The other day a good friend and former student (thanks, Jessika) emailed asking for the name of a classmate who had a writing process she had always remembered. I came up with the name almost immediately (something nothing short of astonishing given my poor recall for names). I remembered likely because this classmate's writing ritual is one I shared frequently with other classes through the years. I tended to rely on this story when students were full of complaints about writing blocks, or when they simply weren't producing. Call it motivation; call it embarrassment; call it what you will. They tended to remember her story, as I have, all through these years.
She remains an inspiration to me. Her name is Leslie. When Leslie was my student, she had returned to college a couple of years before after taking some time off having nearly failed college once before. In the intervening years she had served her country in the military, she'd married, had become a mother. When I knew her she volunteered an extraordinary number of hours at a local middle school on top of her own courses. She worked evenings delivering pizzas. She raised children. Several times a week she drove one son over an hour to the nearest city with a good children's hospital for leukemia treatments. She was a remarkable student and a remarkable woman. She was serious about school and she was serious about her writing.
Taking me at my word about the need for consistent work habits as a writer, that year she set her alarm to go off early in the morning. I mean early. Like 4:00 or 4:30 such that she could get some writing time in before the rest of the house woke up and she had to start making breakfast and kid's lunches and get ready for her own long days. One of her sons caught on to her quickly and soon tried to join his mom in the early morning dark and quiet, brought with him his own pen and pad and wanted to join her in writing. She insisted that he needed his sleep. And since the plan for alone time to think and to write hadn't panned out, she left the house. She started writing in the play fort her husband had constructed at the top of the slide for the kids. This was Colorado in the winter. It can get cold in a Colorado winter. Her methodology: for every page she wrote, she rewarded herself with another blanket.
And how she wrote. Before the semester was done, not only was her growth as a writer with each piece she submitted to the class, she sold a piece to a national magazine.
My charge to future students was simple: if Leslie could find a way to write, they could.
On the bad days, I remember her lesson for myself. I have time now. I have a warm place, indeed a room dedicated to nothing but writing. I don't have a child battling cancer. If Leslie can write, I can find a way to write today.