This IHE article on writing was a much-needed inspiration today. Single discusses two myths of writing. One, that one can only write in large blocks of time and two, that you need to be motivated to write. I’ve know for years that these are myths and I’ve worked accordingly, writing whenever I could, as I did when writing my dissertation, and writing whether I’ve felt like it or not, which I’ve had to do most of my life. But these are myths that are sometimes hard to dispel when you feel stuck and/or truly unmotivated.
When I look back on my dissertation writing, there are a few things that distinguish it from the current writing I’m doing. One, I didn’t have as much time then. I had a full time job and if I put off writing one day, a long time passed before I’d get back to it. So I set up a routine where I got up at 6 and wrote for an hour before having to get the kids up for school. I also wrote almost every day after dinner. The after-dinner writing was contingent on how my day when. If I was physically and mentally exhausted, then I didn’t write, but I felt okay about it because I’d written in the morning. I spent weekends researching and/or revising, often for large chunks of time. The second big difference was that I had a more focused end goal with people motivating me to reach that goal. My adviser wasn’t emailing me every day or anything, but I’d set a deadline for a section for myself, and even though he may not have noticed if it passed, I could *not* let the deadline pass. I gave myself a couple of extensions, but knowing that someone might be disappointed with me was a huge motivator to get work done on time. It was also nice to know that once I finished my dissertation, there was a pretty big reward waiting for me.
Now I’m faced with vast stretches of time compared to what I had before. I could indeed write for four to six hours a day. (Though I have to absolutely wait until the distractions, aka the kids and the husband, have left for the day. In the last 10 minutes, I’ve had to field at least three questions). So what’s stopping me? Well, there is other stuff to do, for one thing. Housework beckons. I have to shower at some point. I have to go to the grocery store. I have conference calls and presentations to prepare. I let that stuff hover over me. As I’m writing, I’m also often thinking about whether I’ll have enough time to get the laundry done or the shopping done. I’m in just the opposite situation I was in with my dissertation. No one will be disappointed if I don’t write except me, but there are three people (maybe four) who will be disappointed if the house is a mess and there’s no clean underwear. So I focus on that because it’s harder to worry about disappointing myself or about the reward for the writing, which is a long shot at best. Also, there’s some sort of social norm I feel like I’m violating by not showering before noon. I truly am the pajama-clad blogger!
Single suggests writing for no more than four hours/day. She says in fact, to find the amount of time that works for you. For the last couple of months, I have written almost every day for at least an hour and most of the time for at least two hours. I have tried not to beat myself up if I miss a day or to worry too much if I stop after an hour. I was about to write that unlike Single’s audience, my career is not on the line if I don’t write, but that’s exactly where I am, by my own choice, and that’s exactly why I feel anxious. I feel like two hours is nothing, especially when I theoretically have all the time in the world. But maybe two hours is what works for me, and I need to start being okay with that.