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Spring Break pt.2: Writing and Life. Help.

Geez, how could I forget this part (continued from late-last-night's Spring Break post):

I've also been working on my next book some more, working out plot points and developing characters and scenes. Almost have it all in place! Which leads me to an insight:

I've discovered that it takes me about 3-4 days of being away from a full day of work to clear my mind enough to really immerse myself in my writing again. No matter how much I'd like to be, I'm just not one of those people who can write for a few hours a day, at least not when first getting started with a project. There's too much mind-clearing needed, because my job is not just teaching (which also entails answering email and grading at all hours of the day), but also keeping up with Center for the Study of Science Fiction stuff pretty much every day (including planning, emails, website updates, prepping for and doing stuff like tonight's Super Nerd Night activities, and so forth), and constantly researching ways to improve each course (which I do pretty much weekly for most of 'em). There are also meetings, course development for new courses down the line, GTA training to teach existing courses I've developed, student and GTA mentoring, thesis direction, reading for the Campbell Award, and a ton of things I don't even want to think about right now. It's utterly consuming and draining.

Now, I'm not complaining, because I love my work. I love teaching, I love the Center, I love almost everything I do for my job.

The point is, what I need to maintain a level of new writing and publication that makes me happy is more chunks of time off. I used to think that summer = writing time for a teaching job, but in fact for MY teaching job, summer = busiest time of the year, with two two-week intensive courses sandwiching an international conference where we honor the authors of the best short-SF and SF novel of the year and bring in guest authors and editors from around the world.

How to find the time to make my writing happen? If I could only secure a solid month during the summer, I could write a book a year - I have no problem doing story-development in dribs and drabs.

Are you novelist or other big-project creative who also maintains an all-consuming job? How do you manage to product big projects on a regular-enough basis to remain happy? 'Cause I've reached a place in life where I need to make this happen or I'll grow more and more frustrated and dissatisfied with my career(s).



( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
The only solution I found what with full time teaching, kids, house, etc, was to get up every morning at four. Never later than five. From seven on I belonged to everyone else, but from four to seven I belonged to me, and I got a lot of books done that way. (Of course I staggered around in a haze of exhaustion if anything broke my sleep, and almost burned the house down ones in my fugue, but it worked.)
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
I wonder if I could manage such a thing. I tend to go to sleep between midnight and 3am... could I train myself to sleep earlier? My circadian rhythm is good for astronomy, not so good for morning activities.

Or perhaps my 4-7am might be 8-noon....
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah. I know writers who use eight to midnight. The important thing is about four hours a day, or three, that is for nothing but writing. Mornings were good for me because I am a morning person, and because there were no familial interruptions (and few temptations): the world was asleep so I could work. That could go for night, too.
Mar. 22nd, 2012 02:32 am (UTC)
I'm lucky--I get to do the writing/editing gig full time. It really IS a full-time job, especially if you want to publish fairly regularly.

Something's got to give, Chris. I ended up giving up Girl Scouts to concentrate on my writing, because BOTH were full-time jobs--not to mention the whole MOM thing. If you know you will start to resent work because it keeps you from writing you need to make the time, somehow. In the schedule of stuff you have listed up there? I don't see how!

Prioritize, and give up something that's going to allow you to concentrate the time you need for writing.

So says the bogwitch.
(I'll see you in May!)
Mar. 22nd, 2012 03:34 pm (UTC)
Prioritize, and give up something that's going to allow you to concentrate the time you need for writing.

Mar. 28th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
See my response, below.
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
I've actually considered going full-time, myself, but I like not being broke! Did it a while when I first moved to Seattle.

Watching my mother's mind go has made me think a lot about things. I often wonder, these days, how much longer I'll have - just 20 years? How much can I finish in that time? Will medical science have a cure for Alzheimer's, and will I have to face that devil?

The big things I do that don't earn an income, like work for the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, are why I moved to Lawrence in the first place. How do I give that up? And things like working on cars and the house - those are breaks from the intellectual, when I get in a lot of good thinking time for my writing.

Mar. 29th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
Ask yourself this, my dear--"Which one will I regret losing the most at the end of it all?"
Mar. 22nd, 2012 02:38 am (UTC)
I teach high school English full time, with all the grading and prep work that requires, workout an hour or so a day (running), and am a father of three boys, two who are teenagers, and I haven't missed a day of writing since November of 1999.

The secret for me has been in lowering my writing expectations bar. I used to want to do 1,000 words a day, but that turned into too big of a burden. If I saw that 1,000 was unlikely, I'd say, "Oh, screw it," and not write at all. Non-writing days would pile up on me. It sucked. So, I lowered the bar. All that I require of myself is 200 new words a day. Many days I do more, including over 1,000 on some days, but I never do less.

I can do 200 words in fifteen minutes, if that's all the time I have.

That's how I do it.
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
I sure wish I could write long projects in short chunks - I'm so jealous of those who can! Experience suggests that I can do that only once well underway, and then I tend to neglect the rest of my life until I reach a milestone (finish a story or chapter). Then it's back to needing a big chunk of time (six hours is my magic number) after a few days of mental break.

How did you get into the habit? How do you block out the rest of the world's commotion?
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
Mostly by having a short attention span, I think :).

I don't know how I got started on the habit. It was mostly desperation probably, and it took getting used to to write in a short period of time. I'm pretty good now at seeing a fifteen minute window and using it. What this means for me--and I think this is a positive--is that I'm always on some level thinking about my story. That way I'm not going from zero to 60 in my fifteen minutes. The engine is always at least idling.
Mar. 22nd, 2012 06:13 am (UTC)
Last semester I was so depressed about the evolution of the publishing industry that I didn't write at all, by far my longest stretch of writer's block in the last 12 years. I could only force myself to write again by telling my creative writing students that their "journal" assignment was to read (and critique) my other LJ blog where I'm posting my new stuff, which means every week I have to post a new chapter from each of four novels for them to read.
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
Having deadlines really helps me, too. This is why all my recent pub's have been responding to requests.
Mar. 23rd, 2012 12:27 am (UTC)
Dude, I don't have much advice for you, but I completely hear you on your need for several days to gear up on a writing project.

In my own case I take about 45 minutes to two hours to "warm up" to writing- and nothing is more frustrating than warming up and then having to stop and do something else! So I end up wanting 4-8 hours of time- and that's pretty damn hard to come by.

I can do it, the two-hours a day thing, but it's really not very satisfying.

As for prioritizing, it sounds so easy but in practice it can be pretty difficult. Oh, it'd be simple enough if one were wealthy. One could just get a cabin or a hotel room for a week, but one's own house is full of distractions.

I had a lot of success with getting up early and putting two hours of study into the PE test, and I had hoped that it would translate into writing but... apples and oranges, I'm afraid.

Mar. 28th, 2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
I totally hear you about the frustration when, just about to get started, one gets distracted. Sometimes I wonder if I should do a retreat once in a while - but you're right, that requires money or connections. Perhaps someone I know has a place I could borrow....
Mar. 26th, 2012 12:54 pm (UTC)
Sabbatical? Are you tenure track yet? From what I can tell, that is the ideal solution. Otherwise, I think you are going to have to just either resign from some duties or lower your expectations. Sorry, Chris.
Mar. 28th, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
I sure wish - and I think it's time to talk with the Department Chair about getting on the tenure track for this very reason. It would not only allow for occasional sabbaticals but also would reduce my course load.

Lately I've been thinking of other ways to organize my work life to enable more writing, because I cannot lower my writing expectations any more without getting depressed!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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