Monday, June 29, 2009

Become a Writer in an Hour a Day

“I’d love to write, but I don’t have time!” many people say. “I’ll write when my kids go to school, when I can quit my day job, when I retire, when I win the lottery, when my ship comes in.”

Here is the bad news: you are not going to win the lottery, and your ship is not going to come in. When your kids go off to school, when you quit your day job, when you retire, you probably aren’t going to have any more time than you do right now. You’ll be lucky even then to have an hour a day of time that is truly your own.

Here is the good news: an hour a day is all you need. I have published 42 books, and I have always had a day job (currently as a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado). I have a full life with kids at home, aging parents who require love and care, friends I want to share time with, a big stack of books by my bedside to read, and a cat who wants me to brush her right now. I have given to my writing just an hour a day. But it has been enough.

A beautiful cherry-wood hour glass sits on my desk: I turn it over, and my hour begins. When the sand runs through to the bottom, my hour ends. And in between? I write.

Here are some tips for becoming an hour-a-day writer.

    1. Establish creativity-priming rituals so that you can use every minute of your hour to the fullest. Famed choreographer Twyla Tharpe gives a wonderful discussion of the importance of these in her book The Creative Habit. Mine involve always drinking the same beverage while I write, Swiss Miss hot chocolate, and always using the same kind of pad of paper (narrow-ruled, no margin), and the same kind of pen (a Pilot Razor Point fine-tipped black marker pen). These familiar tools signal to my subconscious that I am now in my creative time and space.
    2. Give yourself credit for your hour. Keep a log where you record your hours – Anthony Trollope did this, as he reports in his Autobiography, and he wrote over 50 huge, sprawling Victorian novels while working full-time for the British postal service. A log of your hours will keep you accountable and also give you reason to be proud of yourself for showing up for your Muse each day.
    3. Stop when your hour is done, even if you should be lucky enough to have more time to write. It’s better to stop when you still have more to say – some writers even stop mid-sentence, so that they’ll be raring to go the next time they sit down to write (though this seems a bit extreme to me!).
    4. Trust the process. If you can write a page a day during your hour, that will add up to 365 pages a year, and 366 pages during Leap Year. If you write half a page a day, that will still add up to a serious chunk of writing. Just think how big your credit card bill added up to be with just a few dollars spent here, a few dollars spent there. Your writing time will add up as well.

Good luck! Let me know if this works for you.