26 Hours: A New Newsletter
26 Hours, no. 1. Will Substack help me — a lapsed blogger — write again?
From about 2004 to 2015, I regularly and freely published my writing online: I started by posting very personal, oftentimes cringe-worthy musings on a password-protected site at Diaryland, then graduated to a forgettable blog at Typepad in an attempt to carve out a public and professional space. I set up a WordPress blog in 2008, which then evolved into an important space and created my trajectory as a writer and editor. That was a magical time on the internet when strangers got to know me through unpolished musings, when fellow writers and travel bloggers left me thoughtful comments, and when some of these people became my friends in real life. From within this network, which hasn’t disappeared so much as dispersed, I also met my husband.
During this period, I wrote a blog post called “26 Hours” in which I talked about an ideal time for me to write: the early morning hours between five to seven a.m., when I’m in a half-asleep, half-awake state where my thoughts and fingertips are loose.
I’ve come downstairs to my sofa, to my laptop. Always glowing, always waiting — rarely touched in quiet, intimate hours like these, when I’m up and automatic, when the day hasn’t seeped in, when the outside world hasn’t grabbed hold of me. I don’t know how long this lapse will last, so I’ll just type until I stop.
For the past eight years, I’ve worked in editorial at a tech company, focused on writing, editing, curation, and digital storytelling. I’m constantly immersed in words and stories, but I haven’t written much for myself over the past five years. I’ve always thought it strange and sad that working at a company known for blogging eventually made me stop blogging. During this personal creative drought, it’s been rare to sit at my laptop and slip into that glorious writing zone. I don’t remember the last time I wrote something I was truly happy with and proud of, that I read afterward and thought, yep, that’s why I write, or yes, this is me.
I’m not sure how to reach that frictionless state of writing anymore. Perhaps the little creature in my gut, the one that used to come up to hand me letters for the words in my sentences, got bored of me and fled. When I was in my MFA program fifteen years ago — has it really been that long? — I freelanced part-time and focused most of the week on my manuscript, spending a lot of my time alone in my room reading, researching, and typing. Typing a lot. Vomiting sentences, even. I admired some of my classmates who wrote tightly and precisely. I did not. I wasn’t great at self-editing. I cranked out pages and pages each day in the hope that good scenes would materialize and the right words would come. After half a day had passed, they eventually did, but the pile of shit I had to produce to get a few pieces of gold was massive.
I once wrote that the actual process of writing, for me, was like sitting on a toilet:
Writing — that good, automatic type of writing that I haven’t experienced in years — is like waiting for a bowel movement.
Currently, with a two-year-old, I don’t have much me time to be able to sit uninterrupted on a toilet, and these days, from five to seven a.m., I’m either asleep or pretending to be asleep while being kicked in the face by a toddler. But as I’ve learned from new motherhood, and especially during this pandemic, having less time is teaching me to be more efficient, and I’m learning to sneak in short bursts of writing when I can — even if it’s five minutes at a time, dropped into Simplenote on my phone. (I’m embarrassed to say how many sessions it took me to write these 653 words so far.)
Years ago, when I kept that private site on Diaryland and wrote for mostly friends, I wrote about a lot of things: growing up, raves, college, drugs, music, relationships, boyfriends, traveling, life abroad, life at home. I thought about it all through the wide lens of time. 26 Hours feels like the right name for this newsletter because it not only reflects my ongoing struggle to find the time to write — it also allows me to explore a range of topics, interests, experiences, and memories that resurface.
I’d also expect musings on home, space, and (re)imagining what that looks like again. Seven months into the pandemic, life has changed: as of this week, our San Francisco loft is on the market; we’ve moved out of our house in the country and are now in the burbs for a while; and I’m pondering other big changes. These types of shifts are hard, but they’re also a reboot. Life is different from, say, 2013 — when I proposed to my husband that we sell all our possessions and build a tiny house on wheels — and I don’t want to live in a 131-square-foot space again! But with change comes a reset, and I’m wondering what’s next, especially in a time of strangeness and uncertainty.
Like the cool kids’ newsletters, I’ll probably share reading recommendations here. I recently reinserted the Twitter IV drip back into my arm after a years-long break, so I’m reading a lot more again. Given the state of the world, I try not to doomscroll too much, balancing it all out with writing that brings me calm. Right now that’s singer/songwriter Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files, with succinct installments occasionally delivered to my inbox. My other current recommendation isn’t writing, but the rock band covers of 10-year-old musician Nandi Bushell, whose videos and recent drum battles with Dave Grohl you’ve probably seen. I love her energy so much. She is pure joy, and what I need more of in my feeds.
That’s it for now, and thanks for reading.
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I enjoyed this piece. I also had several blogs in my day and mourn for the days when internet writing and reading felt more self-directed, rather than governed by algorithms. Perhaps Substack is the way of the future though, having lived through all of the Internet's many pivots, I'm not holding my breath. One thing has remained the same though - the power of a distinctive writing voice which I think I've found here. Look forward to reading more!
Hey Cheri! I do hope it helps you. The being a new mom thing will change everything, but in good ways too...I like that you can sneak in time grabbing notes on Simplenote. That's worked for me over time too. You know, things come to us in snatches and they evaporate (as well you know) if you don't pin them down. I've thought recently about the music-creating process, and how it's similar to writing, in that musicians seem to layer different things together (to truly arrange) and we do the same as writers. So I'm hopeful for you that a new format will work. We are funny creatures (writers), fickle and sometimes frail when it comes to psychological triggers and associations. Which makes us such odd ducks at the same time! Thanks for introducing me to what the cool kids are doing, I need some help with that in my feed. Ha...hope the loft is moving too. Best, Bill