A Time and a Place for Everything …

I’ve read a lot of articles and books about writing, and most of those have had at least one nugget of useful information for a beginning writer.  But I’ve also read a few articles that have left me shivering.  The most recent example of the latter appeared in the December, 2010, issue of The Writer.  Entitled “Making time to write,” by Cheryl Bolen, it’s a discussion of a number of tips and hints that supposedly would allow a writer to utilize his/her time more effectively, and accomplish more in the limited time we all have to write.  Nothing unrealistic about that.

But a careful reading of the article (and I’ve read it several times) reveals that many, if not most, of the tips are way out in left field, if not off the deep end entirely.  (I promise, no more sports analogies.)  Here’s some of the most bizarre:
     Don’t watch TV.
     Write all the time (when, I find myself wondering, do you revise?)
     Go without eight hours of sleep.
     Is shopping really necessary?
     Buy gifts when you see them and store them at home.
     Learn to say no to volunteerism.
     Don’t stop the flow of writing to do research.
     In fact, don’t even stop writing to look up a fact.  Just keep writing.

The article is not without sage advice, though, and some of the hints Ms. Bolen presents are quite useful, such as: organize your time, your office, your manuscript; use your time wisely; combine trips when you have to go out; take a notebook when you go out, and so forth.  But the overall impression I was left with after reading this article was that of a person who barricades herself in her office at home, sitting in front of a computer for 18 to 20 hours a day (must get less than 8 hours of sleep!) staring groggily at the screen, pecking away at the keyboard until she’s finished those 20 pages she set as a goal for herself.   No TV, remember.

To be honest, I’m appalled.  Appalled and a little concerned.  I watch TV.  Not a lot, mostly the news and an occasional program on PBS.  (PBS is far more informative and entertaining than the ‘vast wasteland’ on the rest of the channels.)  I shop–regularly–and I do try to combine trips, but shopping is an absolute necessity.  How else am I going to get the stuff I need to live on?  I do everything around the house, including the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the vacuuming.  I have to or it won’t get done.

I have a life.  Writing to me is a full-time job, certainly, but that doesn’t mean it occupies my entire life.  It is the largest segment of my life by far, of course, and I enjoy the time I spend writing (and researching), but I take time off from writing to do other things.  I don’t get 10 to 20 pages a day, that’s true,  but I’m okay with that.  I attend church regularly and I engage in volunteer activities.  I meet people and walk the mall occasionally.  I visit the library and the bookstore regularly.  I exercise by walking three times a week, and I even play a musical instrument.  Granted, this takes away from time I could spend hacking away at the keyboard, but I insist on it.  I’m not married to my computer and the novel I’m working on will have to cool its heels until I can get back from the grocery store with tonight’s dinner.  I try to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, and I take a nap in the middle of the day.  If that’s not enough, I read 1 to 2 hours a day.  (I can finish an average novel in a week.) 

Writers are as much a part of the world as anyone else.  Shutting yourself up in a room and writing so intently and incessantly that you cannot even stop for a few seconds to look up a small fact or research an important point is an alarming display of poor time management.  If I may degenerate into cliché: get a life; smell the flowers; take a trip.  Or a nap.  Put yourself into the world.  Don’t worry about the damn manuscript, let it take care of itself.  If you’re writing about the world, you have to be a part of it.  Even those of us who write science fiction have to be aware of the passage of life here on this planet in order to write about an imaginary planet where life is radically different from our own.  It takes care, it takes knowledge, it takes imagination to write.  And that is not obtained by writing only.

Okay, I’ve had my say; surely others will object.  Comments, anyone?

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