Some days the only thing that brings me to the page to write is a sheer stubborn commitment to the ideal of writing every day. I don’t come to the page with something profound to say; I come to the page because I’ve trained myself to think that “coming to the page” bears its own reward. On days like this, what I write is almost beside the point, which is good since what I write on days like this is neither interesting nor inspired. On days like this, the quality of what I write is secondary; what is primary is the simple act of showing up and putting in my time, with writing seeming like a kind of prison sentence where you get points for good behavior.
About a month ago, the simultaneous start of three separate semesters interrupted my daily writing practice, since I teach in the mornings and don’t have time to write then. Instead, during the academic year writing is something I do at odd times here and there, often when I’m likely to be tired, discouraged, or distracted by a particularly busy day. I might write during slow office hours when no students show up with questions, or during the sleepy lull between my morning and afternoon classes, or after I’ve gotten home from campus and want nothing more than to curl on the couch for a nap. On days like this, the only thing pushing me to the page is my own commitment to do it. I don’t write at the frazzled stub-ends of days because that’s when I do my best writing; I write then because that’s the only scraps of free time I have, and it’s either then or never.
I’ve learned from days like this that inspiration is optional. It’s fun to write on days when you’re surging with energy and ideas, your every thought seeming brilliant and original. But even on days when writing feels like slogging through sludge, it’s still possible to put in your time, pound out some words, and find yourself (at last) at the other end of an assortment of sentences, each word faithfully following the next. Sometimes when I go back and re-read the things I wrote at the waning ebb of inspiration, I’m surprised to discover what I wrote isn’t as bad as I’d thought. Some days, producing a perfectly serviceable piece is simply a matter of lowering your perfectionist standards, and there’s nothing like a busy schedule and inspiration-ebb to do that for you. Today’s writing has been a slow slog through afternoon sleepiness, my mind on my to-do list and my body craving caffeine. At the end of an inspiration-deprived hour, however, I still have something to show for: not anything spectacular, but something good enough.