“Fitting writing around other commitments shows determination.” I found this quote in an article by author Alison Baverstock and felt that most writers can empathize with these words (371). This becomes interesting when one considers another quote by Thomas Mann that reads, “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for others” (qtd. Pipher 76). Complicating each other, these quotes help draw the conclusion that writing is a difficult task requiring time and effort—both of which can be hard to come by in everyday life. This idea is certainly not new to any writer, but it does help explain one complaint many writers have: I would love to write more often, but I simply don’t have the time and energy.
The above is one complaint that I hear myself use fairly frequently. Between school, work, family, and friends, I rarely find time to sit down and write anything that won’t eventually be turned in for a grade—sometimes I don’t even get to write that. So how can this problem be solved without begging God to extend the hours in a day? Simply put, it can’t; however, I received some advice in a creative writing class that at least works towards a solution.
Writers first need to think of writing as less of a daunting task. My creative writing professor, Peter Davis, explained that many writers feel they need to set aside time to write—designate an hour or so of their evening to sit at a desk and let the pen flow. While this technique may work for some, other writers, myself included, find the act of setting time aside becomes intimidating. The set hour will loom ominously on the to do list, and the task of writing turns into a chore that no longer deserves anticipation. However, a way to reserve time without this side effect does exist.
Instead of designating a time to write, use spare time in between activities to compose. Many writers have a reconceived notion that good drafts come only from careful planning, but this is simply not true. Sometimes writing an idea down—a sentence, paragraph, poem, or even quote—in between classes or while you're eating lunch can lead to a productive draft later on.
I decided to test this idea a few weeks ago. I had ten minutes to kill between my classes that normally would have been spent staring at the ceiling or brushing my hair. Instead, I took out my notebook and composed this sketch:
“…we can not allow them to take power!” He finished his last words, slamming his fist deep into the podium. After wiping the sweat from his brow [just one, a distinct unibrow with a slight arch like the bow of his lover’s lips], he stepped off the platform. As he touched his foot to the bottom stair, he saw the boy hidden within the crowd and starring up at him from a few feet away. The boy had curly brown locks [that mirrored hers].
Meanwhile she gazed down from her window placed high above the crowd. She spotted her son among the rowdy people. He was gazing at the father she had hoped he’d never find. ‘What have I done,’ she thought. Letting the curtain fall back slowly, her feet turned outward and away. She began to feel lightheaded. As her arms reached, making a plea to the nearby counter, she fell forward to land halfway on the couch. Her body was limp, and her legs dangled at awkward angles as they slid onto the floor. Three knocks at the door confirmed for her that it was over. As the men burst in, she closed her eyes.
* * *
The boy came back to the apartment around four o’clock. He opened the door to find his mother gone. ‘Disposed of by now,’ he thought. Contently he shut the door and walked back down the stairs to the main lobby. The man from the podium was waiting for him there.
I’m not sure where the idea for this scene came from or what I want to do with it, but I am sure that had I thought about that while I was writing it, I would have lost the idea. This is a working draft that I can come back to when I get another free ten minutes, or I can set aside time to perfect. In either case, it was not daunting to produce, and I am generally pleased with the spontaneous result.
In conclusion, my suggestion is this: for writers struggling to “[fit] writing around other commitments,” try jotting ideas in between those commitments. Then return to those ideas when time is available. If something useful comes out of this scrap-writing, great; if not, you’ve only wasted ten minutes or so.