Monday, January 7, 2013

The Writer and the Clock

I have been blessed with ample time to write. I will not lie about this. I have had all the time in the world, and I have used it wisely and I have frittered and wasted it away. I have burned hours like matches and I have spent entire weeks, months doing what I have always wanted to do. I am not ashamed of this. And if anything, I am grateful.

The true golden period of writing hours started sometime in early 2009 and ended some time in the fall of 2010. For me, this time was the end of the old way of life and a kind of purgatory before the way of life to come. When I consider it now, I realize that not all writers have this like I thought all writers did. Each day of those two years was really just a continuation of the day before it. I was vaguely away of the light changing as each day aged, but I never really paid attention to any clock. In short, I think I probably spend 40 to 60 hours a week writing for those months.

But like all good things, it ended.

Life tends to get the best of all of us at times. “Where does the time go?” I ask. I know where it goes. We get up, we get off to work, we earn money, we pay the rent and we age in a working class, raise the kids and think or retirement sort of way. At least that's the way it pans out for most people. And I'm really no different.

I have to pay attention to the clock now. I know when it's time to go to work. I know when it's time to think about sleep. I know there are more than just timepieces keeping track of time too. I'm with my son all day. He's got a clock too. There are times to eat, times to sleep. And it all takes time from changing the nappy to playtime. He burns up a tremendous portion of the day. And it's okay, in fact, it's pretty fun. His schedule has really become my schedule. And I know I'm not alone. There are many writers out there who work full time jobs and tend to children too. We only have so many hours in the day.

When I get time to write.

Admittedly, I am tired much of the time. It's a tired that I can only describe as the end of the rope, haven't sleep since I boarded the train in Munich in my youth sort of way. I'm so tired most of the time that I feel like my body is doing things and going places without me. I'm just not the same guy I once was. Nor am I the same guy I will be again. But—what about the writing time?

If a few years ago I was writing 40 to 60 hours a week, I'm getting less than 10 hours a week now. And the time for writing is in strange snaps and at strange times. It happens late at night after work and after everyone's in bed. It happens mid-morning for a few minutes when the baby naps. Whatever and whenever it happens, I'm having to adjust to a new way of working.

Going into a writing session with a small amount of time ahead of you.

I hate looking at the clock. Who doesn't, right? I sit down at my desk, or at the kitchen table, I open my notebook, uncap my pen and then I look at the clock. There are a whole series of four letter words that bounce through my mind. The frustration mounts. The page beckons and waits. The ink begins to dry in the pen's nib. Fuck, and even that word just does fit the situation.

Okay, it's a bit dramatic, I know. But when the time is so limited and I'm alone so seldom, I find I just want to sit and listen to the silence for a spell. I just want to sit. Then what? I want to work on this blog. I want to write something new. I think about the next manuscript that leaves my desk in the coming weeks. I have a bunch to do. And then I see that clock again and it's ticking, the hour is getting late, or I need to go to work. Then the baby fusses, and well, that's just what I'm doing now.

How about writing with limited hours?

Looking back at some of my earlier blog posts, like the Novel Guerrilla Style, I realize that those methods of work don't fit everyone's lifestyle. So, what of it? Well, if you have, like me, less than ten hours a week and it's not a continuous period, what do you do? Here are the points I've up with:

1—remember that the amount of time you spent writing is still important.
2—be organized. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the week making a list (outline, draft, whatever) of what you want to get accomplished in the week.
3—some may like to prioritize it.
4—take the items on the task list and break them down into very small easily attainable parts. This way, even if you get 20 minutes, you'll still be able to get something done.
5—if you need time, like me, to just sit still and listen to the silence of yourself, do it.
6—know that what you get done is a tremendous accomplishment. I've always believed that a person who writes one page a day without fail will have a novel at the end of the year.
7—redefine your idea of success. Two or three years ago, a successful week for me was 40 hours of writing, 10,000 words on a novel, two short stories, and a bottle of gin. Now, if I can read something, keep up on Umbrella Factory Magazine and write a weekly blog post, I've really accomplished something. Regrettably, I have foregone, but not forgotten, the gin.
8—know that raising children, or the act of living life, or whatever it is that takes your time is a noble pursuit. Know that you will get back to writing soon enough. Building good habits, like trusting in a process, will make things easier when your time frees up.
9—keep writing.
10—if you must look at a clock, don't despair.  

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