By Lisa Rogers
Breakfast is ready, and so is my manuscript.
My husband is an essential part of my writing process. True, he reads my work and lets me know when it falls flat or is missing something. But one of his most important contributions is making breakfast.
Every morning, he prepares a different breakfast than the day before, and the day before that. He lays out placemats and utensils, grinds the coffee beans, warms the coffee cups, sets the first section of The New York Times to the left side of my plate, a glass of water with exactly three ice cubes to the right, and copious amounts of blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries just in front of where he’ll place my filled plate. Then, as the coffee drips into the Melitta carafe, he calls me to come downstairs.
You, a writer dedicated perhaps to Trollopian chunks of scheduled writing time, might think I’m lazy, sleeping when I could be working—or at least getting ready for work—during those careful and generous preparations.
You know Anthony Trollope, right? The British post office inspector who got up at an ungodly hour every morning and wrote for a specified amount of time? If he finished a manuscript before that time was up, he began another. And another, and another—he’s one of the most prolific writers ever.
Sometimes, unlike Trollope, I am sleeping. But usually I am writing. Writing, letting the lines of a story move through my mind until they settle into a pattern, like wavelets lapping in a protected cove. Before I head downstairs, I transcribe those lines in pencil on actual paper—not so they can be erased, but so I can hear and feel the rhythm of my words as lead meets the paper’s tooth.
For a long time, I didn’t think I had a writing process. I figured actual writing required extensive periods of sitting. I dislike sitting. I’d rather be walking my giant foxhound, Tucker, running, lifting barbells at the gym, or involved in one of my many creative passions. Even my wonderful job as an elementary school librarian, which provides plenty of inspiration, involves little sitting.
Then I heard the admirable Andrea Davis Pinkney speak at an SCBWI conference. Writers must write every day, she said. Early each morning, she puts her feet on the ground and meditates for 30 minutes. Then she writes. Then she swims. Then she gets her children to school and goes off to her own job as a children’s book editor and publisher. I was in awe.
Am I a writer? I wondered. I don’t write every day. I don’t meditate. And then I took the train home from the conference and wrote a story in my mind as I looked out the window. Before I returned to Boston, I put it on paper—the Trollopian way.
When I was a reporter, I wrote every day. There wasn’t time for meditation. There wasn’t time for revision. One of my colleagues told me he always felt satisfied at day’s end, because he had filed his stories. They were finished; he was done. I never felt that way. I always wanted to go back and try them again. Experiment with a new beginning. Find more sources. Make that story better. More complete.
I’m a different kind of writer now. I have the opportunity—the imperative—to revise. My stories can sift through my mind, always changing. I can do more research. My story can become a better one.
That conference was a couple of years ago. And I’ve realized that even though I don’t put my feet on the ground, I do meditate. I do write, every day.
That meditative time is my real writing time. That inspiration, that working out of whatever problem in my story has come up, that answer to the question of how to wrap it up in a way that resonates—it all happens just before breakfast.
Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian and a former newspaper reporter and editor. Her debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW, will be published by Schwartz & Wade Books on May 28, 2019. She is the winner of the 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Find her at lisarogerswrites.com and on Twitter @LisaLJRogers.