Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time Management: What Grad School Won’t Teach You

When I was an MFA student, I used to complain like a little baby that I didn’t have enough time to write. “I swear I had more time to write when I was just working full time,” I could often be heard saying. “Isn’t the point of grad school to give you time to write?”

The older, ever-so-slightly wiser me now looks back at that whiny me and shakes her head. “Please,” I would tell that younger Ashley if I could. “You have plenty of time to write. You’re just spending it complaining about not having enough time. On top of that, the point of grad school is not to give you time to write. The point of grad school, if we lived in such a simplistic world where there could possibly be one universal point to grad school, is to help you become a better writer. Nobody ever really promised you time.”

In fact, now that I’m teaching what most colleges consider a full-timer’s load of classes (though at my school I’m still technically considered part-time, ah semantics!), I’m realizing that the best way to prepare a budding writer for the harsh realities of the non-grad student writing life is to force you to scrounge writing time whenever you can. When you’re working full time and trying to be a good spouse and raising children and whatever else you do, you’ll be much better off if you’re used to never having time to write. You’ll come at it with the experience and tools necessary to find that time, wherever it might be hiding.

But in spite of my old, young self’s complaints, I do think you have a lot more time to write as a grad student than you do working full time, and so time management is actually something I don’t feel that grad school really teaches you. At least my program didn’t. When I was a grad student the only thing standing between me and my writing was my own invented excuses.

As a grad student I came up with the goal of writing an average of three hours a day for the rest of my life, but once I graduated the plan quickly became to just try to find time to write at all every day. I seem to have found a way to write for an average of about an hour a day, and that’s after something like nine months of shifting things around and experimenting with new ideas, desperately trying to figure out how to make it work.

I don’t mean to suggest that the fact that grad school gives you time to write should count as a strike against MFA programs. Time to write is always a good thing, as far as I’m concerned, and I think we should try harder to recognize it when we have it and value it for what it’s worth. But maybe we should reconsider the way we look at those times in our lives when we have very little time, or those times when we feel like we have very little time. Learning how to manage your time and squeeze those minutes or hours out of each day is just as important as studying your craft and reading until your eyes feel like they’ve been peeled and cooked. Time management is, let’s face it, an essential skill if you really want to make it as a writer.

No comments: