Friday, August 19, 2011

Alexander and Connolly on Scheduling Time to Write

Cassie Alexander (author of The Nightshifted Trilogy) blogs about the most important element to completing a book in a short period of time:
Protect your time. Protect your time. Protect your time.

In fact, protect it so much, that if you already know what I'm going to say here, stop reading, and get back to writing. ...

The most valuable thing you have as a writer just starting off is time. Time, and taking yourself seriously. I was going to break the serious thing out into another post, but it really fits here, because you won't make the time for yourself until you do take your writing seriously.

I know how easy it is to let real life waylay your writing time. But if your writing never wins out, you'll never get anywhere. Ever.

There was a point when I was finishing up Moonshifted, where I shut out the whole world and did nothing but go to work and write. I made one date night a week with my husband ... everything else went into the book. A little bit ago, mid-July, post turning the book in, I said to my husband, "I worry our group of friends isn't hanging out as often as they used to." And he looked at me like I was insane and said, "No, you've just been living in a cave."
Tina Connolly (Ironskin, "Turning the Apples") adds a helpful rejoinder to Alexander's piece:
What I always say is, don't worry about falling down on your goals -- just get back up the next day and try again. (When I first started, I thought I had to do double wordcount the next day, etc, which very quickly ran aground.) Also, crazy goals over a very short period of time can be fun, but for a long haul if you're just trying to get better habits, set something very easy. I mean ridiculously easy, like 50 words or 10 minutes. Or 5 words. 5 brushstrokes. 5 scales. 5 minutes without facebook.

Point is, always start small. Gives you something to exceed, and once you've got that, you can always aim higher.
Both views have merit, but I'm finding Connolly's counsel particularly helpful at this point in life. Having just put to bed the most quantitatively intense course so-far in my masters program, I'm not only completely disconnected from my usual writing schedule, but also having difficulty thinking creatively. It feels like stretching a long-disused muscle, full of aches and exertion. Perhaps the goal for the creatively constrained ought to be less great continent-crossing blocks of time and more short compositional strolls.

(Picture: CC 2007 by jimmedia)


Jim Murdoch said...

I think it’s a little worrying that people would have to set themselves goals like doing without Facebook for five minutes. That smacks of addiction and I don’t care if it’s drink, drugs, a lucky rabbit’s foot or a social network no one should abdicate control of themselves. The thing about time is that it is finite and as much as that’s stating the obvious I think we forget that and imagine we can stretch it to get stuff done. What are we so terrified we’re going to miss out on? I’m a member of a few groups on Facebook and I wonder how these writers have the time to write because they never seem to be not commenting.

I don’t work well under pressure. I get incredibly stressed and it’s just not worth it. I hate deadlines and so I usually work weeks in advance. Seriously. I have book reviews written that I won’t be posting until October and enough articles to last me until Christmas all so I have time to do the job properly. The same goes for my novels. At the moment I’m focusing all my attention on promotion and so am spending far more time reading and commenting on blogs and interacting with people on Facebook than I care for (being the antisocial bugger that I am) but that’s all part of being a writer. It’s also good to rest and I think that’s something we tend to neglect as writers. If we’re not writing be think we’re blocked but we’re usually not. We’re just not ready to start.

I think the most important thing I’d be thinking about if I were you is when I write best and rearrange the rest of the things you have to do around that time be that two in the morning or six in the evening. Like all of us you will have a list of things you have to do but as long as all those things are done in an acceptable time frame it doesn’t usually matter exactly when they’re done. Unlike when I was a kid I don’t have to stop what I’m doing to watch Top of the Pops - I can record whatever it is and watch it at a more convenient time when I’m fit for nothing else.

Loren Eaton said...

You may find this article interesting, Jim. For some people social media really is an addiction. I try to limit my exposure to this blog and a few others I enjoy, but even that can sweep me away if I'm not careful.

I really like your emphasis on (what I'll call) tactical postponement. Most of the time we really don't have to do things RIGHT NOW. It seems a wise perspective.

Jim Murdoch said...

I had a quick scan at it but I'll have to read it later. I don't have a smartphone and most of the time I forget to turn my mobile on when I'm out and I never take my laptop with me. I relish those times when I'm out and no one can get to me.

Loren Eaton said...

Those sound like perfect writing times!