Finding the Time

I’m so tired! It’s the middle of the semester, and I’ve spent all week meeting with my students about their papers. I have 48 students, and it takes at least half an hour to go through a paper and meet with a student (about fifteen minutes each). So I spend about 24 hours meeting with students, in addition to teaching and holding office hours. And then there are all the administrative meetings, which have been particularly numerous this week. Both of the classes I’m teaching this semester are new, and I’m trying to make them interesting and innovative, so there’s quite a bit of preparation involved. Because of all that, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with work, and very tired.

So the question is, what happens to the writing? Well, the answer at the moment is that I haven’t written in several days. No, that’s not true: I wrote a couple of paragraphs yesterday, but not of the novel. I was waiting to vote, and I wrote several paragraphs of a short story while standing in line. (Voting took about an hour and a half, and it was the end of a long day of meeting with students.) If I had brought a book, I would have read — it would have been Jane Eyre, which I am currently teaching, so my reading would actually have been preparation for class. But I didn’t have a book, so I took out the Moleskine notebook I always have with me, and one of my Pilot pens, and started the story I want to write.

But I haven’t been working on the novel, and that really bothers me. The problem is that working on the novel takes a certain amount of energy: I can’t be exhausted. And I’ve been exhausted most of this week.

How does one find the time to write?

I wanted to find an icon for this blog post, and I found what I think is an appropriate one: a picture of a woman writing from a mural in Pompei.

I wonder if she had the same problems I do? It seems as though all of my time is needed simply to do the work that supports me. The advantage of teaching at the university level is that it does allow me to have a flexibility that many people don’t, and I do genuinely love it. And it gives me ideas that I would never have gotten otherwise: for example, I was reading the fairy tales that the students in my Fairy Tales and Literature class had written, and I thought, what I really want to do is write a series of stories about Sylvania, my imaginary Eastern European country. (My stories “Fair Ladies” and “Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon” both take place there.) I want those stories to tell the history of Sylvania, and somehow I want to include the Sylvanian versions of the fairy tales we all know. I wonder what those versions would be like?

But the problem with teaching is that it takes the same kind of creative mental energy as writing. So by the end of the day, my brain is already tired, and of course that’s when I write. I know some people write in the morning, but I can’t do that. I can’t write knowing that I will need to stop in order to get dressed, or eat breakfast, or go off to teach. I have to sit down at my computer knowing that I have as much time as I need, that if I need to stay up later to finish something, I can. And writing is tiring: I can’t go and teach afterward.

So there’s my dilemma. Next semester may be a bit easier, I don’t know. And then I’ll have more time over the summer, although I’ll be teaching part of the summer as well. I envy people who have some sort of financial support, because for me, it’s all me. I have to support myself and do what I love to do in the time that’s left. On the other hand, I know people who have a lot more support than I do, a lot more time, and who talk about writing without necessarily writing. I suppose what you have to have, in the end, is determination. You have to find what time you have, and write then. I don’t know if I can tonight: I’m honestly worn out. But I have to find a way to plan better, take care of myself better, so I can do it. I’ll find a way. I always do.

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6 Responses to Finding the Time

  1. marlyyoumans says:

    Just don’t be anxious when you can’t write; that’s my tiny bit of advice. Time will come, and then the words. I quit teaching after tenure, but I still have a pretty busy life with three children and husband and a lot of extra stuff (this year, touring and also judging one of the NBAs have devoured a lot of time.) So I still feel what you feel, and I’ve learned over time to just let go when life is exhausting and dead set against writing. Sometimes I think those times are helpful, that things keep stirring around and getting ready, even though it seems otherwise.

  2. Instead of trying to find more time at the end of the day, try to make time at the beginning. I can’t write at the end of the day so I started getting up an hour earlier and wrote for an hour at the beginning of the day, every day. I wrote four novels that way. If you start your day by getting work done on the novel the rest of the day is filled with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. That’s what worked for me, anyway.

  3. Emily Gilman says:

    It’s always a relief to be reminded that it’s not just me. 😛 This week has been especially crazy since it’s the last week of the quarter and we lost two days to Sandy last week, plus I was out on Tuesday for a Professional Development workshop. I’ve been exhausted just trying to teach and get through the week, let alone trying to write on top of that.

    I’m curious whether your work day matches well with your preferred sleep schedule? I’m a night owl on a middle school schedule; left to my own devices I’d go to bed sometime between midnight and one, but that doesn’t really work with getting to school by 7:15 . . .

  4. jazzyjac says:

    This might sound trite but then great truths often do…. we are all exactly where we should be, doing what we should be doing and learning what we should be learning. I truly think you should relaxez vous ! This ( over ) busy time, is happening for a reason. There may be future material within it and increased self knowledge somewhere too. If everything were “perfect ” what would there be to strive for ? How would we know it was perfect ? How would we develop certain qualities. The hard won things are the ones that bring the greatest satisfaction and greatest joy.
    It will all happen exactly as it is meant to do.

  5. Margaret Fisher Squires says:

    Finding time for creative work can certainly be a challenge. But mainly I want to say: I’m looking forward to a book of Sylvania stories!

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