May 18, 2016 § 20 Comments

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Gabriela Denise Frank

By Gabriela Denise Frank

If you’re like me, writing is not your spouse, your fiance or your steady. Writing is your hot, secret lover who you only get to see in rare (and blissfully silent) hours stolen away from your commitments. If you’re like me, you don’t have a business card with the title Writer on it, either—yet writing is central to your identity and if you didn’t write, a part of you would die.

Each morning when the Instagram feeds of fellow writers greet me with photos of antique wooden desks near sunrise-drenched windows—always with steaming mugs of coffee and open journal pages—I think two things: 1) She is the luckiest person in the world, and 2) What have I done so wrong in life that every day doesn’t begin like this for me?

After a deep sigh, I set off onto my daily routine, which consists mainly of not-writing.

For me, writing comes only at night after dinner and a few minutes of quality time with my man-friend, a practice that I call Writing on the Fringes. Sometimes I get an hour, or even two, if I stay up past my bedtime. I often edit my work during the daily commute to and from my office, trying to write coherent notes as the bus bounces over potholes and traverses steep hills. (I’ve been asked several times if I am an English teacher, which sort of tickles me.)

After subtracting full-time employment, daily exercise, errands and the trappings of life, I might even get a few hours of writing on Saturdays and Sundays, too. Like a romantic affair, my scarce access to writing sweetens the moments and creates a hunger to return; I fantasize about writing most other hours of the day. This craving is also what allows me to flick past those Instagram photos and tell myself: Humph! If I had nothing to do but write all day, I probably wouldn’t love it as much.

Most of my pieces, fiction and essay, take me months to complete using the Fringe Method. Still, I’m very driven, and refuse to be stymied by the blank page or the fear of rejection. Piffle! I think. I’m slow, but who cares? When in doubt, keep writing. And I do. I chug along on nights and weekends and, over the course of a year, I usually produce several works. Writing on the margins has become my rhythm, and if you would have asked me to find additional time to write without ditching work or neglecting my mate, I would have said it was impossible.

Then the Southeast Review’s Writer’s Regimen came along. I signed up because I knew I’d be traveling too much this winter to take an in-person course. While I’ve tried (and failed at) MOOC courses, I liked the idea of receiving daily prompts and notes on craft by email every day—short assignments that I could reasonably complete, even as busy as I am. I was also drawn to the tight scope—one regimen a day for the month of February—meaning that I could dedicate myself to the exercises without neglecting my works in progress, yet a month afforded leeway if I missed a day’s assignment.

And what do you know: by the end of the first week, I had written ten pages in my notebook and filled another twelve the following week, even finding time to write on the road. Most of the exercises have resulted in vignettes or short scenes, each exploring an element of character, plot, setting, dialogue, diction or form that I wouldn’t have thought to attempt on my own. While I won’t use everything I’ve written verbatim, the exercises are helping to deepen my writing and uncover new angles within stories that I’ve been wrestling with for some time.

The most curious discovery is that these digital prompts have driven me to write more by hand. Since I don’t need a computer—just the prompt, my notebook and a pen—I can write at lunch or in the airport while waiting for a flight. Each day, these exercises reveal time that was previously untapped or undiscovered, uniting me with my lover if only for a nooner or quickie, and oh man, does it feel good to write! The more I do it—write for ten or fifteen minutes throughout the day—the more ready my imagination is each time I return to my notebook.

By taking up the pen again—literally—I have also reconnected to the kinesthetics of writing. I don’t bother trying to make perfect sentences or complete thoughts like I do when I type; instead, the work has become about play and exploration. The point is to experiment and if something isn’t working, to learn from it and move on. Upon reviewing what I’ve produced so far, I see that writing by hand has catalyzed a different kind of creativity within me. The physical connection between my brain and body, rather than a keyboard or screen, has released a raw and more powerful voice. Physical writing, it seems, has a different tone.

As the final week of the Writer’s Regimen begins, I find myself eagerly checking my email each morning, hungry for the day’s prompt. Rather than one more task to complete, the regimen has become a brief but potent practice of frolicking in language and story. I suddenly feel like writing is all around me, not just in scarce moments lingering at the edges of my life.

That’s what flow feels like, I realize—the sweet nectar of deep sensual ecstasy that erases the boundaries of time. The joy is simply everywhere.
Like all affairs, the Writer’s Regimen will soon end and I will exit the experience forever changed; March 1 will be both bitter and sweet.

Thankfully, the start of the next regimen is only a few weeks off. No doubt, by then I’ll be hankering for our sweet stolen moments together… and this time, I may not even tell my boyfriend.

Gabriela Denise Frank is the author of CivitaVeritas, An Italian Fellowship Journey. Her essays and fiction appear in The Rumpus, Word Riot, ARCADE and Bird’s Thumb. She lives and writes in Seattle.

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