenwriting software I use that allows me to track my writing goals in real time (shoutout: WriterDuet), has gotten me motivated once more. After writing a first draft of another short film that I want to shoot this year, I decided to start writing on an idea for a feature-length film that has been swimming around in my head for the last couple of years or so, which if executed correctly, could conceivably be produced on a micro-budget level.
I gotta say: it feels great. Which isn’t to say, of course, that there haven’t been bumps already. There have already been a few mornings where I accidentally left my phone on Do Not Disturb, or where I was just too tired to get up, but, the last few weeks have felt like forward progress, which has been all too fleeting of late, so I’ll take it!
But then: rejection. Specifically, a grant rejection.
Early in the year, I applied for an Alexa Rose Foundation grant to fund a research trip for the abovementioned turn-of-the-century PNW logging film. I had identified three logging museums (two in Oregon and one in Northern Idaho) that I wanted to visit, and I asked for $500 to fund the trip – gas, food, lodging. I figured that because I was asking for so little (the maximum grant amount is $5,000), that I had a good chance at getting awarded the funds.
Yesterday, I found out that I didn’t get the grant. (But my friends Chuck and Elliot Norton, from Lower Gentry Studios here in Idaho did!)
And although I did my best to keep positive and keep moving, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it didn’t sting a little bit. And then, this morning, I didn’t get up like I intended to. I slept in. I probably needed it, but still…I would have preferred to have gotten up and put one foot in front of the other. So it goes…
Time being linear, though, the only thing I can control is my next action. So…tomorrow morning, I will get up, and I will write 500 words, and then I’ll walk my dogs. And I will continue to research the logging film, and maybe I’ll even start pinning notecards to the wall in my office, as I start to think about the shape of the story I want to tell. One thing I know for sure: I’ve gotta keep moving. I’ve gotta keep striving. I’ve gotta keep writing. And so, I shall…