"How much time do you spend writing?"
It seemed such an innocent question, posed by a well-meaning relative who had no idea the worms she'd just unleashed. Whenever I hear it I cringe because I always think it's a trick question. A non-writer usually wants to puzzle out if writing really is work at all, and if the question comes from another writer, I worry that whatever I say will be wrong.
But lately I've been asking it of myself, in a slightly different form:
How much time should I spend writing X vs. Y?
I've been wondering whether I’m spending the right amount of time on each part of my writing life (and this doesn't even include time spent teaching, editing, coaching or consulting). That is, am I apportioning the proper amounts of writing time to: personal essays and freelance articles for well-paying commercial media vs. memoir pieces and essays for (non- or low-paying) literary outlets vs. the memoir-in-progress manuscript vs. book reviews vs. paid blog posts vs. a nonfiction book proposal.….and more to the point, do I drop one or more of the above in order to focus more keenly on one of the others, or…well, you can see how this kind of ruminating can quickly lead to a desire to pitch it all for a job at Payless (no, not Starbucks even with their part-timer benefits; I love shoes, not coffee).
I'm not one for firm resolutions when it comes to creative endeavors, although I do try to set annual goals and projections in terms of income, education, growth. This year, I did make one resolution in terms of writing however, and that was to write more of what I truly want to write, especially (and maybe exactly) the things I'm often worried others will find off-putting, unusual, out-of-character. I want to shake things up a bit, not be so pleasing and acceptable and reliable on the page. Accomplishing that – overturning the nice, steady, not-at-all-provocative stance I gravitate towards, in favor of – what? – probably will take more time. Time taken from where?
I haven't got this figured out, of course, and I don't expect to have one of those neat epiphanies some writers experience, which transforms their writing life in one quick swoop, after which they know exactly how to dice up their time writing, and do.
I keep working through this daily and although I tend to glibly say, "Oh I just keep juggling!" what this really amounts to is that on many days what I prioritize is more intuitive than planned. But lately that sort of juggle/feel-my-way-through approach feels like shaky ground. I find myself wanting a more deliberate game plan (or should that be game clock?).
Mind you, I never miss deadlines and this isn't about discipline; I've been working at home for 19 years and can kick my own butt quite well; the question is kick it toward what? As an editor and writing coach, I'm skilled at outlining for others just what needs to be done and why. But note: …for others.
I'd love to know how different writers work out slicing up their writing pie. I don't mean how to fit in and prioritize writing within a fuller working life, but how, within the slice that already says "writing," do you make distinctions between which writing projects to push ahead with, and which to put aside for a while? Choose one major project (the book manuscript) and get it done above all else? Keep going on all fronts because the unpredictable economy suggests maintaining flexibility? Write what you love and hope everything else follows?