My alarm clock goes off these days at 5:00 am. I put on my bathrobe, make the bed, so I can't crawl back in, and I head to my office in the lower level of the house. I turn on one desk lamp, light a candle, wrap a quilt around my legs, take three deep breaths and whisper a prayer of gratitude for the night's rest and a prayer of hope for an open heart as I move through the day and then I begin to write.
Last weekend I attended a writing conference, Awakening the Soul of the Writer, at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, WI. About two minutes into the opening presentation by a former Wisconsin Poet Laureate, Ellen Kort, I wrote a note to myself, "When was my most productive time as a writer? When I was getting up at 5 and writing for two hours. Time to start doing that again." When that first thing in the morning writing time was the norm, I wrote the 11 essays that are the core of my as yet unpublished book, Tears, The Spiritual Invitations of Grief and Loss. During that period sometimes I returned to my writing later in the day, but no matter what else was on the day's schedule; no matter what else pulled me away from my desk, I already had done two hours of writing time in the quiet of the day's beginnings.
I have been to many writing conferences, workshops, and retreats over the years and have even been a presenter at a good number of them, and I am always stimulated and inspired by them, but most often the fruits have been short-lived. By the time I get home, put away the pile of books I bought at the conference book store, filed my notes, emptied my suitcase and started the laundry, the good energy and positive thoughts have dissipated. Obviously, sometimes what I experience at a conference is integrated in ways not always visible, and I in no way regret attending any of these conferences over the years, and I will attend others. This time, however, the fruit of the conference was sampled before I even got home. I set the clock in my hotel room for 5:00 and when it went off the next morning, I got up and wrote. True, the two hours were not very productive, but my goal was to re-establish a beneficial habit. Since coming home I have continued the practice every morning, and the time has been so productive that yesterday I finished revising an essay and submitted it to Presence, the journal for Spiritual Directors International.
I could berate myself for all the mornings I have not gotten up to write; all the days when no writing occurred, even when I intended to write. But giving into regrets is not writing, any more than sleeping is writing. Writing is writing. Other activities may support the writing, enhance the writing, and inspire the writing, but they are not writing. Writing is writing.
So for now I am getting up at 5:00. I have a house guest for a few days and April is full of travel and more house guests. The days and nights will be full, and I look forward to each day, but the alarm clock is still going to go off at 5. Kathleen Norris, author of Acedia and Me, Amazing Grace, The Cloister Walk and other books, was the conference keynoter and she said, "You only need to do it today. Then when tomorrow is today, you only need to do it today." This morning I almost did not turn on the light when the alarm went off, but I told myself, "I only need to do this today." Norris also quoted G. K. Chesterton, "God says, 'Do it again,' to the sun. 'Do it again,' to the moon." God has never gotten bored with creation and the act of creating. "Ok, Nancy," I say to myself, "Do it again."