Two summers ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. This is a 6-week program where 18 science fiction and fantasy writers, usually pretty early in their careers, live together in a sorority house and write fiction and critique each other’s work and learn about developing their craft. (Each week of the program is led by a different instructor who’s already a professional writer.)
It’s a really amazing experience, and I don’t regret having had the chance to participate. But one thing that’s difficult about it is that it’s also a very artificial experience. It’s wonderful to write and read and learn about writing, all day every day. And to be surrounded by 17 other people with the same obsession. And to have your meals cooked for you, and the dishes done, and the bathroom cleaned, and the floor vacuumed. For the rest of the world to go away and leave you alone for 6 weeks (or, rather, to go away from the rest of the world). But most of us don’t have those luxuries when we go back to our regular lives. It can be difficult to figure out how to keep being a writer without them.
I actually managed to get through the whole 6 weeks without being addicted to coffee, and to mostly get 8 hours of sleep each night. And I was reasonably productive. I wasn’t the most productive person in the class. One week I didn’t hand in a story. But I got stuff done. I had time to read fiction, every now and then. To keep up with my e-mail. To socialize.
And I can’t seem to do that in the real world. Lately I’ve been drinking 2 or 3 cups of coffee a day, and getting by on 6 hours of sleep, and I still don’t seem to be finding much time to write. Or read. Or hang out with friends. So many other distractions! (having a full-time job, for one)
I’ve tried all sorts of strategies to deal with this, and every so often I realize I have to do better, so I come up with a new strategy and try that. My typical writing goal is to spend an hour each weekday, Monday through Friday, writing fiction or revising stories that I want to send out to magazines. And then 5 hours either Saturday or Sunday doing “related work.” (Critiquing other people’s stories, researching places to send new stories of mine, working on my website.) But the problem has been that if, for whatever reason, I don’t get my hour (or 5 hours) done on a particular day, I tell myself that I’ll just make up the time some other day. So then I accumulate this massive and somewhat embarrassing backlog of time that I’m supposed to make up, and it’s so overwhelming and discouraging that I end up not being very motivated just to do the 1 hour I was supposed to do the next day. What’s the point? I have these 30 OTHER hours I still need to make up before I can allow myself time to read fiction for pleasure, or sleep 8 hours.
Anyway, I finally had the somewhat obvious revelation that this is kind of stupid and pointless, and if I don’t get my hour of writing done on a particular day, I should just move on, and decide that tomorrow is a new day, etc. Then maybe I’ll actually do tomorrow’s hour, rather than thinking I’m going to stay up all night and do 5 hours, and then not get started until 11 pm, oh, and what’s that article I just saw on the internet….
At least that’s the theory. I’m also going to try and spend 30 minutes every day reading stuff I want to read. Whether I got yesterday’s writing done or not.
It was easier at Clarion West, though.