Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage

Laura writes:
Have you re-read Crusie's essay about Taking Out the Garbage? That might give you some ideas for the longer term.

In the short term, I wonder if you could make sure you have a set length of time each day, towards the middle or end of the day, which you set aside for writing, and into which nothing else is allowed to encroach. Then, if you start the day with admin/more routine things, you'll be able to mull over the topic in the back of your mind for a lot of the day before your writing block of time arrives, so hopefully when it does arrive, your brain will be bursting with ideas and ready to get down to writing straight away.
Those are both good ideas, Laura. The Crusie essay, in particular, spoke to me when I re-read it--especially since I re-read it last night after spending twenty minutes or so writing a comment on Israeli / Palestinian politics over at my rabbi's blog. (And did so again--leave a comment, I mean--this morning.)

"I’m still honing the skill of figuring out what’s important to me and ignoring all the noise that doesn’t matter," Crusie writes, if you don't know the essay. "It’s a skill we all need to learn and relearn because until we understand what’s important, we’re not going to be able to protect our work or our lives." She goes on to explain that this "noise" is particularly problematic when you want to be a writer, which also applies to being an academic writer:
The problem with being a writer (one of many) is that it’s all in our heads. It’s not like ditch digging where you can fume all day and still have a perfectly good ditch when you break for dinner. The time-spent list for writers isn’t what we’re doing, it’s what we’re thinking. If we’re stirring spaghetti, for instance, we’re not cooking (unless we’re obsessing over al dente or worrying about salt); we’re doing whatever occupies our minds. If we’re thinking about why the heroine didn’t tell the hero about that secret baby, we’re thinking about writing. If we’re obsessing over RWA business or that lousy review or how unfair it is that a crummy writer just got a better contract than we did, we’re thinking about an organization or somebody else’s opinion, or somebody else’s career. If those things are high on our priority lists, then we can fume virtuously, knowing we’re putting our energies where we want them. If not, we need to do some reordering in our lives because we can’t do good work if we can’t give ourselves to the work, and we can’t give ourselves to the work if our heads are filled with this kind of noise.
This summer I ignored a lot of noise quite successfully: political noise, mostly, from home and abroad. I wonder whether I need to continue to do so, given how much of my time and mental energy can get sucked into that vortex. Supporting views I agree with has seemed important--actually, supporting a person whose views I agree with, since there are folks in the congregation who have been very unhappy with his very public positions, and I want him to know that he's got a few of us in his corner. But how to balance that with other priorities--well, that's a good, practical question, and I'm going to think about it.

"The time-spent list for writers isn’t what we’re doing, it’s what we’re thinking." That's the kicker, isn't it?

In terms of setting a time aside for writing, I'm going to try that--although given my troubled sleep schedule, I think I'll make that a morning ritual rather than an afternoon or evening one. Reading and writing are hard for me in the afternoon and evening: reading, because I tend to fall asleep; writing, because there's nothing like that first cup of coffee to get me humming with sentences. But the core idea--make this an appointment, part of the job, not an extra to be added when you can--seems very useful to me. Not sure if I can make any time sacrosanct here at home, but I can try.

More about motivation, Laura's other comment, in another post, probably tomorrow. Today's song, running through my head when I woke up, is an old one from Brazil--enjoy!


Laura Vivanco said...

I'm really glad the essay and suggestion have been useful.

One other thing I've thought of is that lots of people seem to find the community aspect of NaNoWriMo helpful in getting them to write fiction every day, so I wondered if maybe it would help you if you were part of a mini-club of academics on a drive for greater efficiency. I'd definitely be willing to give it a go, because I could do with being a bit more efficient (I tend to get distracted by interesting things on the internet which may actually be academic, but aren't directly related to the piece I want to be writing).

"Reading and writing are hard for me in the afternoon and evening: reading, because I tend to fall asleep; writing, because there's nothing like that first cup of coffee to get me humming with sentences.

I find I can concentrate better at night, when it's really late and everyone else has gone to bed. But that really works best when I have the luxury of sleeping in.

E. M. Selinger said...

A mini-club? That's a fascinating idea, Laura! Let's talk about how that would work. I have so many things I'd like to write at the moment, it's a bit overwhelming; anything that would get me working on them more productively, especially in a group context, would be very welcome.