The Spaces Between 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about productivity and creative energy lately, partly inspired by a ReaderCon panel on parenting while writing, partly due to the actual fact of trying to parent a toddler while also not completely foregoing writing for the foreseeable future. The problem, you see, is time. I’d like to say discipline isn’t a factor, because if need be I can (and have even this year) managed to stick to word count goals fairly well (though the increasing infrequency of predictable naps has complicated that a bit–but bed times are stable). But I’m starting to question whether forcing myself to sit down everyday and hammer the keys for 500+ words is actually a productive process for me at this point.


I’m a believer in short bursts whenever possible, so ten, twenty, thirty minutes is as good as any for getting words down. But–as fundamental as it sounds–this complicated period has made me realize that just having time to put words on the page isn’t enough. While I’ve never been better at not procrastinating when I *do* have time, I’ve also recognized that just because I *can* put words down doesn’t mean I should. I need time to contemplate what I want to do, to steep in ideas I might like to pursue without feeling like I have to start them TODAY. I need time to read and fill my head with all the awesome creative fodder I need to have something worth saying that isn’t just a bad rehash of what’s already been said.

And at the end of a long day, when I’ve been the sole caregiver for a very rambunctious, non-napping two year old, when I probably haven’t had much adult interaction besides at a cashier’s counter, sometimes I’m just too damn braindead to create. I can pretend I don’t need that recuperation time, but I really, really do.

So how does one who needs to produce at least a little work to keep from going mad (I’m one of those compulsive writers) get anything done without becoming so stressed out about all the work she’s *not* producing?

Lately, I’ve been indulging in letting go of the guilt. I don’t worry about writing every day, or every other day. I have no plan. I write when I can, and I don’t let myself stress if day after day goes by without a word planted on paper. And the surprising thing I’ve learned is this: I produce almost as much work not writing every day as I do when I’m actively battling to scrape fifteen minutes out of a hectic day. More surprising? I actually like what I’m writing better. The space between sessions has proven to be this fantastically fermenting mind-time, where ideas I literally can’t work on brew and percolate, becoming better ideas, all while gradually building pressure and the need to write X scene or X story. It’s been years since I felt so satisfied by writing.


Yet it’s funny, too, because when I look back on those halcyon days of youth when I remember how fun and exciting and wild and tumultuously emotional writing could be, and those stories I wrote during that time (flawed, though they were by inexperience but that had so much heart and passion), I realize I rarely wrote to a pre-defined schedule. Which makes me wonder if that’s why this loosey-goosey method feels like coming home. And that’s not to say that when I *do* have more time, I won’t aim for regularity again, because I’ve got this tiny little bureaucrat inside me that loves the idea of organization and carefully followed schedules (I’m practically in love with Haruki Murakami’s schedule of writing and exercise). But being open to change is maybe what this particular period of life is all about: no predictability, que sera, sera. It makes me kinder to myself, and that in and of itself is worth it.

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