(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."