Tag Archives: time management

Making it a Practice

Ever since I left grad school, writing fiction (my favorite kind of writing) has become a thing I do fleetingly–when I can spare the time–when I happen to be inspired–when I have run out of TV shows to watch.  Needless to say, all of my fumbling towards “being a writer” has been more like half-remembered dreams than like a vocation to which I am dedicated and committed.  You know.  Life gets in the way.

But life only gets in the way because I let it.  Because I don’t intentionally carve out time for the writing to happen.  Because I don’t have a set time to write.  Because I don’t have a dedicated space to write.  Because I don’t have a goal or a deadline.  Man, I am lame.

So.  If this business of being a writer is ever going to become something real, it’s time to make a change. And I will be following in the footsteps of many a writer who has had to do that same.

Of John Grisham’s routine (from a San Francisco Chronicle interview): “When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”  His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed.”

So, Mr. Grisham disliked his day job, too.

And Alice Munro:  As a young author taking care of three small children, Munro learned to write in the slivers of time she had, churning out stories during children’s nap times, in between feedings, as dinners baked in the oven. It took her nearly twenty years to put together the stories for her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, published in 1968 when Munro was thirty-seven. (From The Atlantic)

This gives me hope and pause, alike.  I am a step mother and wife and all of the chores outside of my “day job” really add up into something like a black hole into which all of my wherewithal disappears.  But if Alice can do it, can’t we?

When I started scheming up this plan to create a daily routine, I thought back to an interview I once read in The Paris Review about Toni Morrison’s practice (forgive the long excerpt):

Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits… I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy.

I was involved in writing Beloved at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.

Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I found these at Daily Routines, by the way.  It is truly fascinating to see how other people work.

So many authors seem to prefer writing in the morning or mid-day, but I guess I’ve never had a place and time in my “real” life (aka outside of being a full-time student) that I had the luxury to figure out what time of day is the best for me to “make the contact” with my craft.  I’ve always had to beg, steal, and borrow from time I’ve meant to spent doing something else.  But here I am, now vowing to find time everyday to write.  In all honesty, I am not even going to try for the morning.  I am a recovering night owl and sleep has become a friend of mine.  So often, I let work spill into a post-5pm place in my world, but I don’t really have to do that on most days.  So, this week, I am shooting for 5:30 – 6:30 PM as my writing time.  It’s a nice lull in the day when my brain is still “on” but I don’t want to think about work anymore.

I predict the hard part will be pulling myself away if I get in the groove of writing.  But how about dealing with that problem when it presents itself? And if this time ends up not working for some reason, I’ll reassess.

The challenge I’m setting for myself, then, is at LEAST one hour a day, write as much as possible during this time.  I want to have the equivalent of a chapter at the end of every seven-day period (eek!).  No backing up midweek to edit.  Just writing.  I have a plan for a space in which to write, so I’ll try it out and see how it works.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll move.  My first instinct is to just grab a pencil and loose paper and lean against a tall desk and start.  I might need music.  I might need it through headphones, even.  But I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes.  But it WILL go.  And hopefully this will be a way into the dream.

Set your own daily practice goal and give it a try.

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NaNoWriMo and A Word of Advice

Imagine:  Fanfare, trumpets, and a snazzy drumroll!

I registered for NaNoWriMo!  Huzzah!

Yesterday was the official NaNoWriMo “prep day.” I have already recently stocked myself with fresh ballpoints and pencils and five or six new notebooks (overkill, I know). The only thing left to do is set up some folders on the old laptop and I am ready to rumble! I *have* also informed my family that I will be writing from 10-11 (or longer) every night in November, so they are all aware and, not so surprisingly, on board with my plan. Huzzah, again for supportive family-members (although the dogs are probably not going to be so understanding when they are ushered into their crates about 30 minutes earlier than usual)!  Oh well!

And I have been trying to glean from other writers what they do for time management, in pursuing the writing life…the first kernel of advice:  from a  Writer’s Digest article by Carolyn Marsden, “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far.”

“4. Write anywhere and everywhere. In working on my first books, I found myself faced with revising the plot from the foundation up a couple of weeks before copyediting. I learned to be extremely flexible about where, when, and how I worked. I have written on cruise ships, while having an operation on my toe, in lines at banks and at the DMV, and even at red lights. If you want to be a writer, don’t wait for the muse to strike. Don’t be too particular about working conditions.”

On one hand, it is a relief to hear that I am not the only one who writes at red lights (only as necessary to not lose ideas), but on the other hand, it also reminds me to stop daydreaming of the “perfect writer’s office”…which, right now, is dominated by image searches of “treehouses.” This one, in all of its rustic seclusion, keeps catching my eye, though there are far more luxurious ones…

So, now…only thing left to do is…write.

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To Every Season…Turn, Turn, Turn

It seems, as I get older, I both enjoy the seasons and despise them. 

I like the way the light starts to shift in early autumn–it makes me see the late summer greening that happens in Texas in a different way.  It’s a melancholy wistfulness that takes over me…remembering times from my childhood when I spent these days playing in the woods and romping through fields after school and all weekend long.  When a day somehow stretched beyond itself.  

One day it will seem like “fall has arrived” and the next will seem like “it’s spring again.”  We will get a good chill in the air, overcast days with damp, blustery breezes, and the heavier blankets come out and windows get opened at night.  I can start making soup and chili again (with a pan of hot cornbread to go with it, yum yum)…and then along comes an Indian Summer and everything gets put away/shut again…I can’t drink enough iced tea to stay cool.  Of course, living in Central Texas, the changes here aren’t as pronounced as they are in more northern regions, and we usually always have cycles of warm/cool as opposed to straight cold through to March.   

The pecans have started falling, and I have taken the kids gathering.  East/Central Austin is densely populated by big, well-established pecan trees, so they are free for the picking on school grounds, at several parks, in parking lots, and all over the streets and sidewalks.  One time we went picking pecans, we were all layered in hoodies and jeans, but the next time we were in shorts and flip-flops and the boys wanted to take their shirts off because it was so hot.  It is an odd, shifting dance, this, a Texas autumn.

And I do look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years, so there are the coming festivities.  Peppermint mochas and pumpkin spice lattes are back at Starbucks.  Shopping will become a passtime, the gift-giving a happy/fun/excitement that shines in everyone’s faces.   All of those gathered pecans will be made into pies, cakes, candies, and such.

So…what’s not to like? 

The obvious passing of time.  The shortened, dark days.  Being cold.  Having to wear so many dang clothes that it necessarily multiplies the laundry chores.  Dry skin.  The unrequited craving for a beach trip that would allow me to actually get in the water.  Wishing the drab, dreary brown could be green again.  Hearing those less-than-joyous opinions/attitudes during the holidays–nobody can be happy all the time, sure–but those people who are actively harsh on the cheer of the season…oh, they wear me down, and I just want it all to be over…back to “normal.”

But the real thing is the dark.  I love the night, but I don’t want it starting at 5:30…that’s still daytime.  I feel…pressured…to get all of my daytime stuff done before the sun sets, because after the sun sets, that’s when I need to think about writing and being creative.  If I still have to deal with chores and errands and cooking and cleaning and going to the grocery store and sports practices…blah, blah, blah…how do I set to paper all the background thoughts that are whirring away in my mind?  It is a constant sense of “do it” stacked on top of “not right now” that happens every day for almost half of the year.  During the Spring/Summer months, I can do all of my “life stuff” before the sun sets and THEN it’s time to write.   It’s nice and clear cut.   In the Fall/Winter, it gets all messy in my head.

So.  How to unmussify?  I have thought about this long and hard, and I have decided it must be managed.  No more excuses like “it’s cold and dark, I have to do the dishes, and the laundry, etc., and now I’m too tired, and it’s time for bed.”  That’s pretty lame.  And I know what I am going to do:

Make a plan!

1.  Enjoy the good parts of the seasons changing.  Hooray for Peppermint Mochas!

2. Make time for your vocation everyday, no matter the season, no matter the day. 

3. Stop making excuses and get down to the nitty gritty!  Roll up your sleeves (or put on your pajamas), and get to freaking work already.

AND so, it comes time to think about a writing prompt.  I think a good one, given my personal discontent with the shortening days, is to include the details of the season in the setting of a scene.  Capturing all the sense details…sights, scents, sounds, tastes, how things feel to the touch…specific to the season will really “solidify” and paint the scene/setting in which your characters are operating.  Also, consider a feature of characterization:  How does your character feel about long days? Snow? Holidays?  The only caveat I will put next to this exercise is to make sure you are “showing” and not “telling,” and don’t let too many details bog down the flow of your writing.

Good luck!

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Speaking of Novel Writing…

I have a confession to make.  Well, certainly, there is much to confess, but I’ll try to keep this post about one.  Okay, two.  Tops.

1.  I have never, to my own satisfaction, finished writing any of the novels I have started writing.  I wrote something that resembled a novel when I was…say…17?  It was a mighty mess.  I don’t even remember what it was about.  I have in my mind a running list of novels that must be written, but I haven’t “really” given any of them my time, effort, or dedication.  I mean, it was like pulling hen’s teeth to finish both of my Masters’ theses.  I even remember telling a therapist about this problem.  In all of her sageness, she said, “You’ll start when you are ready.”  And I did (on that particular thesis).  So, now it is time to start on those novels. 

2.  I mentioned NaNoWriMo in my last post, and it is the source of my second confession.  I have tried to participate in this writer’s challenge about six of the last eight years.  I have dropped out of my daily goals about two weeks into it every time.  I have never reached the 50,000 word goal of the challenge, and I have never come close to finishing any of the novels I was going to write when I started the project.  Sigh.  I’d like to say this year is going to be different.  I really, really would.  But the honest truth is…it’s hard for me to write every day (dang, I think that is confession #3, if anyone is keeping score).  

I have, thus far, in my writing craft, relied on inspiration lining up with available time in order to accomplish “writing.” 

Ahem.  Seriously.  Even I can see that this is no way to go about writing anything within a reasonable amount of time.   Or even cohesively.  I did, for about a month, get up every morning at 5:45-ish, make a pot of coffee, and write for about an hour. I stopped doing this for a variety of reasons, but the number one reason was…I hate mornings and writing during the morning time created, in my opinion, crappy writing. I am a night owl. I could start writing at 10pm and not stop until 3am. If I had that kind of life, where I didn’t have to be anywhere right around 8am, I would probably do this everyday.  But I do have to be somewhere M-F by no later than 9.  And it’s just life, you know, but it cramps my style. 

So, how to manage it?  That is the question.  Let’s look at the math.  50,000 words in 30 days.  That’s just 1,666.7 words per day.  That’s not so bad.  Not when you have a good focused hour of time.  And you know what you want to write about.  And you have your favorite music already cued up on your playlist.  And you have your cell phone turned off.  And no soccer practice after work.  And no dirty dishes calling your name…See?  See how easy it is to complicate the whole process?  But that’s part of the problem.  Instead of making it hard, I need to think about making it easy. 

Surely I spend at least an hour a day looking at Facebook, and playing silly games like Sudoku on my phone.  Would a simple resolution to spend that time writing instead actually accomplish 1666.7 words a day?  Maybe…maybe not. Maybe I should  just make an announcement in my house:  “I am writing from 9-10 pm.  Do not bother me.”  Maybe I should do both.  Maybe I should give it a shot and see before I already count myself out of this year’s NaNoWriMo yet again. 

Maybe there should be a lot fewer maybes and lot more I ams.


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