Another in our occasional series where local authors tell us about their day. Nancy’s most recent book, Because the Sky is Everywhere, a picture book to help young children understand death, is on our shelves now.
Before I became an actual author, I imagined the writer’s life being full of glamour. I had an idealized picture of lazy afternoons lounging in bed in a satin robe. Just like a starlet with a laptop. Mornings, meanwhile, would be spent at urban coffee shops serving locally ground coffee and evenings at hip wine bars. Intellectual conversations would rise above all others.
Such a fanciful, escapist path would escape me because reality, of course, proved otherwise.
Writing, it turns out, is hard, hard work. In fact, real starlets are likely to have ghostwriters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Writing well demands that we fully immerse ourselves in life. Writers (particularly nonfiction writers like me) must absorb and distill all the joyful and challenging yearnings and events that fill the days. We must pay attention to how our feet first make contact with the floor each morning, the smell of our children’s skin, and weird food cravings like red peppers, potato chips and M &M’s. We must remember silly, hotheaded moments and times when our hearts burst open.
And above all else, we must be disciplined.
I wrote both of my books in the early morning before waking my children for school and busying myself with breakfast, lunches, and carpool. I have vivid memories of traipsing downstairs at 4:30 a.m. while in the thick of writing Both Sides Now: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Bold Living. Lots of mornings were rough but I made a pact with myself that this was my time. I wrote for a good hour and a half, sometimes more, and then shelved the project until the kids were at school and I could continue.
Establishing routines is essential for book-length projects. Show up each day and bit-by-bit you’ve got a manuscript.
Early mornings are still my preferred time to write. With all four kids living at home, ours is a full and active house. But not before 6:00 a.m. Which is why I push myself to wake up and claim this sacred time.
Coffee in hand, the smell of an aromatic candle, and soft lighting help to get my day started.
Then I read a poem, maybe something from Rilke’s Book of Hours or whatever else I have on my bookshelf to pry open my mind. Sometimes I even pull up a document I created called Catalyst Words that is nothing more than a collection of eloquent passages from books I’ve read and want to remember.
Then I write for a good hour before the business of life beckons. It’s only when everyone is out of the house and I’ve had a walk or some other form of exercise that I can return to my writer’s desk or front porch. And now that I’ve got two books behind me and no illusions about the ease of the writing process, I even give myself permission to occasionally write in bed.
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Nancy Sharp is the author of the memoir Both Sides Now: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Bold Living, winner of the Colorado Book Award, and the new children’s book Because the Sky is Everywhere (Porque El Cielo Está En Todas Partes in English/Spanish), a resource for educators and parents who support children and families affected by loss and trauma.