Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another Post about Time

As the month of November rapidly approaches its end, bringing the year 2009 close on its heels, and as I accept the truth that I will not meet my writing goal for the month yet again, I’m finding myself wondering how people in the real world – ordinary, working class people, people without rich spouses or independent wealth – ever reach any level of success in the arts. I was so sheltered in my MFA program for the past three years that I honestly forgot how hard it really is to find time to write, when so much of your time is taken up with the drudgery of survival. The have to’s of life.

This is something I’ve been talking about a lot lately, I know, and the reason I’ve been talking about it so much is because I’m realizing more and more that it really is a ceaseless struggle for most of us. Most of us will never get a million dollar book deal. Many of us will never even get an agent. Some of us may never even get a book published at all. In other words, most of us will always have to find the time. Make the time. Carve it from stone, as seems to be most writers’ metaphor of choice.

I haven’t met a single writing goal (I’ve met submissions goals, but those are different) since I graduated with my MFA. In fact, for this entire year I’ve only completely met my writing goal once: for the month of January. My last few months as a student were spent busily filling out graduation paperwork and preparing for an epic move. A majority of my summer was spent in the midst of said move, as well as working on a couple of critical articles that are being published in literary magazines and finding a job – and otherwise getting my bearings – in a new state. Okay, but what about after that?

Maybe it’s partly that I lost my momentum. Maybe it’s partly that I still haven’t quite gotten used to this new life. But I think a lot of it really, truly is that I just don’t have the time anymore. I don’t. When I was a student I had heard stories about past graduates who absolutely stopped writing after they got their degrees. One guy told me, a year after he finished, that he had decided to take a month off from writing after he graduated and had just never gotten around to starting back up again. Another graduate – a friend of a friend – had graduated three years before me, and she hadn’t written a thing since she finished. I could go on. There are many more.

I am not exactly like those people. I haven’t stopped writing. No, I haven’t been meeting my goals, but I do still write. But I don’t write as much as I’d like to and I don’t write as much as I believe is necessary to really get to where I want to be. I’m beginning to realize that I will probably never be able to consistently meet my golden three hour a day goal (a goal that was difficult, only sometimes manageable, even when I was an MFA student). Lately, I haven’t even been able to meet a one hour a day goal. So what’s to be done?

Well, one interesting point that one of my husband Damien’s professors made recently is that maybe we’re wrong to think we should always be writing. Maybe we should completely reevaluate the way we look at how we spend our time. Of course you can’t never write and reasonably call yourself a writer. But what about the time you spend doing other things that then gives you inspiration in your work? What about the time you spend thinking about the world around you, an absolutely indispensable part of being a good writer? Or engaging in stimulating conversations with other people? Observing humanity in all of its brutal beauty?

While I think it’s important to keep carving away at that fabled time stone – we should still write and write often, if we can – maybe we shouldn’t get so down on ourselves when we don’t write as often as we feel we should. Maybe that just makes it worse. Maybe that just misses the point altogether. Because the point – isn’t it? – is that we do this because we have to. We do it because it’s how we make sense of this mysterious world around us. We don’t do it for the quantifiable final products. We do it for the experience. We do it because it makes all that time spent doing other things feel like it all means something, feel like it matters.


Justus said...

I agree with the notion that things other than the actual act of writing are still valuable. Sometimes I feel guilty when I don't get in enough writing time, but if I'm reading fiction, that's useful. If I'm reading a book or magazine about writing, that's useful. Ultimately, of course, you have to write to be a writer, and although practicing is an essential element toward improvement, I don't think writing by itself is really enough. We have to think and evaluate and ponder why some things work and why others don't. Even though we're out of school, we need to keep up with the kind of studying that we did in classes (although I think there wasn't really enough of that kind of study in the classes either).

The one thing I find an annoying drain on my time is submitting. I don't feel like I learn anything about writing from that process, and it's a time-consuming hassle. If I spend an hour reading somebody else's story instead of working on my own story, I still feel like I'm spending my time being a writer, but if I spend an hour filling out online submission forms or printing off copies of a story and stuffing envelopes and tweaking a cover letter, that just feels like an annoyance.

PancakePhilosopher said...

I agree with what you said about not feeling down if we're not always writing. Like you said, we need lots of time to just gather ideas from our everyday lives to write about. One of my professors here at Geneva college tells me not to force it--that if I don't feel I have anything urgent to write about, to just not. Yeah, continue journaling or blogging or reading, but don't try to force good fiction or poetry out if it refuses to show itself.

I feel that's pretty good advice, because if we always force ourselves I'm afraid we'd lose the romance, the catharsis, of writing. We started writing because we felt in our hearts that we had something to share, something to say, right? And that if we didn't write it, we wouldn't be satisfied with ourselves. I'm afraid we're turning it into too much of a business, too much a career, and not a lifestyle which I think it should be.

Even now in undergrad sometimes I'm tired of writing, because I associate it with school and my major and not with myself and my own needs. Gotta try to break that. I think living the writer's life doesn't entail writing all the time...I think it also entails a great deal of simple observation through living life, reflecting and pondering these things.

This is the only thing that perturbs me about joining an MFA...I don't want to lose that sense of everyday reflection and wonder...I don't want to turn my passion into a methodical business. I still feel I need to do an MFA if for no other reason than to gain knowledge of the craft and myself as a writer. I just think we need to try to regain that writerly lifestyle, take it back from being a black-and-white business.