Posts Tagged ‘time to write’

Writer on beach.

Writer on beach. Photo by Joe Mabel, via Wikimedia Commons

One bottle of Greylock gin
Limes & tonic
What If? (Book of writing prompts by Pamela Painter and Anne Bernays)
Beach/running shoes
Manuscript in progress
Sunscreen
Kindle
iPod dock
Tea & coffee
Chocolate

With the exception of the manuscript in progress, this could be a good gift list. But that’s not actually what this is. Instead, it is the start of the packing list for a writing retreat I am planning with three other women–writing partners with whom, over five years of regular meetings, I have forged strong friendships. The prospect of this weekend is making me giddy with excitement. One member has access to a house by the beach in Maine. We have planned several solid chunks of writing time, small excursions on the coast, good meals out, and time to review our work together. I dream of taking a notebook down to the beach, of sketching out the next few scenes of my new book. But, as must be the case, this excitement is countered by the grinding of wheels in my brain which must immediately roll into action to plan the logistics of coverage in my absence: school and preschool drop off and pickup, management of Little One while Big One is at martial arts with her father, teaching coverage for my dance students, etc. I–and those around me–will make it happen, I know we will, and so I let my excitement carry me forward. But it is a constant juggle.

People keep asking me what I’d like for my upcoming birthday, which some view as a significant one for reasons that seem to be rather arbitrary, and the answer is this: time. That’s all I want. And I’m willing to wager that time is all any writer really wants. I don’t need more stuff cluttering my life. But please, take my fabulous children and allow me a day of writing, a day of reading, a day of letting my mind go free, of planning only according to what I want and not around what others want or need or expect.

This, I think, will resonate with any parent, especially primary care-giving parent, trying to carve out time for a creative pursuit. If you know one, the most wonderful thing you can do for him or her is to offer your services to help free up some time. It will cost you very little–assuming their children are not tyrants–and will earn you some serious gratitude and good karma.

 

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A couple of months ago, a friend—an artistic filmmaker—asked me: how do you sustain a creative life or even a creative project in the midst of children, work, home, health and volunteering? She asked this not as a rhetorical question, but as someone who seemed truly to expect that I would have an answer for her. But the fact of the matter is, despite my having written one work of fiction and dreamed up the ideas for others amidst all those other responsibilities and activities, I have no idea. Really. It turns out that just because one has done something doesn’t mean one knows how to do it. Or at least, how to explain how to do it. Even to oneself.

I’m not sure what answer I gave her. I know I felt the need to give her some substance, some words of advice, a recipe she could hold onto and pull out whenever she does have children, a household that needs more tending, a cause for which she feels driven to volunteer, other demands on her time that take her away from her own creative work. That’s what I would have wanted had I been in her place, asking someone else. I suppose I made something up; it was probably neither eloquent nor useful nor satisfactory, although I know it was truthful. I have been to writers’ conferences in which a handful of established and successful authors have sat on a panel and fielded questions from hopeful writers, and on hearing their answers I’ve thought to myself: well, that’s not very helpful. And now I fear that, should I ever be honored enough to sit on such a panel, I will let others down in the same way. But I understand why.

It’s a question I ask myself a lot these days, and it comes in two parts. Part 1: How on Earth did I do it? And Part 2: How on Earth do I continue to do it? And now that I am no longer on the spot, that I have had some time to mull it over, I realize that the recipe is one that is unique to me. It’s a melange of my personality, my background, my circumstances. It won’t fit exactly for anyone else. There are no neat tablespoon measurements, no fixed stirring times. My ingredients:

Dogged—some might say stubborn—perseverance

The compulsion to use every shred of time toward accomplishing something

The belief that 20 minutes is enough time to accomplish something (this ingredient was given to me once I had children)

Patience (this was an ingredient I had to plant and nurture, not one I already had in my pantry)

Organization

(As you can see, none of these are particularly creative.)

I took all these things, and then I linked as many parts of my life as possible to some aspect of my creative pursuit: I take kathak dance classes (through which I get my exercise), I volunteer for the Chhandam Institute of Kathak Dance, I incorporated the dance into my novel, and I enrolled my older daughter in a class that I teach. I’d like to say that this was all the result of a well-thought out plan, but no. It’s just how things happened.

The truth of the matter is, I just cram it in wherever I can, between work-related conference calls and school pick-up, during the younger one’s nap times while the older one plays with a friend, at a café while rehydrating and having some lunch after a dance practice, in the evening after tucking the little ones into bed and before their father returns from his martial arts class. As Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, said in a March 2002 interview on Writer Unboxed: “All my life I’ve been doing my work in the intervals between making a living and living my life.” (And if I could write a book half as beautiful and haunting as hers, I would feel fulfilled.)

And yet my version of cramming it in “wherever I can” pales in comparison to what I’ve read from other writers. I don’t have daily word-count goals, I don’t write at a specific time of day or week, I don’t get up an hour before the children as many writers suggest. I don’t think much about my creative projects while doing other things like shopping for groceries, I don’t compose dialogues among my characters while driving, because during those times I usually have chatterbox children with me, or I’m planning out family logistics or meals, or I just want to let my brain float. I don’t tend to work once the kids are in bed because that is my time to spend with my husband, and to catch up on other things like reading and reconnecting with friends on the phone. And honestly, I don’t always feel inspired to be creative. The pressure to produce something in a limited time can be counter-productive. Sometimes I manage to set aside a couple of hours to work on my book, and my mind is blank. But for me the key is to honor my decision and make sure I use that time for something at least related to writing. I read agent and editor blogs, I think about a blog post of my own, I daydream about ways to market my book once it’s published.

There is much room for improvement, and for increased efficiency. And so, while I’m not unhappy with my system, I am curious, and would still ask the same question of others: how do you sustain a creative life or even a creative project in the midst of children, work, home, and the other demands on your time?

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