Monday, January 14, 2013

The Writer and the Calendar

It's been ten years, or thereabouts, since the night Eric Driskill and I got good and drunk and had to climb through my bedroom window when we got locked out of the house. How we landed up at my house and without my keys is a question of countless whiskeys. I do not remember the quality of the day in question, and to be honest, I do not even remember the year. Like most folks, I have skeletons in my closet. The skeletons are not so interesting. More interesting still, I have several years and more than a few sets of years that I cannot remember in any certain clarity. I'm certain that I have mentioned the night I climbed through the window with Eric Driskill before. More than the activities of the evening, it was what he said to me. I told him all I wanted out of life was to be a writer. He assured me that I could, if I wanted to. As I came up with reason after reason why I couldn't, he countered it with assurances. At the time, I was the neighborhood bartender, and he was the neighborhood lawyer.

When I say it was decade back, this night with Eric, I don't think I'm far off from the truth. A decade ago, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still fairly new. We call our president by the letter W, and we were yet to have the total collapse of the economic house of cards. And ten years? What of it? It happened to go by fast, didn't it?

I wrote very little in 2002, 2003, and 2004. I consider that time the driest of the dry times of my life as a writer. Part of the reason for it was that life got in the way. I was still working close to full time, I did have a house that needed working on, and I was busy with my social circle. The latter, ten years ago, was a real circle with real people, and I partied constantly. All considered, the night I climbed through the window with Eric, the middle of this period, of course I wanted to quit everything and become a writer. I just didn't know any better.

Now, ten years later? I did quit everything to become a writer. I tell you this is an easy thing to do. The first thing a person needs to do is to choose to do it. After the choice is made, then the gradual release of all those mission non-essential things must happen. Lose the stressful job. Cut each naysayer out of your life like the cancer that they are. Settle all time sucking, money eating pursuits. If there are drugs involved, come off of them. Anything that squeaks, rattles of annoys you—remove it. Pay back all your debts, and free yourself from anything that's noisy or demanding. Once this happens, take a hike like Basho or move off to the woods like Thoreau. Honestly, this is pretty much what I did. The details of my pursuit are not nearly as interesting as Basho or Thoreau, nor were they so absolutely necessary.

Each year is exactly 365.25 days. The length of the time it takes the Earth to circle the sun is a very—very long time. I know most people are inclined to disagree with me. I will stand by my statement, a year is a long time. I believe that a writer who begins January with the notion December's accomplishments in mind will make the most of the year. The writer will make the most of the 365.25 days. I will agree with the sentiment that the years go by fast, this is true, but that only seems to be the case in retrospect. That said, if in January we make a habit of it, put a discipline to it and stick to the process of writing knowing that in December it will all seem like a blur anyway, why not get somethings done.

Increments of time.

Taking a year to be a writer may take longer than a year. Life will take its priority on most people. Familial obligations, career or job demands or even physical or psychological reasons may make submission to a writer's life tough. Do not despair. Think of things in smaller, more manageable pieces of time.

Within the year, there are twelve months. Some people participate in National Novel Writing Month and spend the whole month of November writing a novel. Twelve months. Breaking it down seasonally, there are four periods of three months each. How about breaking it down weekly? Anyway you carve it up, there are still 365.25 days in a year. How will you spend it?

Here are some ideas:

1-Write one short story a month. If you write super short stories, perhaps you should write 2-4. I consider a short story to be approximately 4,000 words. I consider this because of my work at Umbrella Factory Magazine. I think 4,000 words is the perfect amount for a writer to adequately construct a solid story. If you think you can construct a solid story in 1,000 words, try writing 4 of these a month. If a writer can commit to one of these 4,000 projects a month, by December that's about 52,000 words.
2-Produce a larger product quarterly. If you write poetry, for instance, create a chapbook. And if you do what I suggest in item #1, then perhaps your quarterly project might be the submission of one of your short stories.
3-Pick a day, series of days, or random days to break out of your normal genre. So, if you're a writer of short fiction, write some non-fiction. If you write non-fiction, perhaps it's time to try something new. Again, whatever the frequency is, remember what you want to have accomplished by December.
4-Read. Read. Read. Keep a literary journal. After you read a book, jot a few pages of notes down. Not only will this help you keep track of what you read, it will also prove how much you read.
5-I like to watch movies. I cannot lie. I could, if left alone and with ample movies in my hands, I would watch five or six a day. I watched 167 last year alone. I know a movie lasts approximately 90 minutes. As close as I can tell, 90 minutes is about the same amount of time it will take for me to write this post. If there are broad strokes of time on a calendar, what about the hours? If you want to be a writer this year, and you don't think you have the time, think again. If you have a TV, then you have the time.
6-Richard Adams wrote Watership Down on the train commuting to and from work. Do you have time in your day like that?
7-I wait until my family is asleep. I'm a night person anyway. I start my session and go for about an hour. I only get to do this about three nights a week. Still, in an hour, I can get a great deal done, multiple that by 3 nights a week, by 52 weeks a year. So, let's suppose I get four pages typed in an hour, that's 12 pages a week, 624 pages in a year. Get it?

There is ample time in a day. There is plenty of time in a week. There is a generous portion of time in a month. And a year is a very—very long time.

What about Eric Driskill? Well, he was right. I could have done it all. I didn't though. Not ten years ago. I was too small minded then. I was rigid, black and white, rough. Had I thought about three hours a week for 12 pages? What about a short story a month? How about a seasonal project? Well in ten years, that would have been 6,240 pages. Over half a million words. 120 short stories. 40 seasonal projects. Yes, a year is a very—very long time. The development of your process, your mode of accomplishing tasks, this may take time. If a writer can accomplish these things in a year, then in a decade, this is the sum of what most writers do in their entire careers.

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