August 20th, 2007

Time Budgeting

One of the worst things about writing (someday I’ll do a post on the best things about writing, I promise) is the impossibility of correctly allocating time to any writerly endeavour. For instance, yesterday I scheduled myself an hour in the morning to clean my apartment, and by the end of the appointed time, my apartment was very clean. Sometimes my schedule for these chores is a little off, but I can guarantee that at least I’ll have made progress towards my goals, and a clearer idea of how to proceed with the rest. With writing, there is no such guarantee–in time allocated for a given project, I might make no progess at all, or even move backwards. For example, I spent most of last week revising a story from workshop notes. Friday evening, I left myself about three hours to give a final solid edit to a story. By the time I went to bed, I had decided the whole thing sucked, even though it no longer had any stupid prose in it, it also had no tension, no plot, no point. By Saturday night, which I had planned to spend on a different project entirely, all the characters were angrier and the piece had a completely different ending that I wrote from scratch. Yesterday was given over to yet more revisions. From three hours to three days. How did that happen?

Possibly because there is no grunt work in writing. When you mop the floor, if you half-ass it, it’ll still get done. If you clean with your mind on other matters, you might miss a spot or take longer, but all you are doing is moving your hand across the floor. Writing needs you to get your whole head in the game–no half-assery allowed.

Hmmm. I hate that hypothesis! I think it is absolutely not true, yet I put it here because well, a lot of people think it, it might be true for some of them. I hate that hypothesis for two reasons: one it implies that only smart people write, while dumb people do things which they can do while you are half awake, which isn’t true. Attentive is attentive, and focused is always better, in my opinion, driving, doing dishes, programming the space shuttle. I think you need some sort of talent to write, absolutely, but that talent must also be refined by study and craft and repitition and showing up. Who said that 90% of life is showing up? And what were they talking about? Well, I think they were right about writing.

You have to work on things you want to be good. Some people don’t need to write as many drafts as I do (three, at least) and some people need to write more. And maybe there are some people who are good, perfect, right out of the gate. I guess anything’s possible. But I really think for a certain amount of hours one has to be there with the text: playing with it, moving it around, deleting huge swaths of it and then going back to saved drafts. It’s digging for gold–it helps to study the maps, to know where others have struck payloads, to sharpen your pick, but it helps most of all to dig.

Perhaps I am saying this mainly because I want to believe I did not waste my weekend (I didn’t in any case, since I played candy poker and hung out with some hooligans!) But I truly think the story is better now, though maybe not as good as I imagined it would be last week, before I’d gone through all this. But if I *had* stopped where I’d imagined I’d stop, at bedtime Friday night, it would’ve been a shambles.

Also, if you see a black cardigan lying on Wellesley, could you please grab it and return it to me. You will recognize it because it is faded to that warm-water-wash gray and because a whole under the left sleeve has been repaired in blue thread.


She was thinking about her father whom she very rarely saw

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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