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Is there ever a time when we writers are working on only one thing at a time? Yes, of course, there’s the big piece– amassing a collection of stories, hammering outlines to a novel– but somehow, creatively speaking, that big piece becomes “work” and you seem to lose (or I do, anyway) the fun of creativity.
When you come across a writing prompt “Win $2000 for a sentence that describes eating bacon!” Doesn’t your mind just explode with ideas? If you’re like me, there is no writing surface that is safe at that moment. Not that I plan to actually sign up for the bacons-r-us mailing list and enter the sweepstakes (it’s never merit-based, it’s always a random drawing, sorry) — but the idea that words are valuable, that I can think of them quickly and it can be FUN. Well, that’s why I got into writing in the first place.
because I love words.
but let’s get back to the subject: buried. Of course we all have personal responsibility (sometimes, you just gotta shower) and we have interpersonal responsibilities (you also have to ensure that your kids sometimes shower) and we likely have financial responsibilities (running away from the mail man takes precious second of every day, and even then, those bills keep coming–darn federal agencies and their persistence) … and all those take time.
But let’s not complain about our awesome lives.
Instead: let’s look at how buried we are in our creative work. Have any of you got only one creative project? Do you devote yourself wholeheartedly to it–treating it like a job, getting it done in manageable chunks, checking off boxes on a to-do list? Do you have an end goal like you would in an office (you can go home, Mr. Smith, when the flowchart is on my desk)?
It’s certainly possible to write that way. Am I for it? I don’t know. It seems that it would be “taking writing seriously” — which is important. But goal-oriented writing often has a lot of the magic crushed out of it. There has to be a session, somewhere, when you get inspired and it’s FUN. There has to be at least a moment here or there where you aren’t a slave to your flow-chart and instead your work comes easily. Doesn’t there?
And we have to have playtime with our kids as well as make them take showers. And what’s hard hard hard not to do as parents is cutting playtime. After all, the shower-fight is more important, right? And the writing is obviously important.
Here’s my radical idea: cut the boring, slave-driven part of writing instead. Are you totally jacked on a scene that isn’t working, and you have got to think about it? Instead of staying holed-up in the coffee shop while your sitter plays with your three-year old, make an unscheduled visit to the little tyke. Pop in and play a game. Find your kid’s euphoria and try to recall your own. We’ve all been there. Then, before the tears begin, vanish back to your office-of-choice. Helga can deal with the tears (it’s her job) and you might be able to ride the wave of happy-place back to working on that scene.
Worst case, you’ve spent fifteen minutes of actual quality time with your kid and you’re still as stuck as you were before. Best case, you’ve spent fifteen minutes of actual quality time with your kid and while playing, you came up with the idea that broke the wall. Either way: it’s fifteen minutes.
And even the New York Times agrees with me. Well, one crazy writer does, anyway. Do you?