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Writing time - who has it?

We all have the time, suggests Cory Doctorow.

(By the way, we now have the hard drive containing the videos of his talk from last week, and I'll be editing and posting it soon.)

While he was here, we talked about how he finds time to write while whirling around the world more days than he's at home. Yet he gets more written than most people (besides Asimov, but who could?).

This is a big issue for me. At the start of this semester, with one of my courses now an online course, I thought I would make Mondays and possibly part of Tuesdays my "Writing-Only Days" (I even put those into my Google Calendar). I have a novel well under way and outlined, and I'm enthusiastic about writing it. Wow, I was going to get this sucker done before finals were in!

Not so fast.

I discovered that a new course requires a lot of focus. Not only is it a new course, but it's an online course, which requires TONS of regular interaction. Plus spring is when I do most of the reading for the Campbell Award; I was responsible for planning, promoting, organizing, and participating in the Doctorow talk; I've had to write a couple short pieces that have actual due dates; I'm planning talks at WorldCon, the Eaton Conference, and ConQuest; we're working on the upcoming Sturgeon Award Anthology; I have a million duties as CSSF Director; I have two other courses that require regular attention and classtime; and even I occasionally need a break from the keyboard. Heck, I'd even like to have a personal life - when the snow blanketed town, I really wanted to work on the Chevelle! But those days required EXTRA teaching time to make up online for missing in-class time.

Goodbye, "Writing-Only Days." I deleted those from my calendar a couple of weeks ago. That was discouraging and a little depressing.

I've just been unable to find the big blocks of time that I feel I need to get writing done. Momentum, focus, all that. I've always written that way, sometimes planning so well in advance that I can write entire short stories, novel chapters, and even the occasional novella in one sitting! Not so anymore.

Well, Doctorow says that we can train ourselves otherwise. He always tries to write at least a couple hundred words a day; other days he writes more, some days less. The point is that he writes whenever he finds the time, and gets done as much as he can. A few hundred words a day equals a novel a year. When I asked how he maintains momentum with such short, separated bursts, he answered, "With practice."

Later, as if to demonstrate, I witnessed this in action: While he was sitting in my office at work between events, he pulled out his laptop and wrote part of an article that was due soon. Just like that, during a 15-minute lull. What a role-model!

Fellow Lawrence spec-fic author Kij Johnson has been forced to use this same writing process since starting her career in academia, and now she writes first thing every morning before anything else. She has a novel due soon, and must continue to publish or order to make tenure, so she had just enough outside pressure to help her create a new habit.

These are two very different authors, each with very different writing, but it works for them both, with practice.

Time to start practicing.

I know that the hardest part for me is going to be letting go of checking in with my students first thing each morning, because there will always be emergencies to deal with, and there goes my focus. I need to start putting my writing career first: I have yet to encounter an emergency that was more important for an hour or two than my writing career as a whole. I can check in later.

(This is a challenge; it's hard just to write that publicly. But it's not as difficult as seeing another week go by during which my writing adds up to only some more notes.)

Tomorrow I start this! I'll report back from time to time to keep myself honest and to let y'all know how it's going. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks he needs big blocks of time to write... and then ends up not writing nearly as much as he needs or wants to. I hope to serve as yet another good example of creating good writing (or whatever your art is) habits!

EDIT: In his post, Pinched Writing, author and full-time teacher James Van Pelt describes how he manages to get a day's writing done in 15-minute blocks.

EDIT2: Author and editor Pamela Sargent says, "My rule: Writing has to be as much of a habit as routine tasks like brushing your teeth. Train yourself to do it daily at whatever time is best for you and do it automatically so you don't use up mental energy deciding to write. And damn it all, I have to learn this simple rule over and over."



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 6th, 2013 07:35 pm (UTC)
:: applause ::
Mar. 6th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Wish me luck....

(And I LOVE your icon. PERFECT. Where did you find it?)

Edited at 2013-03-06 07:38 pm (UTC)
Mar. 6th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC)
It was somewhere in a Pinterest trail buffalowmn shared some time ago. I've (thus far) been unable to pinpoint an actual credit for it, but I'll let you know if I find it!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC)
I figure talking about this publicly gives me some accountability, and if it helps others, too - bonus!
Mar. 6th, 2013 07:59 pm (UTC)
Good for you!

I know that the hardest part for me is going to be letting go of checking in with my students first thing each morning, because there will always be emergencies to deal with, and there goes my focus. I need to start putting my writing career first: I have yet to encounter an emergency that was more important for an hour or two than my writing career as a whole. I can check in later.

Mar. 6th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)
Some obvious lessons are harder to learn for some people than others.
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:16 pm (UTC)
Hi, Chris. I've thought about this problem quite a bit: family, academics, other interests AND writing. See "Pinched Writing" at http://jimvanpelt.livejournal.com/217722.html
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:40 pm (UTC)
That's inspiring - and finding MORE time to write by doing that is both non-intuitive and obvious. Still working for you?
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
I haven't missed a minimum of 200 words per day since September of 1999. Still working. Of course, I love extended time too. I just returned from the Rain Forest Writers Village retreat in Washington. From Wednesday evening until Sunday noon, I wrote 9,400 words.
Mar. 6th, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)
Congrats! You're an inspiration.
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:16 pm (UTC)

Not too long ago, I came across a blog post by someone who did the exact same thing. It involved a calendar or post it notes or ... errr. I need to Google it, but basically he broke up all the "want to do" into really small increments of time that he could fit in here and there during the week. He ended up getting a lot more accomplished on his list over the course of a year than when he tried to tackle them in big chunks.

I will Google to find it again for additional insights.

Mar. 6th, 2013 08:43 pm (UTC)
Cool idea - I carry around scraps of paper To-Do lists, and it's so satisfying to cross things off. And those are things I'd never get done in those little gaps between big projects without such reminders.
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:35 pm (UTC)

Crap -- I can't find what I'm looking for. It was the method he used to get where he performed his tasks on his wish list in small chunks of time. It did start where he scheduled his small chunks of time and kept to only doing that one task and no other.

I need to learn to do this too. I'm getting absolutely nothing done that isn't scheduled for work or kids.

Mar. 6th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC)
I can imagine! If I had kids, I wouldn't get done half the things I NEED to do for my job(s)....
Mar. 6th, 2013 08:54 pm (UTC)
Another thing that helps is – instead of reading Facebook or wandering from article to article on the net – write. I've been neglecting my Livejournal for quite a while lately; I've been writing to it, but only draft messages that I leave private, with the intention of cleaning them up and making them public later, but I haven't actually gotten around to the cleaning up. But now I've started on a writing project that demands to be written, and it's a lot easier to maintain focus on that one.
Mar. 6th, 2013 09:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, I hear you! Today's post cost me being able to finish grading everyone's quizzes from this week... and now it's not getting any better (he says, shutting down the internets...).
Mar. 7th, 2013 01:21 am (UTC)
Interesting. I still use Pohl's method, myself--I do blocks of one to two hours, and I write every night except for game nights, always after the kids are in bed. Some days I manage to write for longer than that, but I make sure to do at least that much time each night. I have done the "little bits here and there" method once or twice, mainly when I was on deadline and needed to finish writing something in the morning, over lunch, etc., but typically I stick to longer bouts.
Mar. 7th, 2013 06:32 pm (UTC)
Good to hear about more processes. This sounds very much in line with what others have been saying, that the only way to get much work done is to regularly do just a little.
Mar. 7th, 2013 07:42 pm (UTC)
I think the only way to get much work done is to regularly DO, period. Some people do a little each time. Others do a lot. It's the "doing it regularly" that makes all the difference. :)
Mar. 7th, 2013 09:01 pm (UTC)
This is what I keep hearing from people who get a lot written, and it's finally sinking in ;-)

I've always thought I needed big blocks of time to get anything done, or to keep the momentum rolling. But it's simply no longer realistic for me: My job and associated duties could consume 120 hours/week and I STILL wouldn't do everything I'd like to do. So first thing each day, I'm going to write for at least an hour, no excuses.

Mar. 8th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC)
I am definitely a morning writer. It helps that I was a paper boy for seven years, having to finish that job by 6:30 am, six days a week. I mostly get a lot of writing done because I'm teaching in China and that's part time work for full time wages (judged locally).
D.j. Stipe
Mar. 10th, 2013 09:22 am (UTC)
I'm on board!
I finally got a chance to read this post (been busy doing what else...writing!) But I will take the challenge...I've gone out and found a good writing group, I'm finally producing some writing that I'm really proud of, now I just have to throttle down and get my big project finished.
Mar. 10th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm on board!
That's fantastic! Here's to productivity.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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