Time to Write

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.

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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.

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25 filled Moleskine Cahier ledgers from 2007-present, and the warm invitation of a fresh one!

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5 thoughts on “Time to Write”

  1. I envy your discipline. As it is, I steal time from sleeping 7 hours a night to write and long for a day I can dedicate as much time as you to the craft. But, writing is where my heart is, and luckily, I don’t often struggle with writer’s block. Like you, I force myself to make time, no matter the cost. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and giving me the idea for a log/accountability. I think I may have to implement.

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  2. Wow – I don’t think I know any other writers (at least not in person) who follow such a disciplined technique. When I’m working on a novel, I tend to focus more on the page count. My usual goal was a page a day. So it didn’t matter if it took me 10 minutes or a full hour – I needed to get that one page written no longer how long it took. It’s always interesting to see how other writers keep themselves writing on a regular basis.

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  3. I’ve tried keeping logs of the entire day. The idea was to see not only how much time I spent writing, but how much time I could have dedicated to writing and didn’t. Now I set a timer for 30 minutes or an hour to keep me focused, if the writing doesn’t.

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