I’m beginning to fear that the all-nighter has become my writing ritual.
Not the kind of writing ritual I’ve chosen, like dressing in my softest clothes, drinking Earl Grey tea, and filling the room with the soothing tones of cello music.
No, the all-nighter is a different type of ritual altogether.
In the beginning, the all-nighter was a necessity. I was trying to meet the deadlines of my MFA program, and it was crazy challenging. No matter how hard I worked to set time aside for writing, it was never enough. I always found myself needing those extra hours.
Next time I’ll do better, I’d tell myself, desperately trying to function at work post all-nighter—regretting every hour I’d spent writing instead of sleeping.
It was a cycle I was determined to overcome.
This past month, in advance of my most recent deadline, I could feel something shifting. I was managing my time better, finding more nooks and crannies for reading and writing that were adding up to productivity.
I even had a three day weekend leading into the due date.
Maybe I was a little cocky, in those final days of February. No more all-nighters for me!
And yet. . . I still found myself up all night writing, using every possible moment I had before that deadline.
My dad has offered me advice, typically in response to my inability to pack for a trip like a normal human. It’s an admittedly indecisive process that takes way too long and eventually devolves into me throwing all kinds of random items in at the very end. Witnessing this chaos, my dad once said, “At some point, you just have to get on the plane.”
Dad being Dad, this was more than just packing-specific wisdom.
I always think about this advice mid-all-nighter, and I wish I could compartmentalize the choices I’m making as a writer in the way I wish I could choose the seven outfits I’ll wear on a trip, make a list of each item, stack them neatly in a suitcase, and be done with it.
But I don’t think writers work this way (or at least, I don’t). Spare minutes are opportunities to continue revising. My writing work expands to fill the time that’s available, not the other way around.
The writing is never finished, until it’s wrested from my over-caffeinated fingers and attached in an email to my advisor.
I wonder if accepting this truth about myself, seeing it as treasured ritual rather than character flaw, might change how the experience feels to my no-longer-22-year-old-self. Because that day after. . . that day after is rough.