The Real Problem

Yesterday, I asked a question on my Facebook page:

“How do you all find time to write? Seriously, I’m starting to wonder how people do it. I know you’re supposed to make time, but out of what, thin air? It’s frustrating . . .”

I got some wonderful comments about how to find time, and some that recommended things I was already doing: for example, I don’t watch much television anyway. But reading through them, I realized that the real problem wasn’t time. It was energy.

The real question is, how do you find the energy to write? Because honestly, some days I can’t even write a blog post. Part of it is my schedule: I teach four writing classes, and I have a two-hour commute to the university. Those two things by themselves take an enormous amount of time, but they take even more energy. At the end of a working day, I often just want to lie in bed, under a warm blanket, and do nothing. I’ve spent the entire day interacting with people, solving problems, dealing with whatever issues come up, and I’m exhausted. Perhaps I’m different from other writers in this way, but I need a clear head to write. I need energy.

You’ve seen “Blanchefleur,” right? Well, that’s my first draft. And while I don’t want to praise my own writing, that’s the way it comes out: what I type up, for a short story at least, is usually close to a final draft. But when I write, I’m never sitting there, idly scribbling. It always takes my complete focus. An hour or two of writing can be exhausting, although at the same time it can also be exhilarating enough that I continue on, sometimes beyond the point where I’m about ready to fall over.

So I think the real solution isn’t to find more time, but to change my life so that I have more energy to write. That partly involves making sure I’m doing writing that pays, so I can justify not taking on other paying work and focusing on the writing. That means writing novels, and I’m certainly going to focus on novel writing next.

So here’s the plan. (You knew there was going to be a plan, right? I am an inveterate maker of plans. And, often, those plans work.)

The plan is to get through the semester and then finish the novel over the summer. That will mean a lot of work, a lot of writing, all over the world since I’m going to be traveling. But I’m looking forward to it. I know my characters, I know quite a bit of the story I want to tell, and I’m looking forward to that sense of full immersion I get when I’m really going, when I’m living in the world I’ve created.

I want to spend time with my girl monsters.

The visual I’m going to give you tonight is Sarah Bernhardt:

Why am I giving you Sarah Berhardt? Because in a way, she identified herself as a girl monsters long before Lady Gaga came along. She slept in a coffin and she sculpted an inkwell with an image of herself as a gargoyle. That takes guts.

I have an enormous amount of respect for Sarah Bernhardt. Maybe I’ll write her into my novel, somehow . . .

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13 Responses to The Real Problem

  1. Kristine says:

    Energy. Yes. We are in pretty much the same place. I am not the world’s best planner, but I believe I know what I need to do to keep moving forward. I am, however, unaccountably relieved that I am not the only one who feels this way. Good luck with your novel.

  2. Ms. Berhnardt’s personal motto was “Quand meme,” which translates roughly to “Just the same,” or, to be more modern, “Whatever.” To her it meant that she kept going on, no matter what happened. Misfortune might occur, but she would go on, “just the same.” I’ve always loved that.

  3. You’re teaching four classes right now, Dora? Great googly moogly, no wonder you’re so damn tired! I probably wouldn’t have made such a flippant comment about this on Facebook if I had known that. I had a hard enough time teaching three classes at a time and trying to maintain any creative energy; I would have been a mess with four.

    I admire your determination to get your novel finished during the summer break, and am rooting you on, but I also hope you don’t burn yourself out. Please take care.

    Is there any way to get your workload reduced in the Fall?

    • I usually teach 3/3, but took a 4th class this time because they needed a teacher for a particular course. And I love the class. But the fall will be 3 again, which should be easier.

  4. Jon Awbrey says:

    For my part it’s neither time nor energy but an opposing force that George and W.B. Yeats called “obstruction” I ought to be writing what I know — but I spend my time and energy writing everything but. Something there is that doesn’t want me to write what I know.

  5. emily says:

    Not to say that you should prioritize teaching, but your students, mostly, appreciate your time and energy. There’s this saying that those who can’t do teach. And sadly, there’s some truth to it. It is discouraging to see your teacher phone another teacher during class for help on how to solve a problem. This happened to me in my high school geometry class. You immediately lose respect for the teacher, and consistently question why you are wasting your time in said class. And in a class like writing, where there’s no solid line like between correct and wrong writing, a bad teacher can lead you in the wrong direction, unless you are smart enough to ignore the teacher. So a great teacher who breaks the stereotype that those who can’t do teach is always greatly appreciated. Thank You!

    And hopefully, you will never have to teach four classes again!

  6. It’s the teaching. You HAVE to cut back. 12 hrs of “contact time” feels the same as 12 hrs a DAY on the factory room floor. Don’t even bother until summer. It leaves you with nothing left, the teaching.

  7. lordbrutish says:

    Actually, I’m going to disagree. You have a two-hour commute–HOW are you doing this? Driving? I don’t know anything about where you live, but could you switch to using public transpo? Everyone’s writing process is different, so maybe it wouldn’t work for you, but I personally used to get A LOT of writing done on the train when I lived in Silicon Valley.

    • Public transport would involve a bus and two subways, unfortunately. It would be much longer, and on the subways you often can’t sit down. This is the best I can do at the moment. But it will hopefully change soonish . . .

  8. Jon Awbrey says:

    What they undertook to do
    They brought to pass;
    All things hang like a drop of dew
    Upon a blade of grass.

    — William Butler Yeats • “Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors”

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