Rewriting a routine – Jessica Strawser

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By Jessica Strawser

I used to write by night. It was right there in my bio — the official one on the book jacket. “By day, Jessica Strawser is an editor, by night, she’s a fiction writer, and by the minute, she’s a proud mom of two super sweet, super young kids…”♥

It was the last part that made the night writing challenging.

What kind of callous monster was I to deny them just one more bedtime story (is it not, among other things, a writer’s duty to foster a new generation of readers?) or snuggle (I’ve been assured by more seasoned parents that the days of these requests are numbered), or to put my foot down on ridding the closets of monsters (which, if I’m honest, still scare me too)?

But I had writing to do, always, a daily (or, rather, nightly) goal. I was eager to get to my keyboard — after all, I love to write. Only … sometimes I more loved to get the writing done. I’d already worked my full-time job all day before running the kids to swim lessons and scrounging up dinner and trying to spend some quality moments in their company. There was also this man living with me, one who I could distantly recall marrying, but who was sound asleep by the time I crawled under the covers, whispering goodnight.

I simply don’t function as a before-dawn riser, in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, and so writing became, as with some success my deadlines grew more intense, the very important thing that would never be done until moments before I’d drift off to sleep. I managed the sacrifices of this routine for years — a declining social circle, a lack of self-care. I even prided myself on managing it for years. So what if I was tired.

But after some time, I wasn’t just tired. I was exhausted. I was exhausted of being exhausted. Something had to give.

Fortunately, signs were present that all that diligent midnight oil was paying off. As I began my third novel under contract, the patient husband and I talked it over and decided I could leave the day job, at least for a while, and give this a real go — while reclaiming some real sleep.

Perfect. Right?

It seemed a cruel joke at first when my writing room began to strike me as unfamiliar. For one thing, the sun was up. Streaming through the windows with bright expectation. I’m not a superstitious sort, but it did cross my mind: Can I write in here with all this light? While drinking morning coffee instead of nighttime tea? Would my creativity work the same way?

I felt so privileged to be there at all — at a decent hour, no less — that it was hard to admit, but the truth is, the adjustment took some getting used to. While I’d been going about my busy days, I’d been percolating plots, preparing to attack the page with gusto. The cook time wasn’t the only thing that had changed in the recipe; the temperature and the marinade would require tinkering, too.

I remained bent on my daily quotas, even when I had to force it, even when it seemed to take three hours to accomplish what I used to in two. Even when my kids were home sick from school or some unforeseen crisis was afoot.

Within a few months, the words came around. And so did I. Rebalancing things, even from a state that is begging to be rebalanced, can take a little time. I recommend discipline, patience with oneself, and most important, extra bedtime stories and snuggles, accompanied by the confidence that comes when you’ve personally verified that your closets are monster-free.

At last, I pulled up my own website and realized it was time to rewrite my bio. For the better.

Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade. She the author of the novels Almost Missed You, named to Barnes & Noble’s Best New Fiction shortlist upon its 2017 U.S. release (and forthcoming in the U.K. in August 2018), and Not That I Could Tell, coming to both sides of the Atlantic in April 2018. She lives with her husband and two children in Cincinnati, Ohio.


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