It’s been a little less than a year since I wrote a novel at the sugar-dusted tables of Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle—the Capitol Hill location, not the one downtown that President Obama visited. They could make a mocha like nobody’s business. And while I may have not eaten the most nutritious breakfast on those days, I had something significant going for me: time.
Not so anymore. A close-to-full-time job and a little baby at home have taken a hungry chunk of my schedule, munching and drooling and leaving only a few crumbs behind for me. What’s left is some clunky time between work and supper, after dinner time that usually coincides with Emile’s daily fussy spell, late night, and before work time, only accessible via an annoying alarm clock. At 5:30AM I’m supposed to be funny?
In other words, it ain’t pretty.
In the last month, since I got a handle (more or less) on the parenting for now, I’ve been trying to analyze my writing process to see where I can get more efficient. If I look at the cycle of writing–my cycle, I admit, so one’s mileage may vary–it breaks out something like this:
- Original inspiration: Anywhere from 5 minutes to a couple of weeks to consider an entire idea and write it down in my notebook
- Background and character descriptions: Two weeks to a month
- Technical research: Concurrent with background and character descriptions, usually ongoing through first draft
- First draft writing: One to three months
That’s a lot of concentration and time to make it through the first three steps, but the saving grace here is that it can happen, at least for me, in tiny chunks of time. If all I have is 10 minutes, I can get through a sketch of the antagonist, or read part of a chapter on Incan mummies (yes, I’ve researched South American mummification).
Now then, once I get to the initial writing of the manuscript, it’s a different ballgame. I realize that sitting down to write, I need several things:
- A latte or cappuccino
- Music that is not at cross purposes with the tone and feeling of the manuscript I’m trying to write
- A notebook and at least three pens in dissimilar colors
- My iPad
- A comfortable chair
- My laptop
- A flat, clean surface 34 inches above the floor
I recognize the ridiculousness of this, I really do. But take any of these items away and every synapse in my brain points to whatever is lacking. Also, it would be a much longer list if I’d included everything I wanted and didn’t just need to have at my side. But it isn’t. Because I know how to edit.
That said, once I have all of my necessities assembled, I still have a strange process to get from sitting down to making words appear on the screen. And here is where I’ve attacked first–I don’t have hours and hours to play Bejeweled Blitz as part of getting my subconscious to help me create something–by boiling down all of the distractions that delay my writing start into 5 minutes. That’s it. I give myself 5 minutes to screw around and then I have to start writing, even if it’s a sentence as useless as “okay, time to start working now.”
Second prong of my battle against inefficiency is about when I sit down to write. In my 30s I felt most alert first thing in the morning, but looking back, maybe it was the couple of venti lattes I’d procure from the Bethesda Starbucks. Nowadays I seem to be most productive in the late morning to early afternoon. Too bad that’s when I’m at work and then watching the baby. I singled out which writing slot could work for me. Forgive me, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but I used the Sherlockian logic here: If after every other time slot has been eliminated, whatever remains must be the solution.
Really, my apologies for destroying Sherlock Holmes.
I get up early, before work, and write for an hour. I can’t seem to wake up any earlier, but an hour with only 5 minutes of messing around time is more than many writers find in a day. I hit the qwerty again in the afternoon if the baby is sleeping, and perhaps I’ll have another 60-90 minutes of writing time after he goes to bed. At some point he’ll be on a more predictable schedule, and perhaps this arrangement of short writing spurts will coalesce into something else. For the moment, however, I take this jury-rigged schedule as a lesson that I can do more with less.
As long as the world keeps supplying me with foamy coffee drinks, that is.