Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DAY 9: Writing when Conditions are Less than Perfect

SO we've set about creating the best possible conditions to write. We look over our work, and organize our workspace before bed to prepare the subconscious; we maintain an early bedtime, and rise, determined to be dressed in shirts with buttons (as Tish Cohen said) ready to WORK (not just to sit at our computers while our trepidations multiply) within a half hour. We plan our internet time, and don't drift on-line when the going gets tough. Then we deliberately set to work with joy! With gusto!

But what if conditions are less than perfect? What if we have a headache or jet lag or a record breaking case of insomnia? What if our writing sanctuary is also the place that our beloveds call home and it's bursting with happy chaos?

Take my house. In fact, take my house at this moment. Downstairs, my wonderful mother (who was forced to move in with us a few days ago) is indulging her penchant for right- wing talk radio at full volume even though she's been a liberal all her life. Any minute, she will call my name, and tell me (again) that she wants to go home, that she isn't the "dependent type;" and I will explain (again) that fortunately or unfortunately we are all the dependent type. That sometimes taking is a grace. And for a while, she will understand.

Meanwhile, in another room, my son is playing the guitar, which he does for several hours a day, and my daughter is listening to Oprah while cooking shrimp scampi and bruschetta for dinner. Marvelous, yes? Absolutely, but I'm currently waging war with three impulses: 1. To scrap the writing for the day, and open a bottle of wine in anticipation of a fine meal and 2) To scrap the writing for the day and listen to my son's new song, and 3) To scrap the writing, flop on the couch and and check out Oprah myself. Even without my intrusive italics, you can see the common theme.

But what I've learned is that if I only write when conditions are optimal, when the house is quiet, and I've had ten hours of sleep, when the radio is off, and various phones with catchy ring tones aren't singing to me, then Nulla dies sine linea becomes impossible.

So today, in addition to our morning hour (or longer) we will deliberately get out our work and write for fifteen minutes (or longer) at a less than optimal time. When I was writing the first draft of my current novel, I usually added an extra daily page through this practice. But more important than adding to the word count is training ourselves to tune out distractions; it's learning to create a writer's sanctuary wherever we go. Even amidst the noise.

Now for that glass of wine.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Patry how did I not realize you'd moved your blog? I feel stupid. These are wonderful posts!!

  3. Gad you're talking right to me, Patry. This week has been a discouraging wash on the writing front and will continue to be until I get through the weekend, but luckily the single line has been scribbled here and there (need to keep that darn notebook with me) so at least I'm thinking about the story. You just pulled me off FB and reminded me to WRITE before the day really kicks in. Thanks, kiddo. K.

  4. If this is all your wrote during the course of one day...then be happy. Very, very happy. This is delicious writing here, Patry.

  5. What a great discipline! Thanks very much for this post today.

  6. What I have discovered is that less than optimal time can be transformed into optimal time with a little concentration (or a little noise-blocking-out). In about half an hour I'll be putting in headphones and writing on the train on the way home. 25 minutes twice a day -- that works out to a lot of writing.

    PS: What a life-symphony you have going on in your house, Patry!

  7. Jordan: I haven't moved my blog. Simply Wait is still my home. This is just a way of condensing what I know about getting the work done--and DOING it.

  8. K: The internet is my bugaboo, too. It's so easy to turn to my email or whatever whenever I feel any resistance or doubt about the writing--which for most writers, is often.

    Jessie: Thank you, sweetie. I'm SO happy you found me here.

    Barbara: Thank you--and welcome!

    Lily: "A life symphony"--what a wonderful--and most accurate-- term. I will think of that whenever I'm tempted to think of it as noise.
    I also agree with you about redefining "optimal time" by creating new triggers--such as boarding the train and putting on your headphones.

    R: It was wonderful. Next time my gourmet chef cooks, I'll have to call you!

  9. We all have life symphonies, I think. That's the diversity in our lives. A symphony does not have just one note. It is all the parts coming together.

    Our studio is in our gallery which is in a village in the middle of a national park. Finding quiet spaces within is a constant challenge, since quiet spaces around us do not always exist. Working with people entering one's space is an interesting thing. Sometimes I feel like putting up a small sign: Please do not feed the potters.

  10. Working in non-optimal times is something I really need to embrace! No time seems optimal these days and I think I am far too precious about "WHAT I NEED IN ORDER TO WRITE!", and then when I actually have those magical circumstances, the pressure is so freaking huge. Better to get rid of the angst, as you say, and just get something done. I may have to think of it as guerrilla writing time. Thanks again, Patry!

  11. Debra: I think Lily really hit on something with the term "life symphony." So often what we think of as noise is really music. You just have to fine tune your ear.

    Danielle:I can relate to everything you say here. For me, the best part of creating this blog has been connecting with other writers, and realizing we all do the same thing. "Guerilla writing time"--I love it.

  12. Patry, remember writing in that courtyard in New York while they were dismantling a building across the street? It couldn't have been more noisy, yet we both focused and came to adore the sounds of the city around us. That was a magical moment for me. We could do anything that day!

  13. Tish: That was a magical moment for me, too. I remember the sound of the stone waterfall in the background, mingling with the noise from the demolition crew (which was I think called the Tish company, right?)