My computer has iCal. I’ve carried around a pink-leather Filofax for ten years. The iCal shows more detail and goes farther into the future, but I can’t give up the physical object. Not only do I love the cheerful pink, but certain appointments merit writing in both places or I’m likely to forget. As for Siri, pinging or ringing or whatever Siri does, to remind me—no, thanks. I don’t even have a smart phone.
Some time ago—I suppose it says something that I can’t remember when or why—I stopped wearing a watch. I don’t miss it, and I’m (usually) still on time. Even an old-fashioned clamshell cell phone can tell me the time.
So, yes, I have a somewhat inconsistent approach to scheduling. For several days now, I’ve been wanting to sit down and make a schedule for the summer. My summer classes start tomorrow, and I fear my writing time getting sucked away if I don’t plot out the hours and stick to them. With three writing classes, the time spent reviewing and grading student papers can take as much as I give—and then some. I have to be rigorous. Not chary or withholding, just intentional. Too often, on a day I’m looking for a distraction from the novel, I’ll spend four hours on student work that otherwise might take only two. So, my logic goes, if I draw up and keep to a schedule…
Yes, I know. The best-laid plans and all that. I’ve been balancing teaching and writing for more than a decade, so I’m hardly in a new situation. And yet it feels new, so much so that I fear losing hold on time. Since I took the sublet across town, I’m no longer sitting at the desk at 8 a.m. and stopping at noon. My commute no longer consists of walking down the hall in my slippers and flipping open the laptop. Now, I drive for 25 minutes along congested streets—after I’ve showered, dressed, and packed a lunch. Some days, I stop at the pool for a swim on the way, which means sitting down to work as late as last Tuesday’s 11:47 a.m. But once there, I can work until three or four. I get started later, but I clock in more hours overall.
So what’s the problem? Does when we write matter? For me, it has. I was in grad school when I first drew up a weekly schedule, hour by hour, Monday through Friday. Determined to maintain fifteen hours of writing time a week while teaching and keeping up with my own courses, I made a chart, complete with colored pencils. When I look back, I recall leisurely mornings of writing time. I recall productivity.
That’s what I’m hoping for, this summer. I know I can’t start first thing, not if I have to drive across town. But I do want to go to sleep each night knowing, come morning, just how soon I’ll start writing. I’ve tried the other way: inventing each day as it arrives. Seeing what I feel like, assessing what needs doing and going from there.
It doesn’t work. I need routine. Playing it by ear is great on the weekends or on vacation, but even then I tend to spend time at lunch planning (or at least talking about) what to do for dinner. Like most self-employed writers/artists/filmmakers/etc, I need structure. Structure makes for security in an otherwise completely insecure profession. I may never finish this novel. I may never sell it. I may never figure out how to end this chapter. But I know, come next Monday at 9 a.m., where I’ll be working. My (home) office might be a mess, my spices out of alphabetical order, my unread issues of Poets and Writers and AWP Chronicle stacked precariously in a pile about to fall over—but if I’m writing every day at (more or less) the same time, I can live with the rest. Quite happily.
Where do you find security in your writing life? When do you allow exceptions to your writing schedule, and what habits help (or hinder)?