When It Comes to Writing Time, Sometimes Less Is More

This Is Not Writing

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.

About TayariJones

Author of SILVER SPARROW, LEAVING ATLANTA, and THE UNTELLING.
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