Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mann and Maxey on Making Time to Write

I'm thankful there isn't a tape recorder in my head archiving all those justifications that rarely make it out of my mouth or onto paper. I doubt I'd enjoy having to defend my mental peccadilloes, such as how I try to convince myself that I need a second helping of ice cream, deserve an extra thirty minutes of sleep or really don't have enough time to write right now. That last one, I mean, I know that's not how it's supposed to go. Even with the challenges of family, work and school, it shouldn't be so hard to find the time to pen stories, right? Perhaps. But a pair of recent blog posts reminded me that busyness is nothing new in the writing game.

Ben Mann,
second-place winner of this year's Writers of the Future contest, brought up how he's tackling a novel on Curiously Strange:
Still, when I decided to write a 140K first draft the biggest problem facing me was the very notion of committing to it. How could I sit down and write so much when I got so burnt out last year writing less?

Well, on the one hand, the situation is different: we grow as writers, and certain aspects of the craft are getting easier. I'm probably a bit better at outlining plot than I was. And all that blood, sweat and tears chopping and reworking my horrendous WotF draft was a surefire way to teach some much needed lessons in craft. Plus, I decided on a rate of work which was designed to avoid the burnout problem ...

But mostly, I stopped trying to find the time to write.

Finding it implied it was already there.

I changed tactic, rearranged my schedule and made the time to write.
Okay, that's true, but it's a lot easier said than done -- isn't it? Sure, I can clear a few minutes here and there to scribble, but I never have enough free time to do some serious writerly work. Well, about a day after Ben's counsel went up, James Maxey (Dragonforge) posted on Jawbone of an Ass in an attempt to dissuade me and everyone else of that notion:
I've given a lot of advice on how to be a writer over the years, but today I'm going to give my absolute top bit of advice on how not to be a writer. All you need is one single thought, a basic assumption that you build your future on. That single dangerous thought is this: When I'm a writer, I'll finally have time to write.

I used to firmly believe this. When I was in my late twenties and early thirties, I had a job I hated, and I told myself I could be a writer if only I had the time. So, I paid off all my debts, saved a little money, and quit my day job. And, I did write… some. A little. I tried to find the discipline to write every day, but, looking back, even though I was without a day job for the better part of a year, very little of the writing I did during that time amounted to anything. I made a few story sales to markets that paid in copies. Eventually, the money ran out, and I went back to work. ...

If you're waiting until you have the time to be a writer to start writing, I pity the unborn characters and worlds within you. If the thought "when I am a writer" ever enters your thoughts, get rid of it. Shoot it, bludgeon it, cut it out; employ the violent metaphor of your choice to remove that phrase, because it's utterly poisonous, the most dark and wicked viper crawling around in your skull. The thought you need is "always I am a writer." And then you should $#%&ing write something, you procrastinating fool.
Point taken, sir. I'd comment more, but -- hey -- I have some writing to do.

(Picture: CC 2005 by


pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes sharpening the pencil is just that. Like now.

Ben Mann said...

Shortly after I wrote that post I cleaned my office at home in preparation of some new writing projects. I used the opportunity to look at all the stuff that clutters my office with fresh eyes. In that tiny room I have:
- 5 radio control model planes, complete with field kit and charging gear.
- a robot and various electronics gear.
- a PC with far too many games on it.
- a display cabinet full of about ten years of model aircraft and other gizmos (arguably, some of these are the kids'), as well as the kit to build them, like an air compressor.
- an SLR with a bundle of lenses.
- an easel and acrylics.
- a bookshelf loaded with everything I've read in the last two years, and
- my video library.
All of this gave me the distinct impression that my problem isn't just time, it's focus. There's a lot of (uber geeky) things I enjoy doing.

While I like to think everything we do when we're not writing informs our fiction, I'm forced to admit a painful truth: I'm a sucker for distraction.

Jim Murdoch said...

Despite all I’ve written (which is more than enough to club a man to death with) I’ve struggled for years with the idea that I was a Writer because I felt my approach to writing didn’t conform to some unattainable idea I had of what a Real Writer’s life ought to be like. I cope a little better these days having settled on an answer to this question: How important is writing to you? There are some people who can write for hours every day, they have no responsibilities and their time is their own. Most of us have fulltime jobs and long commutes to work and yet during my last two jobs when I never worked less than fifty hours and usually much more I managed to write quite a bit once I tote it up because I wrote when I could. I’ve never been very good at writing for just fifteen minutes but an hour is enough to get something done and for you to feel that you’ve done something in that hour. I’m working on another post about the Australian writer Gerald Murnane at the moment who writes for one hour a day and that is it. In that day he writes about a hundred words on average and I love his logic when he says (and I’m paraphrasing): A hundred words a day over a year is about 36,000 words and that’s enough for anyone to write. The question is: If you find yourself with a spare hour at the end of a long day do you say, ‘It’s not worth the bother’ or is your writing so important to you that there’s no question of what you’re going to do with it?

Loren Eaton said...


If only I wrote in pencil ...

Loren Eaton said...


A while back, I linked to Greg Gutfield's article on sloth. He defined it as "unregulated curiosity," a sort of free-floating busyness that keeps your schedule perpetually full but never causes you to do anything. I struggle with that. A lot.

Loren Eaton said...


The question is: If you find yourself with a spare hour at the end of a long day do you say, ‘It’s not worth the bother’ or is your writing so important to you that there’s no question of what you’re going to do with it?

This is absolutely the right question to ask. I'm going to sear it into my cerebellum, because the way you respond in that situation shows whether or not you're really a writer.