Last year, I went to a couple of sessions of the Writers’ Festival which is part of the Perth International Arts Festival. One of the sessions was a panel featuring some writers talking about their characters, their methods, and when they found time to write. At the end, I asked them when they found time to write–did they work a nine-to-five job and just write around that? How did they support themselves, given that creative work doesn’t always pay the bills?
Two out of three said that they worked day jobs, and just got up very early in the mornings to write, usually before 5 am. And I thought, ‘I can’t do that. I’m just too tired.’ At that point, my youngest child was still waking a few times per night, and voluntarily cutting short my sleep seemed like a mad choice to make.
I used to be a night owl, when I was at high school and university, but once I began working during the day in retail and customer service, I had to shift my study time to early mornings, or I’d never last the day at work. Then once I had children, they were always up early, and so was the Handsome Sidekick as he started work early at that time.
When the children were still toddlers in nappies, writing around the washing, cooking, and parenting meant that I’d often have to work during the day when they napped, or at night. The problem with nighttime was that it was also the only adult time I got to spend with the Handsome Sidekick, and while he’s very understanding of my need to work, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity of actual adult conversation. And no matter how much tea I drink, by about 10.30, I’m starting to flag. If I work later than that, I begin to write or edit in my sleep. This has some interesting (if unusable) results, as you can imagine.
So it was a bit disheartening, hearing these other writers at the writers’ festival tell me that they got up at 4.30am to write before going to work. But one of them assured me that having children meant it was really hard, and I shouldn’t be so tough on myself.
And you know, she was right! It takes a lot out of you, to look after small children. Not being able to get up early to do a couple of hours of writing is really quite acceptable, if you’re otherwise chronically sleep deprived. Sometimes, doing any kind of focused brainwork at any time of day is too much, if you’re tired like that.
Recently, however, I’ve been less tired. And it occurred to me that I could also now take that time in the mornings, when the children are still sleepy or sometimes still asleep, and get up early to work. I feel like it’s such a milestone, a turning point, to take that step and allot that time. It feels like I can finally get more done, have more of a routine.
There’s the key, I think. Any kind of work needs some kind of routine, and being able to select a time and say ‘this is mine’ is particularly important, if you want to do creative work. I’m looking forward to it.