Tuesday, March 25, 2014


When my older son was two, in order to find time to write, I drove him to a babysitter two mornings a week-- Tuesday and Thursday, from 9 - 11. I lived half an hour from the sitter's house, and the first morning I brought him there I realized that to drive back and forth would chop off half my writing time.

The second morning, I dropped him off, and then drove down the street -- a few houses away -- and parked. I leaned my notebook against the steering wheel and wrote till 10:57, when I started the car, put it in reverse, returned to the babysitter's house, and picked him up promptly at 11:00.
I did this for about 6 months.

It was maddening! It took at least 10 - 15 minutes to warm up, and by the time I got into a groove, it was time to stop. The writing I did during those days was too frantic and rushed to be good, but it screamed with urgency and need. And it was a workout that kept my writing hand limber and my mind fluid.

Through the years I found various means of keeping myself from rusting as a writer, but recently I realized two things:

1) Years of carving hours and minutes of writing time into my life made me resourceful and taught me intense discipline. Whenever, wherever I found a space a time, I plunged in. If I couldn't find it, I created it.

2) Like Hamlet, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." 

An hour of writing time was an eternity. Heart pounding, fingers trembling, I wrote like someone in a trance. 

Today, I have more time to write, but at least three mornings a week, I need to teach or go to a meeting, and no matter how early I wake up, I feel pressure the instant I set pen to paper. My eye is on the clock, watching the minutes fleet past, knowing I have to stop soon.

But here's what I discovered: on those harried mornings, I nearly always come up with something raw and wild that leads me into new, unexplored territory -- and I often have to stop abruptly in the middle of a thought. The tension of these mornings recreates the urgency of those crazed hours in a parked car when my pen flew across the page in a desperate race to beat time. 

Maybe you already have a ticking clock marking the end of your writing time, but if you don't, it might be worthwhile to set a time limit and force yourself to stop when it hurts --

and not let yourself continue till the next day. Just let it brood inside you and see what happens.

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