“i just don’t have time to write.”

The Romans had a quote about artistic productivity that goes “Nulla Dies Sine Linea”—“No Day Without A Line”.  It applied to painters, not writers, but the principle translates to writing just the same.  I’ve adapted it for myself as “No Day Without A Page.”

One page a day—that’s my minimum quota for new fiction.  A page is not a whole lot of writing.  Actual word count depends on your handwriting or font settings, but on average, a page comes out to roughly 250 words.

There are few days when I get only 250 words down on paper.  Most of the time, I overshoot that minimum goal by a fair margin, because once I’m on a roll, I get a lot more done before reaching a natural stopping point.  On most days, I get between 3-5 pages done, which comes out to 750-1,250 words.  The “page a day” rule is a mental trick to get started, because I know I’m allowed to quit after a page, and because I know I probably won’t.  Still, there are those days when your brain feels like it’s been coated in a viscous mix of molasses and Novocain, when you have to wrestle every new word from your synapses in a mental struggle, and on those days, I’ll take the 250 words…but not a word less.  That pen doesn’t leave my hand until I’ve covered a whole page in words and sentences, with a minimum of crossed-out stuff. 

It doesn’t take very long to write 250 words.  On the computer, I can do it in ten minutes.  By hand, it takes more like twenty, but it’s still a manageable slice of time that most anyone can carve out of their day, regardless how busy their schedules are.  Twenty minutes—that’s part of a lunch hour, or just a cup of tea at the end of the day, or getting up just a bit earlier than usual.  A page a day is not a prolific rate of production, but it’s like the race between the turtle and the hare—slow and steady gets you to the finish line, too, and more reliably than not starting the race at all.  If you only manage a page a day, you know what you’ll have in just a year?  A 90,000-word novel, that’s what.

(As an example of scale:  this post comes out to 430 words, almost twice the “page a day” minimum.  Doesn’t seem like much, does it?  Think that’s a manageable amount of writing for a day?  Then don’t use—or buy—the excuse about “not having enough time to write.”) 

14 thoughts on ““i just don’t have time to write.”

  1. WindyA says:

    Great post! No more excuses, maybe just a little less sleep, right?

  2. MarkHB says:

    It’s a sad fact that the creative mentality often turns itself first to the matter of excuses. Marking a firm delineation between “Muse Time” and “Do Time” really does help.

    Take the topic of alcohol and creativity – I can have brilliant ideas when I’m three sheets to the wind. But I can’t execute them for toffee. Generally, nor can I recall them the following morning. In fact, to animate and well, I need to be sober, rested and well-stocked with good food. This provides a stable platform from which one’s mind can abscond free of distractions, and at full clarity. As Gamma Hennessy would’a said “Mind yer bowels”.

  3. Thank you for this. It’s a great piece of advice, and one I sorely need to apply to my life.

  4. Laughingdog says:

    My issue with any large undertaking, or large quantity of smaller undertakings, is dealing with the “where do I start?” question. “I don’t have time” is rarely the initial problem. Though enough time spent spinning in indecisive circles tends to add that to the list.

  5. MarkHB says:

    Laughingdog,

    When I’m in that situation, I draw myself up a timetable, just like at school all those years ago. It really helps: just block out a couple of hours per task or whatever, and spend a couple of days servicing those tasks. Even if they’re in an arbitrary order – sometimes, just reducing the size of the workload you face is enough to break the log-jam and let you make sense of things.

  6. LittleRed1 says:

    My problem is anticipation – I anticipate the headache of tracking down quotes and sources and don’t want to do it. Yes, that’s what happens when you read material and go to archives up to 24 months before setting into the project. It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
    So I make myself do two hours, without counting interruptions. Actual internet work does count (federal documents and electronic archived material) but only if it generates copy within that two hours.

  7. unfortunately for many of us, the difficulty of maintaining a decent rate of “cwpm” lies in the “c” standing for coherent instead of corrected…

    jtc

    • Marko says:

      Hey, inability to write coherently never stopped James Joyce or J.D. Salinger from writing novels.

      • but the brilliance of salinger is that his “catcher” target audience couldn’t tell if the dazedandconfusedness was in the book or in the brain…

        and you can’t argue with success; he’s the king of iconic confusion, but far from incoherent, i think i’ve never seen written work that brings such embodiment and life to its characters.

        and this afforded him blissful retreat and solitude…right there in your neck of the woods, writing apparently for his own sake, or his own sanity, such as that may be.

        you oughta track him down, maybe have an impromptu writer’s workshop (how to channel your inner angst and illness into a lifetime of notoriety); he’d probably like that.

        jtc

  8. wrm says:

    Here it is: Do something every day. That is, something leading toward the completion of whatever it is you’re trying to do, such as building a house, overhauling an antique car, building an airplane from scratch… It doesn’t matter what you’re building. Or rather, trying to build. The secret of success is to do something every single day. It doesn’t matter what it is… drilling a single hole, setting a single rivet or whatever, what matters is that you Do It! Every day. No exceptions nor excuses.

    Here’s why it works: Every project has a finite number of steps. If you do even one of those steps every day you will eventually run out of things to do; the project will be finished.

    No, you can’t make bargains with yourself, such as promising to do five things next Saturday instead of one thing every night for the coming week. That’s not allowed. You have to do something every single day.

    What you’re doing here is developing the habit of doing something every day.

    — Bob Hoover, who damn well can write, http://bobhooversblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/here-i-am-waving.html

  9. Weer'd Beard says:

    Just curious, On those bad days where one page is all you can muster, how often do you end up keeping the work?

    Back when I fancied myself a writer (until I found out I sucked and had no future in fiction) I had a similar premice, I’d try to write a small amout every day, either by page count, or by time spent at the desk, even when I felt ZERO inspiration.

    I stopped doing that only because I found that 99% of the time I was better off scrapped because my uninspired writing was unadulterated trash.

    Of course my inspired writting was at best a good yardsale find. ; ]

    • Marko says:

      In my experience, inspiration comes automatically after a while, as long as you train yourself to sit on your butt and open a brain window for it, so to speak.

  10. Aaron says:

    MarkHB-
    That is a problem I used to have with some frequency. My best ideas tend to come just slightly before the three sheets to the wind phase of imbibing. Now I carry a little green notebook (one anyone in the Navy would recognize) at all times and write stuff down. It is, unfortunately, a bit time consuming to parse through it the next day, but usually worth it.

    As for, one line a day, it works much like daily exercising. Especially if you write in the morning, like I believe Marko does. If you skip one day, it’s far more difficult to bring yourself to do it the next day.

  11. MarkHB says:

    Aaron,

    I’m not in the writing game – click the name to see my game – but all creative endeavours share certain traits. “A Thing A Day” is my goal, not always easy to acheive in terms of something that’s show-able, but usually managable at least in terms of an effect-in-progress, or in today’s case a few hundred feet of film in the can.

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