Time for Words

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How do you use your writing time?

I meant to write this post about time last week, but I didn’t have the time. Or is it I didn’t make the time? Have and make often battle each other for reigning current excuse by us writers who do not have the luxury of writing full or even part time in a way that feels adequate to our goals. But regardless of which one is used or which one is closer to the truth, they are equally useless: the writing is still not there, which is really the only thing that matters in our writing lives. So how do we approach our sometimes somewhat acrimonious relationship with time? A two-fold way that might be beneficial is to consider first how we use time and then secondly, what we get from that use.  

How do you use time?

For the first consideration, I don’t mean how we think we should use time and aspiring towards that goal; instead, I’m thinking about how we actually do use it when we are at our writing best. A temporal reality check. For myself, I know I need at least an hour. I like the idea of being able to make full use of the 5 minutes waiting in line at the store by jotting down notes or scribbling out a paragraph or two while the pasta water is boiling. I’ve read about stories being written while riding subways to work and other similar feats of here-and-there time grabbing that have produced phenomenal works. But my brain takes 15 minutes just to get warmed up. It also prefers solitude. Though I totally love the idea of being able to write in coffee houses, the din of conversation confuses the voices in my head. Sometimes I fancy that I’ll write at night. That is, I will get all my non-writing tasks out of the way during the day, so that afterwards I will be free to write. But reality finds that once I get into task mode, it is hard for me to get out and there is always one more task. I am at my most productive when I write first thing in the morning, preferably for 2 or 3 or 4 hours, but at least one. Probably not more than 4, even if I have that generous of an amount. Again, here I like the idea of being able to type for 6, 8, or 10 hours or more at a stretch, but if I am being honest with myself, such marathons would likely burn me out rather than produce consistent work. Of course, circumstances don’t always allow writing first thing in the morning or offer up my desired amount of time. Sometimes I do have to write simply when time is available; for example, this post is being written at 11:26 PM. But knowing—and accepting—my own personal best practices encourages me to try to create such favorable circumstances of Morning Time when possible rather than beating myself up for not being able to live up to the time management ideal of making every spare minute count. The reverse of this may or may not be true for you. You may like the idea of getting up every morning and writing for 3 or 4 hours, but reality finds your own best practices would have you write in fits and starts and random moments of inspired bursts of creativity throughout the day. You may like the idea of being the kind of writer who composes a novel during an intense weekend retreat of enforced societal detachment, but in your heart you know your writing is best when it comes out amidst the invigorating-for-you chatter of the masses.  

What do you get from the time you use?

For the second consideration, let’s think about time as accumulation rather than days going by. For the passage of time itself is irrelevant whether it is 2 hours in the morning or a half-hour in the evening. It is the value we add—accumulate—during that time which is important. Now you might think I’m going to launch into some riff about word quotas. And in a way I am, but maybe not quite in the way that you’re thinking. Forget 5 pages a day. Forget 1000 words a day. Let’s go smaller. Much smaller. What if you wrote 10 words a day on the same story and did that for a year? At the end of the year, you would have a 3650 word story or 3650 words towards a larger story. Having spent a year of writing to produce just one short story may sound absurd. But let’s phrase it another way and see if it sounds less absurd. If you spent that same year writing zero words a day, how many short stories would you have written after that year had ended? Regardless of whether you write or don’t write, time will pass and that year will be gone. Sure, I’d love to be consistently prolific, always producing so many words a day without fail. And I have been engaged in some projects where I was regularly writing 1000 or more words daily. But other days I write far less and still other days not at all. Those not-at-all days are horrible. The far-less days can be pretty bad too. But the larger, more important, goal is that of accumulation whenever and wherever it occurs. Sure, aim for 1000, 2000, or 3000 words a day if you have such inclination and work as hard as you can to achieve it. But keep in mind that if less is created, it is still more than nothing. And if nothing is created, then the next day you can try again, aiming again for 1000, 2000, or 3000. Or to write 100, 50, or just 10 words. At Starbucks. At night.   —JD Fox, poet and guest blogger  

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