When Writing Comes Second
by Jessica Conoley
There is this prevalent misconception in the writing community that to be a real writer you have to put your writing first at all costs. After several years of experimenting, I’ve decided that’s a load of crap. It turns out writing works best when I put it in second place on my priority list for the day.
What could possibly be more important than writing? Turns out it’s good old-fashioned human-ing.
Human-ing starts over the first cup of tea, ten minutes after I’ve rolled out of bed. And of course, it starts with books—two for reading and two for writing in.
Book #1 is the first book I crack each morning, and the last book I write in every night. It’s a planner where I map out my day and record insights in a multitude of different colored inks. I write down what I’m grateful for, what will make today a success, and then I slot in external commitments, carve out time for balance (reading, writing, meditating, and exercise), and figure out how to get in my coaching, editing, or other work.
Reading a page from Book #2 (A therapy book, which a group I’m in works through daily.) transitions me to the intense human-ing part of the morning.
Real Reading of book #3 comes next. (This is not the fluffy light reading I do before bedtime, or the craft reading I do to improve my writing, or the fiction fun adventures I read to keep up with the industry.) This is the Reading of sipping-books—martinis of books that have to be savored, because if you try to drink it too fast you’ll get wasted and forget the important bits. Sipping-books fall into categories like: therapy, sociology, philosophy, spirituality, science, and behavioral economics. The best sipping books are a blend of all the genres. Sipping books get underlined and re-read. They cause me to dissect the way I engage with the world. They help me rebuild my relationships and business practices. They force me to face the parts of myself I don’t like.
Human-ing is at its peak when I switch to Book #4, a writing journal. A new color of ink, as I work through my (literal) nightmares and reconcile the world I’m building for myself. Often it includes copying words from Books #2 or #3 and processing what I’m learning. It always ends with me choosing a fifth color of pen and doing a page of gratitude or affirmations.
My body gets antsy after all that sitting, and my brain is really awake and functioning by this point. Human-ing wraps up by addressing the needs of the flesh-suit that carries around my brain. Five minutes of Pilates (Normally the Fab 5 and extension exercises because I, like most writers, have back problems, and a strong core and back help me work longer.) while listening to a Podcast. Podcast time continues through breakfast. Breakfast only sustains my brain if it has protein. My body is a protein monster. Finish up the podcast with making my bed and a quick shower.
Now comes the gateway to writing: meditation. Twenty-five minutes laying on my nicely made bed, diagonal like so when the sun’s out it can fall on my face. Meditation lets all that big thinking of the morning settle into my bones, so it can work its way in to my stories and my characters’ lives. When my Zenso app timer goes off human-ing is done, I head to my keyboard and get to the second most important part of my day: writing for myself.
This writing consists of the articles, novels, or short stories I need to get out of my body. (If I don’t get them out I go a little crazy, and the broken crazy bleeds over into every other aspect of my life. It’s not pretty when that happens.) In the writing the human-ing continually surprises me. Creepy social experiments that happen in Color Eater were taken straight from a non-fiction book that had a study on American P.O.W.s from the Korean War. An energy healing book clarified some of the time weirdness that happens in Seven. The quarterly bonus to employees worked its way into my business essays. The misbeliefs my characters battle are often the same ones I’m confronting in my morning journal pages.
My writing may only get thirty minutes before I have to move on to edits or coaching work, family obligations, or reality, but the writing is better than it ever has been before, and I know it’s because I choose to put it second.