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Making Time to Write
“Whenever I turn to painting for my recreation … I apply myself to it with so much pleasure that I am surprised that three or four hours have passed.” Leon Battista Alberti
“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” Harriet Van Horne
You might think that painting and cooking have little to do with writing, but if you really think about it, painting and cooking have everything to do with writing. Writers paint word pictures and cook up interesting plot twists. Writers color scenes and add key ingredients to their characters. Writers paint characters into corners and cook up ways to rescue them. Writers paint joy and cook sorrow, often on the same page. Most writers who paint with words and have ideas cooking have “real jobs,” and Alberti and Van Horne are no exceptions.
Leon Battista Alberti was a Renaissance man and an architect by trade, yet he made and found time to paint and write often. His full-time job paid the bills, but his creative endeavors helped keep him happy and content. Because he set aside time to be creative away from his job, he was able to design unique structures unlike anything that preceded them. His Tempio Malatestiano, a cathedral in Rimini, and Santa Maria Novella, a church in Florence, are masterpieces of space and design that are still wowing architects and visitors today.
Harriet Van Horne was a syndicated newspaper columnist for the New York Post, a television and film critic, and the author of Never Go Anywhere Without a Pencil. For her mental well-being, Van Horne cooked for enjoyment while her writing paid her bills. In an age where newspaper publishers expected their columnists to stick to the same daily topic, Van Horne branched out and wrote about anything that interested her until the day she died.
Whenever you turn to writing, do you lose track of time? Does regularly writing improve how you perform on your “real” job? Is writing like love to you? Do you enter into writing with abandon or not at all? With all you have to do to pay your bills and keep your family happy, how do you find the time to lose that abandon?
Making time to write
Here are three ways you can make time to write daily:
- Arise early before the world wakes.
This takes discipline, but it will really pay off. I used to get up with my “sunrise” son, brew some hot tea, and head for an old desktop behemoth in the basement. He would sit on my lap and add extra letters to my words and strings of numbers (he liked the number 3) to my paragraphs. The constant tapping would often deliver him back to sleep in his bassinet, and I would let my fingers to fly.
I have been getting up at 5:55 AM for the last 28 years so I can get to work 90 minutes early, mainly to write. That gives me an extra 30 hours a month or 360 hours a year I wouldn’t normally have to write. I doubt I could have written any of my novels (or composed many of my articles) if I didn’t consistently do this. There’s something peaceful and calming about being the only person awake in the universe. I find I can focus much better without the phone ringing, a child needing attention, or the world in general making noise and interrupting my thoughts. The early bird … gets work done.
- Write during lunch breaks or breaks at work.
I haven’t missed hearing work gossip for a long time, and I think I enjoy my job more because I don’t hear the gossip. I eat and write at my desk while munching on pretzels. Having a laptop helps me a great deal because of its portability, but whenever it’s been on the blink, I always have paper and pen handy. I sometimes jot notes to myself between classes or whenever my students are taking a test or reading silently. These notes go immediately into my pocket, and I fish them out later in the evening after all have gone to bed.
- Stay up late.
I used to stay up well past midnight to write, but I am getting old. I haven’t had many all-nighters lately, but when I am on a deadline, I remove clocks from my view, put tape over the clock on my laptop screen, and get to work. Like Alberti, it amazes me that four or five hours have vanished while I’ve worked, thus proving the old adage, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Silence is indeed golden at 3 AM, and some of my writing has been golden, too.
If you make use of these normally skipped times of the day, you will lose sleep, but you will gain valuable hours—over three hours a day or at least 1,000 hours a year—to devote to your craft. Don’t be surprised if your output doubles and even triples while you have breakthrough moments long after your co-workers have gone off to gossip or the crickets have gone off to bed.