As most of you know, I lead an academic life, teaching at a local community college. This means more time off over the holidays than most folks, and each year I look forward to it for weeks, imagining long days of reading and writing. My last work day was December 13th, and I've spent precious little time writing. I was mentally drained by the end of this semester and spent my first weekend of freedom drooling on the couch and berating myself for wasting writing time. Then the onslaught of family visitations began, and now finally, I am back in my just-barely-cluttered writing room and my batteries have been recharged to about 80% capacity. I'm ready to go...but wait...life interrupts and there are the mundane obligations of paying the bills, washing the dishes and the laundry, playing with the cat, calling the contractor who is bidding on our bathroom renovation, etc.
Each semester I implore my students (in all of my classes) to try and set a schedule for themselves. For my creative writers I repeat the words of one of my first writing instructors, Jon Hassler, the fiction writer from Minnesota. Jon said, "Set a time for writing. I don't care when. Start small with 30 minutes and work up to two hours. The only thing I ask is that you don't do anything else except write in that time. In the beginning you might just sit in the chair with a Coke and stare out the window. That's fine. Eventually, you'll get bored and start writing." Ok, so it's been...gasp...almost 17 years since I heard the speech, so I'm paraphrasing a bit, but you get the picture. [I distinctly remember the Coke reference, though...I'm a Pepsi fan.]
That schedule was easy for me as an undergraduate and even as a graduate student; however, now that I am a full-time instructor, a homeowner, and a spouse, the schedule gets a bit slippery. There will always be something that needs doing, someone that needs my attention, and a couch calling my name.
For those of you who are also struggling with time, I suggest setting the schedule, but being easy with yourself when it breaks down a bit. Just get back on track as soon as possible. I will say that a writing schedule is a lot like an exercise schedule. You build momentum, and when the schedule is interrupted, it takes time to get your mind muscles back up to speed. Another suggestion is to find a writing partner. I did so much better staying on track this last semester with the help of my friend and colleague, Angie Macri. We gave each other poetry assignments and then exchanged the results. Some of the assignments spawned beautiful poems I never would have come to without Angie. Some of the assignments resulted in rickety half-poems, but always with a redeeming line or two that I could use to begin something new.
So here's to all the new lines we'll be sharing in the new year! Let the clock tick. [Faintly, faintly.]