Showing Up

When I got up to write this morning I really wanted to go back to bed. The house felt cold, the floor felt hard and cold beneath my bare feet, and outside as I stood waiting for Zeus to have his morning pee the night felt dark and damp and like any sensible person would be tucked up warm in bed.

Inside the house my husband sat in the big green over-stuffed chair in the kitchen, having his morning cup of coffee. He looked grumpy; he tweaked his back playing golf a few days ago, and hasn’t felt well since. After giving him a hug I made my cup of tea, measuring sugar and milk, then sat down at my computer.

My first feeling was that I was too tired to sit here and write…wouldn’t it be much nicer—not to mention easier—to just give in to the feeling and go back to bed? Did I really need to be up at this hour? I could always write later. (Not true, later there would be clients to deal with, emails and text messages, phone calls, and the muse silencing intrusion of bright sunlight.)

I opened the piece of Sword that I am currently working on and read through yesterday’s rewrites. It all bored me. The writing is fine, it’s just that I have read through this piece umpteen times and I’m sick of these rewrites. As I downed my first cup of tea these thoughts ran like a low murmur in the background. It took energy to ignore them, let me tell you.

Tired of working on the same piece of writing I have been for days, I opened a piece I had earlier in the week culled from the novel and saved into my rewrites folder. I had had some idea of deepening one of the main character’s flaws, of actually giving him a previous alcohol problem. (Bear in mind this is during Medieval times, so there wasn’t a lot of knowledge about this sort of thing back then, and certainly no A.A.) But I couldn’t think of how to work this in to the story line, and yet still have the reader feel sympathetic toward him, and believe in (or even understand) the transformation that occurs in him.

An hour passed. I poked around and played with this little segment of writing, mulling. Soon I was absorbed in the work.

As I sat there, my second cup of caffeine before me (this time coffee), I had one of those startling, sparkling moments of clarity, the kind we writers live for. I could see the thing in its entirety, its perfectness, and the little pieces I’d been mentally worrying, sorting and juggling for days fell into place like the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope.

It horrifies me to contemplate that I might have gone back to bed and missed this moment. That I might have stood up my muse and not shown up for our date. Really, it would have been so easy to be self-indulgent. And if I had, I would have missed this 6am epiphany. And who knows if it would have come to me another time? These moments are so transient, so ethereal. We run after them like children with butterfly nets, and if we are lucky enough to capture them they must be pinned down or they flutter off, and are forgotten.

22 thoughts on “Showing Up

  1. I’m mid-way through edits of a WIP, so I know exactly how you feel. And I totally agree — showing up is what makes it all possible. I’m an early morning writer, too, and I couldn’t stand to miss it! Here’s to capturing those butterfiles!


  2. I know what you mean about being worried if the moment had passed from one slight change you could have made.

    I guess that’s why we writers need a whole lot of persistence: so we capture a tonne of rubble to find one or a couple of gems.


  3. Hey Cynthia – I’m with you, riding out the tough and dull times (instead of the easier option of going back to bed, or TV or whatever) brings on the good times! Congrats.


  4. Cynthia, as a real morning person, I have to say I am so proud of you. The siren song of a warm bed on a cold day is truly hard to resist. I am so glad you were rewarded for for efforts. May the rest of the week bring you many such moments.


  5. Pingback: Sunday Serendipity « Tracking the Words: a yearly cycle

  6. You had a magical moment, Cynthia, and yes, kudos on being there for it. It was, of course, queued by the marinating you’ve been allowing to happen. Connie May Fowler talked about that at one of the MFA lectures I blogged about, compared it to allowing soup to simmer on a stove. So in reality you deserve kudos not just for keeping to your muse but allowing your subconscious to work these threads for you and then be open to listening to them. I’m happy for you.


  7. Thanks os much for sharing, Cynthia. This is simply testament to the “write every day” mantra – and the “make yourself write” belief. Unlike you, where the sunlight scares your muse away, it does the opposite for me. I SO appreciate the reminder that those moments of clarity can come at ANY time — even those days when it feels like NOTHING is working. And these lines resonate SO much: “And who knows if it would have come to me another time? These moments are so transient, so ethereal.”

    I’m so excited for you and this epiphany. Catch those butterflies.


  8. Well said, Cynthia!
    Ann Patchett said in an interview that ideas are often like dreams. They are fleeting and they have their own destiny. And if you don’t respect them when they come, they will find someone else to alight upon. They don’t come by again in the same configuration. (Of course she said it much more eloquently and poetically.)
    That’s one reason I follow the sage advice one of my professors gave me years ago: Sit your butt in the chair and write. Ok, he may not have said butt, exactly. ;)

    Have you read Ann Patchett’s essay on writing called The Getaway Car?


  9. What a great, and telling story! Thanks so much. I had a similar epiphany recently. I was working (and working, and working, etc.) on a poem that was giving me fits. I finally finished what I could do, and decided that I had better go to bed. Just as I closed my eyes to try to sleep for a while it popped into my mind, “Paula, you are going to hate what you just wrote when you get up in the morning. It is really awful.” So I got back up, went to the computer, sat down to try again, and my muse, Poly, visited, and the poem worked out much better than I had hoped. It’s not great, mind you, but it certainly satisfied me enough so I could get some sleep!


  10. Julia, I so agree. Love our writing mornings…

    Rebecca, “I guess that’s why we writers need a whole lot of persistence: so we capture a tonne of rubble to find one or a couple of gems.” I love that!

    Mj, TV and sleep…the two great distractors!

    Thank you, Prudence!!

    Thanks, Patrick. Yes I think I read that one. Good post. Simmer the soup!

    Hi Melissa, Yes, I think writing every day is key. I know there’s as many optimal ways/times to write as there are writers, but some kind of regular set time seems to be the secret to actually completing anything long. Finding that time, then keeping the date, that’s the work, as i’m certain you know all too well. :-)

    Jackie, I’ve never read that essay. Do you know where I can find it?

    Paula, I’d love to read your poem some time! Funny how the words can keep us up at night. :-)


  11. That’s why I get up in the middle of the night when I have an epiphany. I’m afraid it won’t be there in the morning.

    When you mentioned that Zeus was having his morning pee I thought you were referring to that little sprinkle we had in my neighborhood today.


  12. There’s something to be said for just buckling down and getting to it. You really do create habits by persisting, and things end up working seemingly on their own. But that doesn’t mean sometimes all you need is to laze in bed for a while longer. Sometimes the percolating of the story doesn’t happen if you’re tired or in front of the work. And other times, that’s exactly what you need. A little irritation, a little stubbornness, then it’ll click. I’m really pleased it worked for you!



  13. This was just what I needed to hear, Cynthia. I feel like my entire life is in limbo land right now, and I do NOT like limbo land! Rather than getting frustrated by the things that are not happening, I can channel that energy into new research or reworking old writing. Great encouragement to start out my week–thank you!


    • Being so near delivering your first child kinda gives you a hall pass Jolina. I doubt anyone would fault you for being absorbed in this most important of events. That said, this brief time between now and the arrival of your daughter is the last time you will be just you. She will change your life in so many delightful ways. One of which is having to reshuffle your priorities and time alone. It’s all worth it. Life without my daughter and son would have been bleak as a frozen moor. I’m so glad I had them, and cherish the memories of all our times together, even those where I wanted to tear my hair out with frustration or worry. But enjoy the specialness of these last few weeks, dear, before she arrives. They are to be savored. When she’s born don’t fret if you don’t get any writing done for a bit. It will all simmer down into a nice peaceful schedule after awhile, and then you will be back at it. :-)


  14. I’m at the same point in a book I’m trying to finish and I’ve decided that today will be the day I get the scene mastered. I have to. Completing the book depends on this much needed epiphany.
    I’m happy you blogged about showing up. It was just what I needed.


  15. Yes yes yes. And perfect summed up here: “These moments are so transient, so ethereal. We run after them like children with butterfly nets, and if we are lucky enough to capture them they must be pinned down or they flutter off, and are forgotten.”


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