January 9, 2008

Time to Write

Though I tend to seal myself off from the outside world, and by turns both luxuriate and fester in the cocoon I've created for myself — neglecting to respond to emails from people I care deeply about in anything resembling a timely fashion is symptomatic of this — I've struck a bargain of sorts with my oldest and dearest friend in the world.

He's working on his doctorate at Oxford University. (I'd be lying through my teeth if I claimed that alone didn't make feel out-classed.) As of the new year, we've assigned a rough time when we stop what we're doing and simply write together, five-hour time difference and oceanic distance be damned. This means shutting down email programs, any IM connection I'm not using to converse with him before and after the session, and any other potential distractions.

This is, of course, much easier said than done, but that fact alone is a large part of why it's so important — and proving so effective.

This might sound odd coming from someone who works at home and gets up whenever the hell he feels like most of the time, but most of my recent days have been a bit frantic, juggling constant emails and instant messages while researching, checking facts, gathering assets, performing miscellaneous errands, and oh yeah, actually writing a word or two for heating oil money.

But none of that work even scrapes the dust off 2008's fiction goals. So, as tough as it can be to see the clock ticking toward a daily appointment, it's also vital because it gives me a sharp wedge with which to jam my most beloved aspirations into the day. I'm pretty good at letting my self down, but just as I've never once missed a deadline in my career as a freelance writer, I'll be damned if I'll let a commitment to a friend slide by, lousy correspondence habits notwithstanding. (It sounds trite and simplistic, but there's a lot to be said for finding a way, however labyrinthine or acrobatic, to turn a character weakness into a practical strength.)

The first few days were of the stream-of-consciousness and rant variety; they let a little steam out of the pressure cooker, but provided no raw material that might be spun into a bit of fiction. Today, on the other hand, was different: I dug around briefly in the box of paper scraps, index cards, and envelopes on which I've jotted random thoughts and ideas over the past few years, found one that intrigued me, and ran with it. The result is the first thousand words of fiction I've written this year.

Now mind you, my tendency has always been to come back to a piece of writing after some length of time has passed and snort in disgust at how abysmal it is. I've never been good at giving myself any credit at all for the work I care most about, for reasons that would require a book unto themselves. Overcoming that is a considerable challenge, but, I hope, not an insurmountable one. I'm working on it, in other words. (I know, of course, that I'm by no means unique in this regard. Every writer has an "inner editor" that seems to delight in verbally defecating on every last word of output, even if some are considerably louder than others. In fact, I suspect such writers are luckier than the ones that walk around convinced they're the second coming of Hemingway, since the latter are invariably too busy stroking themselves in public to think about how they might improve.)

So sure, I've got a long way to go. Who knows if any of what I wrote today is even usable. Even if it's not, though, you can be damn sure I made greater progress by writing it than I would have by simply letting the day's tumult carry my dreams out with the tide.

The point is this: there's never, ever going to be enough time to do all the things you want to do, a perfect time to do them, or a perfect environment for fostering your will to try. The trick seems to be to do them anyway, because even if you feel even more stressed out and used up than you did before you burned the time on them, looking back on the day feels a whole lot better if you can see that you took firm control over at least some of it.

My hope is that the more I practice, the more I maintain this commitment to my friend (and to myself), the stronger my discipline will become, until eventually I'll be able not only to take time out for my own goals under even the most stressful of circumstances, but also become completely absorbed by those moments, and take more joy from them in the process.

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