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Writing Through Life’s Stages: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Photo by Mislav Marohnić

It’s almost midnight, and I’m sitting in the dark with my laptop, music on and earbuds in, my husband falling asleep in bed next to me. This is what so much of my writing life has looked like over the past decade. I imagine this is what much of it will look like in the decades to come, too.

But of course, there have been changes over the years. Big ones. For example, my husband wasn’t always my husband, and we didn’t always live in this house, and hey, when did this baby monitor become a permanent fixture on my night stand? (Answer: about nine months ago.)

Sometimes it feels like I’ve always been looking for a better way. Looking ahead to a time where writing will rule the day, instead of sneaking in with the moonlight. I remember when I was a teenager, imagining how great it would be when I got to college and could specialize in writing, instead of having to spend so much time on homework for other subjects. And then in college, dreaming of graduation and life as a “real” adult, when I could work a mindless job just to pay the bills so I could focus on my novels. And then at work, wishing there were some way to quit my job and write full-time.

And then do you know what happened? I did quit my job to write full-time, and I still dreamed of a day when I would write more. More more more. Faster. Better. Quicker. Smarter. More.

To be honest, I don’t know if that desire will ever go away. But I try not to let it take over. Because if I pursue Faster Better Quicker Smarter More More More, I will never be able to rest. There is always more More.

Instead, I try to keep hold of something I discovered about two or three years into writing full-time: I can live the writing life that I want, right now. It doesn’t have to exist only in a faraway future. In fact, in some ways I’ve been living that writing life all along.

I remember when I was fifteen, staying up late to work on my entry for a Scholastic contest, typing bleary-eyed until 5 or 6 AM. And as a college senior, scrambling to come up with ten new pages of a novel each week, emailing them to my thesis advisor just before deadline. And finally as a “real” adult, getting ready for bed, making myself a mug of green tea, and then sitting down to work in my pajamas, drafting until I was too tired to think, accompanied into the long hours of the night by only the light of my laptop.

To be clear: I am not suggesting that procrastination, pressure, and late nights are good elements for a writing life. Just noting that they are, for better or worse, part of mine.

And as much as I have daydreamed of a “better” way, the truth is, I wake up happy. Sometimes dry-mouthed and bone-weary, but happy nevertheless. I enjoy being a night owl. I like the peace of the midnight hours. I like how the whole world seems to revolve around the words in front of me when everything else is dark. I like sorting through my thoughts and feelings after a long day, my mind churning quietly like the wake of a ship.

Maybe this isn’t my perfect writing life… But after so many years, there is clearly a pattern, and I have always been more productive and more content when I embrace it.

One of my biggest realizations was that being a bestseller or being rich wasn’t going to change this for me. My daily life is more or less the same as it will be after I get my first book deal, or my fifth, or my fifteenth.

There’s room for improvement, to be sure. But you can improve yourself without rejecting yourself. Carve neither against the grain, nor along it, but rather across it. Work patiently to shape what’s already there, rather than wishing for something else.

A second big realization for me — which I purposely have not spelled out until this point— is that writing life and process are two intertwined but separate things. How you write (all day, all night, in sips, in gulps) is not the same as how you write (plotter, pantser, anything-in-betweener). It’s all connected in some strange, beautiful equation… But writing isn’t math. There’s no right answer. No wrong one, either.

What patterns do you see in your writing habits from over the years? What can you build on? Are there any changes you want to make?

About Kristan Hoffman [2]

Originally from Houston, TX, Kristan Hoffman [3] studied creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and later attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. Now she lives with her family in Cincinnati, OH, where she writes both fiction and nonfiction with a focus on feminist, multicultural stories. Her words have appeared in the New York Times, Switchback, and the Citron Review, among others. She is currently at work on a Young Adult novel, and is represented by Tina Dubois of ICM. For more, please visit her website [4].