How do you work?

This is a week between vacations, so I'm back at work but prepping to leave again -- this weird push/pull between settling back in and jetting off. (Tough life, right? Two vacations within three weeks? Also, my diamond shoes are too tight.) (+1,000 if you get the reference.) (I mean, not like Friends is this underground reference or anything.) (Yes, shuddup, I still love Friends.) I'm still reveling in last week, despite its harried ending. For example, my friend T. is a real treat, and I think last week was the most concentrated amount of time I've spent with her. She comes and goes as she pleases, generally; at the beach, this meant she would be her birdlike little self in the kitchen most mornings, mixing hummus and chopping vegetables and seeping some strange-smelling tea, before disappearing for hours on end. She doesn't text as a general rule, so we just had to trust she (and the second key -- and with a house full of nine people, that second key is critical) would come back before nightfall and join us for dinners. She always did. But that's a different story.

She had work to do on vacation -- a syllabus for a college class she teaches -- and I, needing to get some writing time in (#omgIamsoclosetofinishingthisbookbutnotreally), commiserated. One afternoon we left the beach early, closing the glorious day behind us to retreat into a quiet-for-once house. I made an Arnold Palmer (um, with vodka. It was vacation!) and settled myself into the kitchen table, earphones on, and pumped out 1,200 words. T., meanwhile, did not. As best I can tell, she cleaned (much appreciated), fluttered about, and stared at me a lot.

As it turns out, she is one of those "everything must be perfect and I must have a routine" kinds of workers/writers -- her hot chocolate must be made just so, her desk must be clean, her fingernails filed, and so on. As she put it later, she "must be ready for inspiration." She didn't understand how I, with my sandy feet and a house full of ladies coming and going and talking, Madonna playing in the background, could shut out the world and write for a while, right there in the center of the kitchen.

This is the thing one learns after being paid to write for years on end: you can't be precious about it.

A few years ago, I booked a "writing retreat" for myself. It was the off-season on my beloved island, and I escaped from the city, armed with my laptop and a driving need for solitude, and stayed on the deserted island for three days, intending to finish my first manuscript. It was awesome. It was helpful. It was productive. And I plan on never doing it again.

I love writing, but sitting down to actually do it is the hardest part of the process for me. And I needed to teach myself to be able to write anywhere and everywhere, no matter what's happening around me, whether there's some decaf brewing or not. And this applies to my professional writing as well as my personal. Because there are always deadlines to meet, and there's usually not always a chance to disappear for four days, in a silent hotel on an empty beach, to meet them.

Though, seriously, how incredible would it be if there were?

How do you work -- with a routine, or without?

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