Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding the Time

Time is arguably one of the most valuable and scarce resources each of us have. We can only count the time that has past, never the time still to come, and while it could be argued that time is a renewable resource, as one minute continues to follow the last, we never truly know when the final minute will come, or what will pop up in the next moment and demand our attention. Everything in life vies for time: family, jobs, sleep, shopping, hobbies, ect. We each must value and balance the activities that consume our time.

If you are a writer, you have probably heard someone say something to the extent of “Yeah, I plan to write a book one day, when I get time.” If you haven’t heard a line like that before, walk around and tell people you are writing a book, I almost guarantee you will eventually hear it. This line is one of my personal pet-peeves. After all, when is there really ample time just sitting around to write a book? Retirement? Who wants to wait their entire life before trying something they think they want to do?

When I first got serious about my writing, I knew one of the keys to improvement was to write a lot, and write constantly. I found advice (I forget where) which recommended establishing a ‘writing ritual’—a dedicated time I set aside every day to write.

Okay. I could do that. Right?

I made it maybe a week. Then life got in the way. Work swallowed me whole, a family event was scheduled during my time, or maybe I was just too tired when I got home. Writers always say “You wouldn’t let life get in the way of showing up to work. If you were serious, you wouldn’t let it get in the way of writing either.” Which, is true enough—but so not helpful.

I tried to be flexible about my dedicated time; it didn’t have to be the same time everyday, just an unbroken hour or two, alone, without distractions. Still I wasn’t consistently making it to the computer. I was frustrated. Some days I might get four miraculous hours, but then days would go by where I barely had a break all day. What was I supposed to do? Were people right about that waiting for retirement thing?

Of course not.

Here is what I finally figured out: sometimes time has to be stolen. There are lots of lost minutes during the day. Waiting after work to meet up with the husband or the kids? Hey, it might only be a couple minutes, but add those up with the twenty minutes dinner is in the oven, and the half hour before bed, and suddenly you have a full hour of writing. It’s not all together, and it’s not necessarily quiet, but carry a notebook, and you might be surprised how many words you have at the end of the day. Realizing my time didn’t have to be all together helped me immensely, and my word count grew on that first book.

Over the last two years, I think I’ve forgotten what I learned way back when with that first book. Oh I still steal time, in my own way. I now pack my lunch and devote my lunch hour to writing every workday. Most of the time, I can write at least 500 words during lunch, on good days I hit around 1k in that hour. After work, if I have the time and energy, I try to devote a little more time to my writing, but if life gets in the way, at least I know I had that hour. For deadlines (even if they are self-imposed), that isn’t always enough. I’ve been frustrated recently with my lack of time, so I think I need to start looking for those wasted minutes once again.

When do you write? (or practice any other hobby/prospective career?) Do you steal time? Where do you find it? Or do you have a dedicated time? How do you protect it? I’d love to hear from you, so chime in.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What inspires you?

I know, I know; I talked about what inspires ideas in my last post. I promise, I’m not repeating the topic. No, this time I wanted to address what inspires a writer to write. Not what makes her drag her butt to the chair everyday—that’s a different topic—but what makes her need to write. What inspires her to get up early, stay up late, or miss returning to work on time because the words are pouring out of her? How does she go from scrapping the bottom of the creative well to being muse-touched?

Over the past couple years, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many different writers. A question I always find interesting to ask (whether the writer is multi-published or still struggling to finish that first manuscript) is ‘What gets your creative juices flowing?’. I’ve received a lot of answers, so I thought I’d hit on a couple.

-Reading a Good Book This is something that works for me. There is nothing like reading a great book, and after the last page, thinking, “I want to write something that good.” If I’m in a slump, reading a book can often energize me and make me want to write even if I don’t know what to say. Possible Negative: once in a blue moon this backfires and I close the book thinking, “I’ll never be this good.”

-Reading a Bad Book This is one a fellow writer told me about. Not that she goes out looking for bad books, but anytime she reads one, she closes it thinking “I can do better than this” and it drives her to her computer. Possible Negative: thinking something along the line of “If this is published and it’s terrible, how bad must my stuff be?”

-A Writing Related Class/Lecture/Conversation This is a great one. I love learning something knew that pumps me up to go and write—and write better. Possible Negative: thinking everything you’ve already done is wrong and possibly unsalvageable.

-Pressure I know a couple of writers who absolutely thrive under pressure. Is a near impossible deadline looming? They are pumped and ready. Possible Negative: Stress.

-Reading Blogs This is one of mine. I lurk on several writers’ blogs. Not only because I want to know the current news on what they are releasing next, but because I want to silently celebrate with them when they accomplish things, and, I admit it, I want to read about their bad days. The days the characters stop talking or they have to cut entire scenes. The days nothing goes right. I want to read about how they overcome these things, but even more than that, the fact they struggle with the same things I do makes me think maybe I’m not doing everything wrong. It also reminds me that good writers are not demi-gods who magically churn out pages but real people. Possible Negative: time consumption. Reading blogs can quickly suck away writing time.

Well, those are just a couple I found interesting and/or use myself. I’ve also heard responses such as watching movies, going to concerts, and/or people watching. So what works for you? What inspires you? Recharges you? Locks you to your chair? Does it sometimes have the opposite effect?