What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment. — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This week I’ll be facilitating my first Creative Writers’ Roundtable discussion at the Kachemak Bay Campus. The topic for the first of the three-week series will be on developing a writing practice. It’s a funny subject, developing a writing practice, because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. And a routine that works beautifully for a certain period of time doesn’t always continue to work as life circumstances change or as the writing itself evolves.
When I first decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing I imagined that I’d make a peaceful corner in my house that would be solely devoted to my writing. I thought I’d carve out a very specific schedule for myself: two hours before work every Tuesday morning, three hours on Thursdays, another big chunk of time on Saturday afternoons… you get the picture. But the reality of my writing practice is something much more chaotic than this. The truth is that I don’t have a quiet corner in my small house. Oftentimes family obligations get in the way of the time I’ve set aside for my writing. How is it, then, that I continue to get things done? How do I meet my deadlines? This is the stuff I hope to talk about at the Creative Writers’ Roundtable.
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I’m lucky enough to live with a man who, in an effort to keep our family eating nutritious meals in the midst of a busy workweek, has taken it upon himself to make a big pot of soup or stew every Sunday afternoon. It’s usually a long, slow affair. He spends a good amount of time looking through recipes, making a grocery list, shopping, soaking, chopping, sautéing, simmering. And then there’s the clean up.
Some might say that Dean’s Sunday soup productions are a waste of time, and it’s true that if time were the only consideration we’d be better off buying a case of Campbell’s Soup at Safeway. But with the extra attention Dean gives to the food he prepares, we get so much more than canned soup. We have more time in our week because we don’t have to scramble through the kitchen on weekday mornings to make ourselves lunch before we leave the house. We don’t have to drive across town during our mid-day breaks in hopes of finding something satisfying to eat. And ultimately we have delicious, sustaining food that gets more flavorful as the week progresses.
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Writing is more than time spent in front of a computer or a notebook. Like the making of a slow soup, writing requires assembling the right ingredients, processing, organizing, simmering, filtering and cleaning up. Some of those things can be done even when I’m not in front of my computer. In fact, many of my problems in regards to a story or a plotline are solved when I’m doing the dishes or going for a walk. Important revelations have come to me when I’ve been playing my banjo or been in the middle of a yoga session. And so for me developing a writing practice is about practicing to be a writer—all the time. It’s about never turning it off. This is not to say that every moment of my time is organized, in fact it’s just the opposite. My best writing is done when I’ve had a fair amount of time to dawdle. If I don’t take the time to stir my ideas around and let them settle, my writing sounds canned, like it was pulled from a shelf. It’s a little too bland or salty. It lacks originality and flavor.
So I guess part of developing a writing practice, at least for me, is learning to embrace the slowness of the process, the thoughtful moments that can’t necessarily be accounted for. Part of it is letting go of the false belief that productive writing can be measured with something as simple as a word count.