Maybe it’s because it’s been just over two years since I graduated with my MFA, or because my husband, Damien, just graduated with his MA, or some combination of the two, or neither. Whatever the reason, I’ve been daydreaming about—romanticizing, again—my time as a graduate student. Aside from the fact that those were some fun, carefree times for me, during my last two years in my program at UAF, I was at my peak of productivity as a writer. Since graduating, I’ve published a book, yes, and I’ve published several short pieces in journals as well, but as far as time spent in front of the computer actually writing, I’ve never been able to match what I was logging as a grad student.
Sometimes as a grad student I would complain about how being an MFA student didn’t afford me the time to write I’d thought it would. Looking back on it now, of course, I know that’s demonstrably untrue. I had to do a lot of reading and paper writing, studying for the comps exam, teaching, and tutoring at the university’s Writing Center, but let’s be honest, I still had several hours a day leftover in which to write. And I used it. I did. I wrote a lot during that time. The majority of my book is comprised of stories I wrote in grad school.
There are a number of reasons why I haven’t written as much since then. Teaching three classes at a time—and in one awful, stressful quarter, four—has kept me far busier than teaching one and taking two or three ever did. Working under deadline to polish and edit a book took time away from new writing. Dealing with the crushing realization that having a published book means very little in the grand scheme of things brought on feelings of depression, which were difficult for me to write through, and, naturally, preparing to have a baby has kept me pretty distracted.
The past week, though, I’ve been writing more and more, and I’ve been feeling more like my old, MFA student (as opposed to MFA graduate) self. Anytime I experience a shift in my drive or abilities as a writer, I look at the variables in my life and ask myself what might have caused the shift. This week there was one glaring change in my life: Damien, who’s been working part time as the Managing Editor of New Ohio Review since July first, began teaching a summer course in addition to his editorial duties. Where he had been spending four hours at the office Monday through Friday, he’s now gone for six to seven hours a day.
I, on the other hand, haven’t been working at all. I wasn’t able to line up any summer classes, and I wasn’t able to find another summer job as no one particularly wanted to hire a big, fat pregnant lady who’s just going to quit when her due date gets close. At first, when Damien started the Managing Editor job, I told myself I would spend at least half the time he was gone writing. But it didn’t work out that way. I have prenatal yoga to do, and I’ve also been spending an hour or two a day on household chores (I am, after all, a housewife now—how odd). Add to that showering and other basic life activities (like making and eating breakfast and lunch), and by the time Damien would arrive home from his four hours at the office, I usually either hadn’t written at all, or had only written for half an hour or so.
But now that he’s gone for six or seven hours, I have been writing for a good hour or two every day, and I’ve been reading a lot, too—what a wonderful feeling! Because we now live an extra mile from campus and because it’s been very, very hot and humid this summer, I’ve been getting up early with Damien to give him a ride to work. When I get home, I do my prenatal yoga, shower, eat, then write and read for a few hours until I decide it’s time to get on top of the chores.
And you know what I realized? This is a lot like the routine I had going when I was in grad school. In Alaska, Damien worked from 6:30-2:30 and would get up at 5:30 to get ready. I’d get up with him, so I could have coffee and spend a little time with him before he went in. Then, when he left, I’d exercise for an hour or so and write until it was time for me to get ready to go to campus (usually not until ten or eleven at the earliest). Replace the household chores I do now with the schoolwork and teaching I did then, and the schedule is very similar. In both cases, what affords me the time to write is the fact that I get up early—even though some days I’d rather not—to ensure that I’ll have time to get everything done and still have time to write before the end of the day, when Damien and I are both home together. Because I love my husband and would rather hang out with him, honestly, than do anything, including writing, I know if I haven’t written by that point in the day, I won’t. I simply won’t.
The idea of getting up early to write is nothing new. Many writers swear by it. I’m sure for some people it’s necessary and for others it isn’t, but for me, it is. I should have known that by now. I definitely do my best writing earlier in the morning, before anything much has happened to distract me from my made up worlds, and as much as I love sleep, I love the satisfaction of getting in a good hour or two of writing time more. Routine, for me, helps a lot too. The two things combined are, finally, allowing me to recapture some of that productivity (and positivity) that I felt back when I was in grad school. Hurray! May it last and last!