500 Days of Writing

By Maria Gabriela Guevara

I used to be one of those writers that waited for inspiration to strike. I am a romantic and loved the idea that when I was struck, something otherworldly happened. Now I have supposedly reached some writerly ideal. I write every day, most days 20 minutes per day. I occasionally get some longer stretches on weekend mornings or afternoons, but it isn’t consistent. My “real” job takes up a lot of brain space and creativity so even though I’m not a morning person, writing in the morning works best.

Most mornings, I get up and meditate for 11 minutes. Then I set a timer for 20 minutes and either write freehand or work at the computer. I write my first drafts in long hand and edit at the computer, so my work can be either generating or revising. I don't allow myself to look at the Internet, email, or my phone during those 20 minutes. It is focus space to write. Knowing a timer is on really helps. (I’ve heard this is similar to the Pomodoro Technique, but I don’t formally practice that method.)

Some days I get into the writing flow fast and it feels like the timer goes off all of a sudden. On those times, I notice where I am and leave myself a note on where to pick up the next day (these are the wonderful, exciting times). Other days I just stare off into space; I write or type something non-sensical; I meander. I check the timer, because I must have forgotten to turn it on (these are the excruciating, uninspired times). Some days I spend the time re-reading a story and making notes or small changes, or simply read to digest in the hopes that by getting my mind back around it, something will happen subconsciously.

As I said, my job is busy. I travel for work. Sometimes if I'm traveling or other things are going on, like holidays, I squeeze in my writing time. I have written in closets, a hotel bathroom, in between meetings at conferences, at airports, and on planes. I’ve written sober, drunk, bored, tired, discouraged, encouraged, inspired, ecstatic, in flow, and probably any space in between.

The magic of the process involves two things: 1. I show up for myself, no matter what state I’m in; 2. I give myself grace to let anything happen. Neither of these is easy, especially the second one. I’m a very rule-oriented person, so my inner critic wants to say ‘how could it count as writing if you’re just re-reading your prose?’ or ‘how could it count as writing if you’re rambling about the co-workers you’re with at a conference for ten minutes while wishing it was over and you were asleep?’ or ‘how can it count as writing if you only wrote one damn sentence and checked the timer five times?’

To my inner critic, the answer is: it counts because I showed up to the page. And can we talk about the times I wrote a few brilliant pages, massaged a great idea, and solved a problem in a story I’d been mulling over for weeks?

This amazing thing occurred with consistency. I went from writing one, maybe two short stories a year to generating seven stories in one year. Next week, on January 18, 2019, I will have written every day for 500 days.

Maria Gabriela Guevara is working on a collection of short stories and is in her second year of The Book Project at Lighthouse. She's also written a screenplay and some downright bad poetry. She is employed by day (and sometimes night) as a pain management pharmacist doing stuff you wouldn't expect a pharmacist to do. She lives in Denver and loves to hike, bike, sit in the sunshine and teach, and practice yoga.