Many of you know that I am spending the year as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. It’s wonderful here. There are fifty fellows and we are given a full academic year to basically do our thing. My thing, as you can imagine, is researching and writing a new novel. It’s called Dear History and it’s turning out to have a mind of it’s own– but that’s a post for another day. This opportunity is what I have always dreamed of. It’s a room of my own and more. The perks: Very few real responsibilities. (We go to a couple lectures a week and eat a nice catered lunch.) A large office with natural light. Access to an excellent cappuccino machine. Extra cool colleagues. A monthly stipend.
With all these goodies, you would think I’m over here writing like a mad woman. After all, when I am teaching, don’t I whine that I don’t have enough time for my own work? How many posts have I written about creative ways to carve out a little time for your novel or other projects? But guess what? I am not yet getting my work done here at Harvard. Why? Because I have too much “free” time.
In my own defense, I arrived here bone-tired after the 48-city Silver Sparrow tour. And moving was no walk in the park. But that’s really no excuse.
Here’s what happened: I have been sleeping late. Why? Because I have all the time in the world. No reason to pull myself out of bed and be seated at my desk by 6:45am. I have also been experimenting with my hair, pen-palling with half the universe, fooling around on ebay looking for pretty typewriters, etc. And I won’t lie– there have been spa days. In short, all this luxury has sort of lulled me into becoming a slacker.
Back when I was teaching, I knew every quiet moment was precious and I took full advantage. I would happily turn down three days at a day spa, for three days at a writing retreat. I stole time to write and did it gladly. (Remind me to tell you the story of how I once wrote a novel on my lunch hour, barricaded in the faculty loo!) But now, quiet moments have become a little ho-hum. I let this pass through my fingers because I know that the next day will bring many more opportunities to write.
Luckily, I am nothing if not self-aware.
Although this seems counter-intuitive, I am making myself write by giving myself less time to write. I am putting myself on a schedule that involves more than just my daily date with the blank page. I joined the gym and signed up (and paid for) three classes a week. I joined the Boston Athenaeum and I will go there twice a week. Then, there are the twice weekly Radcliffe lectures. I’m also making an effort to attend lectures all over the Harvard campus. This week and next, I’m editing a friend’s manuscript, eating up more precious time.
I’ve only been at this a week, but I already feel it working. A couple days ago, while attending a lecture on Romare Bearden, I came up with an idea so strong it wanted to kick it’s way out of my head. The next morning, i was in my writing office at 5:30 am, eager to get started.
This is not to say that I wish I had a job in a canning factory or that my writing would benefit from me working the graveyard shift at the local mental hospital. A writer needs time to write, time to think, and a certain amount of leisure. A writing life must also be a life. Not only do my new activities make my writing time more valuable– I’ll admit it, there is something particularly sweet when time feels a little stolen– but all the other things I am doing stimulate me and inspire my writing.
I’ll report back in a couple weeks, but I think I’m on to something.