Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Adam Braver:
I never thought of myself as an early riser. I always preferred the quiet of night, followed by a peaceful sleep well into mid-morning. However, my cat and my son do not share a similar sensibility, and, in direct proportion with the graying of my hair, my circadian rhythms have become inverted.
My day now begins somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30.
In terms of writing, this particular day requires careful management. While a normal morning involves reading several newspapers online, answering overnight email, and getting myself organized for the daily writing schedule, this is a day of deadlines. A promised blurb has run itself up to the final hour, and a magazine article also needs to be delivered. (Luckily, this is a non-teaching day, and I am thankfully caught up, if not ahead on that front.) Deadlines can bring out the worst—cursing the lack of available hours, and rerunning the daily idiocies that have knocked me off schedule for weeks. Warning: run all these grievances through your head long enough and they become their own set of idiocies and time wasters. Best to get to work.
A pot of coffee is always involved, and once my son is off to school, and my wife safely secured into her day, I’m parked at my desk. The goal is to get everything done by 3:00, leaving me ample time to get to the novel I’m working on, and at least end the day with a couple of solid, new pages. Focus and discipline have never been an issue. It’s more about negotiating the obligations.
First up is the blurb. My desk is piled with stacks of papers that, to the layman, might appear to be clutter. It’s a system I fully understand, but if were I put in unfortunate circumstances, it’s one I could never explain. On the back of a National Grid envelope are the notes I have been jotting down while reading Steven Church’s upcoming memoir, The Day After the Day After. It should be simple to distill these notes into a two or three line blurb. But this is a book that I truly like a lot. And I’m scared to death of not quite “getting it right.” I draft out several similar iterations, labeling each appropriately: academic, thoughtful, hip, clever, literary. Eventually I settle on a hybrid of all the versions. In order to stanch the obsessing, I immediately email it to Steven.
A new pot of coffee.
Because I’m constantly being saved by music, I was fortunate to have been assigned to cover last summer’s Newport Folk Festival for Rhode Island Monthly Magazine. I’d spent two days in Newport, listening to music, interviewing organizers, performers, vendors, and attendees—leading to an essay about experiencing the festival. Hours and hours of recorded interviews. Pages and pages of notes. All distilled down to 2,500 words. And today I’m parsing words, part shaman, part mechanic. Trying to fix with precision, yet still foresee the choices that will cause me to cringe two days later. With each tweak, it seems, another not-quite-right word is revealed, as though it’s been secretly lying dormant under other troubled words, just waiting to be awakened. Eventually, as with the blurb, I push the send button.
I have managed to meet my 3:00 deadline with tangible accomplishments. But here’s the truth, and this part is undeniably real—I miss not having the distractions, because now it’s just me and the blank pages of this new book; and again, this is the truth here—it’s hard work writing a novel, because, particularly with first drafts, there’s so often very little pleasure.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. I’d come across her previous book (stories) via word of mouth, and the simplicity of the prose against the power and smarts of the stories blew me away. The latest novel had the same effect.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- It’s rarely the story itself that’s interesting, it’s the way you tell it.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- The delusion that I have no strange habits.
Books by Adam Braver: