04 February 2010

Time Part 1

I’ve been thinking lately about time: how we use it, how it uses us. How it continues to move, even if we don’t use it. How we think about it in terms of bankability: I’ve got two hours, therefore I can do x amount of actions. As if having time were the only factor involved in our capacity to get things done.

All of these concerns about time and how to get things done are of essence to a writer. If you don’t spend some of your time putting words on paper, then it’s pretty difficult to lay claim to the name. At least it feels that way to me.

But I guess one of the most relevant questions about time and writing is, how much time do you need to write?

There are many writing advice guides that will tell you that all you need is fifteen minutes or half an hour of writing every day. This advice is helpful at the beginning. Indeed, an academic version of one of these guides, Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker, was one of the golden keys that allowed me to get through my PhD.

These books all sing the same song: just begin. Do one page of writing. Three pages of stream of consciousness whatever. Squeeze it in between laundry and making dinner, between dinner and bedtime. Get up half an hour early, get into bed fifteen minutes before your usual time. Grab a notebook: any modest spiral bound will do. You don’t need a special pen. Just whatever you’ve got lying around.

The thing to realize about these guides is that they are lying to you. Fifteen minutes a day is not enough time to write, if writing is what you want to do.

You know what fifteen minutes a day of writing is? Or half an hour? Or three pages first thing in the morning?

These little scraps of time spent writing are the gateway drug to wanting to be a writer. Start with your cute little journal pages. Get into the habit of writing your stream of consciousness here’s-what-I’m-thinking-about stuff every day. The next thing you know, you’ll be scrounging around for an hour to spend with your writing. On the weekends, you’ll start thinking about Sunday afternoon in a whole new way. You’ll shift your responsibilities around. You’ll cut back on sleep. Maybe you’ll do what I did, and start thinking about whether you can quit your job.

And worse yet, before you know it, the ideas will start to come, because writing daily – no matter what you’re writing – will call down the muses. They’ll start fluttering by your ear when you’re doing other stuff, “important” stuff. They’ll wake you up at night. And they’ll demand that you tell their stories. To tell them well, you’re going to have to practice writing. You’ll have to practice hard. For that, you’ll need more time.

Great oceans of time that you can dive into and swim around in. You’re going to need all the time in the world so you can dream and think and plot and plan. And space – you’ll need that too. You’re going to need to tell everybody to back off.

You’ll do what you have to do. You’ll find the time. Great oceans of it, or at least small lakes. And you’ll make a space for yourself, somewhere in the world, whether it’s a room in your house or a corner of the library or a table at a coffee house.

Once you have that, once you give yourself time, let me tell you, it gets so good. You can relax, because you know that in the course of a day you’ll be sitting down to do some writing. Whatever issues you’ve got with your story, you’ll be working them out. Whatever questions you have about how to proceed, what makes good writing, how to make your writing better, or the mechanics of a good novel, you’ll start to figure out. Because the only answer to these questions lies in sitting down and writing it out. If you want to be a writer, you have to give yourself time.

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