Blog entries about writing I enjoy most treat the craft as work. Those I enjoy least lament a thing called writer’s block. For all those writers who suffer some form of blockage, I submit this photo from 2007.
This neurotic-looking ledger of hours and minutes was my go-to mechanism for avoiding “the block.” I used it to ensure a workmanlike integrity when it came to putting in the hours. I didn’t wait for Inspiration to drive the process. I was beholden to Time.
First thing I did upon sitting at my desk was flip open the back of the journal and jot the hour and minute. When I finished, I wrote again the hour and minute. Some days I was lucky enough to do this only once for a long period. On Thursday of week XXXIV, for example, I wrote from 1:35 a.m. until 3:13. An hour 38 in one sitting!
Other days I wasn’t so lucky. The week before, it took me three tries to reach 1:32. Mondays…
As the years passed (2007 was far from the first year I used this technique; 2008 was the last) I added up the weekly totals and calculated the averages in five-week blocks. Some periods I averaged 10:41 for each of the five weeks; others only 5 hours a week. In a box somewhere is the original ledger bearing witness to my annual averages–3+ hours a week in 2001 and ever better from there. My goal at first was 7 hours a week; towards the end, 11. I wanted an hour a day for weekdays and 3 a day for the weekend. I never attained it over the course of a year, but there are five-week segments with 14-hour averages.
One noteworthy point on all this neurotic calculating: I didn’t cheat. If I started at 10:12, I wrote 10:12. An hour 38 minutes didn’t get rounded up to 1:40. Maybe, in a rush, I would note that I’d written for only 12 minutes without having put the start and stop time into black and white. Maybe those days I knew I just didn’t have the time.
Another point: I abandoned the technique years ago. A decade later, writing had become my native state. The turning wheels upstairs were configuring perceptions as if on the page. I had gone from “aspiring writer” to Writer. I had made myself a writer.
When I’m mid-stream on a novel, daily perceptions matter less. I’m focused on plot, which every day demands new material. If I’m not focused on plot I’m editing. Daily perceptions have little bearing on the process. When, as now, I’m between novels, the turning wheels matter more. Am I jotting some new short fiction? Am I reviewing a book? Am I posting my views on the latest freedom of speech rally, irksome advertisement, or miserable hip-hop artist?
I’ve discovered my life is more orderly but more stressful when I’m mid-novel: stress over the passing of time as the story remains within. When I’m off the beat, I feel footloose but scattered. Either way, writing is central. I’m always writing. There’s no taking note of the hours and minutes.
Boiled down, all a writer really needs is a workspace, a writing instrument, and time. The first two are easy. This post offers a remedy for finding more of the third.