Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Less Time, More Words. A Writing Conundrum.

Recently I realized something I think I've known for a long time, but wanted to avoid admitting. Here it is: I get more writing done when I have less time to do it.

I suspected as much, but the other day while cleaning out a desk drawer, I came across months of calendar pages from 2006 and 2007 filled with appointments and to-do-lists, it occurred to me that back then I was generating a lot more words a lot more frequently AND had far less time to devote to writing. (Here, by the way, I'm talking about writing new material, writing that is not connected to a freelance assignment or client-contracted work.)

Now that I know this, I'm starting to figure out what to do about it. First up is spending less time at my desk, physically. Yes, Virginia, it's great to have a room of my own, but the truth is, the more I think desk/work, the less I want to write. (Edit, yes; critique student work, yes; handle submissions and marketing tasks, sure. Write? Not so much).

Looking over a bunch of my published work from the last few years, I recall how many of those essays and memoir pieces started with rough first drafts scribbled while I was on the bleachers at my kids' baseball game, in the car waiting for school to let out, in doctors' waiting rooms (my mother), on airplanes, in hospital coffee shops (my father).

I recall getting the bones of one piece down while in the tennis courts locker room because I'd inadvertently arrived early for a lesson. (Or maybe I was early on purpose?) Another piece started to come together in the ladies room during a sporting event I could have skipped were it not for the happy grins on the faces of my husband and sons when they asked me to go along. Still another I wrote under the shade of a lovely oak during a two-week run of soccer camp for 7 year-olds. (Yes, I do carry a notebook absolutely everywhere. Doesn't every writer?)

While I've always more or less believed, "When you need something done, ask a busy person," it didn't really sink in that this applied to my writing as well. Seems the more time I clear in my schedule for "writing time," and the more low level obligations I try to wiggle out of in order to write, the lower the word count at the end of the day. Partly, this is plain old fashioned procrastination. But it's also partly – or perhaps mainly – the way I operate as a writer. There's something about the perception that I'd better write it now or I won't have time later, which I think fuels my process.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going out now to do something that has nothing to do with writing, and I’m planning to get busy with a few other things that also have nothing to do with writing. I'm putting things back on my schedule I thought I should toss out in order to write.

Know what? I think I'll live a little. That way, being a nonfiction writer, I may actually have something to write about.


Alexis Grant said...

I totally agree with you here. I've been thinking about this for a while. It's why I'm looking for a job now -- and I'll write my next book WHILE working. Sounds silly, but I'm most productive when I'm busy.

Andrea said...

Jeez, if this is really true, I should be half done writing "War and Peace, Book Two" by now...guess I need to re-prioritize my time in the ladies' room.

Kristy Lund said...

Great post, I find this also. The busier I am - to an extent - the more I get done and the happier I am. Here's to living a life worth writing about! :)

* said...

Yep, so true: when you need to get something done, ask a busy person.

I also like how you put it, "I get more writing done when I have less time to do it." I hear you on that count, too!