“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
― Octavia E. Butler
I want to speak in this latest installation of How to Keep Writing with a Full Time Job about the need to write every day. And when I say, every day, I mean every day. This may seem unreasonable to some of you.
“I’m a busy person!”
“I have a lot of demands on my time!”
“My fingers hurt!”
Okay, maybe not the last one (at least not yet). But I find that when people think about finding time for writing, they generally want to carve out a big block of time in which to settle down and wrestle with the muse. Let’s begin to change that thinking. I offer you the Nobel-prize winning Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer. A literary giant in other words. His great secret?
He wrote for about ten minutes a day. Yes, you can become a Nobel prize-winning writer in just ten minutes a day.
What’s that you say? Easy for a poet? Actually, while poetry may be ‘shorter’ than prose, far more wrestling goes into each individual word. There’s no room for the ambling prose allows. Tranströmer was a busy man with a family, working as a child psychologist during the day, writing in the evening before relaxing with his family. But he did it consistently, as a habit.
You can do the same thing. Don’t think about carving out huge blocks of time. Become a thief of time. Take the last fifteen minutes of your lunch break, or the time you have to wait for something or someone, or wake up fifteen minutes (or an hour or half an hour) early or go to bed a little later. But make it a habit.
Work on your WIP (work in progress), or just write in your journal about something that stuck in your mind — it might be something you can use later — or jot a letter to a friend. It’s the muscle that matters, not the content. Work that muscle daily. Get so you have an itch if you haven’t written that day, so you scribble things down during a dull meeting or on a napkin while waiting for your food — or actually work on your first draft of that story or poem or script.
Change your thinking: you don’t need to set aside time to importune the muse; get in the habit of keeping the muse on stand-by, ready for you at a moment’s notice. You have to teach your muse this, too.
My humorous essay “How to Succeed in Academia” has been accepted for So It Goes, an anthology in honour of Kurt Vonnegut. I had a chance to read it to folks at the most recent Open Mic at the Arts Center (second Sundays in Troy) and it went over well. Also, my essay on Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, “Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children!”, will appear at last. The editors tell me the anthology has finally gone to print. You can find the listing for it here. I’ve also been interviewed about Weird Noir over at the Slaughterhouse of Mr Glamour, Richard Godwin.