Finding Time

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)?


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8 Responses to Finding Time

  1. hannahkarena says:

    I’ve been going with the “write when you can” plan for so long, but I know it’s not working for me. I’m definitely not getting as much writing done as I want, let alone logging in enough hours. I think I’m going to try to write out a schedule, where I block out hours, like you’re planning. Hope it works for both of us!

  2. You raise an interesting point, Hannah–of measuring hours spent vs writing done. I tend to think of them as the same, but I know many writers who measure in terms of words and don’t get up until they reach some number. Assuming I stay put in the chair, I’ve always measured in hours. Good luck with the scheduling, and let me know how it goes!

  3. Callie Feyen says:

    I would LOVE to see your colored pencil chart! I was just thinking that it is time for me to set some goals of what I want to get done each day. Since I’ve had kids, my writing time has been unpredictable and I’ve treated it like a hobby, so when I didn’t write I told myself, “It’s no big deal.” But now that I’m taking it more seriously, I should treat my schedule like I did when I was teaching. I found that writing down tasks that I would get done, in addition to a lesson plan, was very helpful both for my productivity and sanity. I can’t just wake up and “see where the day takes me.” I end up watching the Gilmore Girls or going to Target.

  4. Pingback: Making a Writing Schedule « The (Writer's) Waiting Room

  5. Kay Lynn says:

    I would love to figure out a way to schedule writing into my busy life. I’m currently a member of the Write When You Can Club, which generally means that I write during my lunch breaks at work (three days a week (one day a week right now, the other two being taken up with something else at the moment)) and that I attempt to write while my youngest two kids are napping during the afternoon and my older two are away at school. That part doesn’t always work out so well, evenings are always chaotic, and I’m not a morning person. Unfortunately, writing when I can hasn’t been working out as well since I acquired three more kids over the last three years – I’m still trying to figure out how to do it with four kids. *sigh*

  6. Kay & Callie– you both have the additional schedule constraint of being moms. I can’t even imagine trying to carve out time (not to mention focus & quiet) for writing with little ones running around (or likely to wake up any minute). So give yourselves a big helping of permission if you don’t write as much as you’d like to these days. Schedules need to allow some flexibility, don’t they?! I love the idea of the Write When You Can Club. You’re probably getting a lot more done than you realize — even it’s just a scribbled note or idea. Just think of the raw material you’ll have when the kids are in school and your time is your own (ha).

    • Kay Lynn says:

      Time that’s my own? I’m beginning to forget what that’s like! On the other hand, I’m acquiring an awful lot of wonderful stories with which I can embarrass my kids in front of girlfriends and boyfriends during their teen years, so I’ve got that going for me. 🙂

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