All Night Long

nighthouseThe light of day shows best in the middle of the night. At least that’s when I get in my best edits, insights, and revisions. It’s an extension of parenting young children decades ago with no time to write except in the middle of the night when they were finally asleep (when I should have been asleep). It’s the reality of now working full time, which we all know encompasses far more than the requisite eight hours on work tasks, but also includes two to three or four hours of getting oneself ready, getting to work, getting to lunch, and then getting home. Eleven is the new eight hour day, and only if it isn’t actually 12 that’s the new eight hour day, because there’s always some extra work from the real (meaning paid) job thrown in, just in case you have time.

The point of this rant is that my writing is not done even when it’s done, and then it never happens until it begins – in the middle of the night. Stealth – a surreptitious movement while unobserved, to grab loot – becomes the modus operandi for this writer not gifted with attendance at writing conferences, writer’s residencies, or university writing workshops. The luxury of writing does not exist for me at a secluded location with a farfetched title (think Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury College in the forests of Vermont – I mean, really, Bread Loaf?) but here in the suburban faux eucalyptus woods of Orange County. The trees are real enough but the “woods” idea is no more genuine than the straight-row planting done by some guy with the wrong idea about what kind of trees would provide great lumber for railroads. Yes, I’m off topic, a not unusual aspect of writing on a catch as catch can basis. Sigh, the way life interrupts my work – tut tut. I steal more time to write.

Insight strikes me much the same way. Harum sacrum. I struggle with a chapter if it meanders without advancing the plot, or if a character is tediously authentic. A lizard scurries across the outside deck and I flinch at the distraction. It dashes into our staghorn fern, and I catch a glimpse of the scene I need to write. Scratch the mundane descriptions, allow the hero to dash unexpectedly, cause my reader to flinch but not toss the book. Revision begins with those kinds of epiphanies, equations of unlikely elegance. I suspect because I am willing to be up late at night to the detriment of a good night’s sleep, I also remain open to suggestion at moonlit hours. (It is now 11:14 PM and my alarm plays Bach at 5:00 AM. Ridiculous, aren’t I?) Maybe when I’m sleep deprived, my muse finds me vulnerable and easy to seduce. Um, don’t spread that around.

My other quixotic trait is that I frequently traipse around my house spouting parts of my books, trying out phrases, testing the dialogue, or reading passages to the spider webs in the rafters. The wandering helps me grab hold of a singular word, the reading aloud lets me gauge flow and rhythm. I try out dialects and accents, puzzling how to capture them in my story, tossing them when they don’t work. It’s like fishing in my house only I don’t have to stand in a river wearing high waders, or gut the thing on the end of the line. No raging current, no wriggling fish, maybe a dynamic re-write.

I’m diligent about writing – and rewriting. First drafts are imbued with passion and creativity, but also stunted by lapses and clumsiness. I get those first drafts on paper, and then rework them to make them as perfect as possible. Reread, reconsider, rewrite, and repeat. Sometimes only the computer light keeps the night at bay, sometimes I nod over the keyboard, sometimes I pack up the book into its virtual filing cabinet and set it aside. But one night a few months later I’ll get back to my WIP and tackle it again. Dinner is over, the house is quiet, I keep company with the moon, to its nocturnal rhythms and monthly phases. And one day when the moon is sleeping off its evening watch, when I have finally and truly pronounced my book complete and final, I hope an editor will find my work compelling, and will publish my work.

I won’t care if readers prefer to read my stories by the glow of the moon or the glare of the sun, just as long as they read.

Be well, friend.