A Day in the Life

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Closeup photograph of the daily cells on a calendar

I’ve worked full time and attended the MFA program at NYU full time for about eighteen months now. While I’ll certainly miss the program and all the people associated with it once I graduate in May, it’ll be something of a relief to return to my usual Monday to Friday, nine to five existence.

Some people have asked me when I have time to write with the schedule I keep—at my peak last fall, I was putting in around 80 hours per week between work and MFA-related activities—and since Thomas Lee has already offered a thoughtful post on the subject, I figured I’d throw in my two cents. On a typical weekday:

6:30 AM – 7:00 AM: Wake up, sometimes several times, depending on how much sleep I got and my efficacy with the snooze button. I used to get up at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning to write, but soon found it’s not my most productive time of day. If it works for you, go for it, but the material I was putting out before 9:00 AM was truly awful.

7:00 AM – 8:00 AM: Shower, shave, &c. My brain starts to work about an hour after I wake up, so occasionally I’ll get a line or an image while I’m getting ready for work. I write these in the notepad app on my phone or in my notebook to look at later. (In college I briefly kept dry erase markers in my shower to record epiphanies, but my current shower is tile, so I’ve learned to remember things for the few extra minutes it takes to dry off and get to my phone/notebook.)

8:00 AM – 9:00 AM: Arrive at the office. Sometimes if I get in closer to 8:00 and I’m having a productive morning, I’ll do a little writing as I make a cup of coffee and read e-mail. Once I wrote an entire first draft of a poem in the office before work, but this is rare.

9:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Work. While I appreciate Thomas’ points in his post, my perspective is that I should be working during work hours and writing during writing hours, and my job is not so demanding that I can’t carve out writing hours. It’d be a different story if I were in the office 100 hours a week, but I’m not.

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: This is my second-best writing time of the day, so I try to get in some solid writing time over lunch if I can. If I can’t, I do my best to scribble notes for the evening (my best writing time of the day).

If it’s a day when I’ve arranged to meet with my thesis advisor to talk about my book o’ poems, I’ll do that over lunch rather than write (though I do get some thinking/writing done on the subway; see below).

1:00 PM – 5:00 PM: More work! I actually find it’s easier for me to write when I’ve been using the non-writing parts of my brain for most of the day. If I try to write when I’m at work, I not only scramble the working and writing hours of my day, but the working and writing machinery in my head.

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM: Commute home. You’d be surprised how many ideas I get for poems from observing/overhearing people on the subway. A lot of it is from insane people (both literally and figuratively).

6:00 PM – 9:00 PM: Eat, think, write. I do most of my writing in the evening, either by hand in my notebook or at the computer. I don’t draft well on the laptop—I usually have to do a few handwritten drafts before I can commit the poem to the word processor. I find the process of writing by hand slows me down enough for me to pay attention to what I’m doing, and the work doesn’t have that finished look bestowed by the computer screen. Until I think it’s ready to be published, I want it to look unpublished (and possibly even unpublishable).

If it’s a class night, this is when I attend class. I don’t get any actual writing done in class, but the feedback I get is a great opportunity to plan revisions/synthesize ideas for new poems. Just as important as receiving feedback, however, is commenting on others’ work—you learn a ton about your own writing by reviewing someone else’s.

9:00 PM – 10:00 PM: Screw around on the Internet/get ready for bed. I try mightily to get my writing done before my screwing around time begins, and I succeed most of the time. The weekend is where I get the bulk of my screwing around done, though I do write and submit in the evenings on Saturday and Sunday.

Finally, never underestimate the power of downtime: in my case, at least, it’s where the bulk of my ideas come from, and it’s where I have the opportunity to recharge from the week. Writing is work, and it’s not healthy for anyone to work all the time—even if that work involves light-hearted jabs at Presidential candidates.