Finding time is the key to a life filled with happy work. Kenneth Atchity
A friend has loaned me a book called A Writer’s Time by Kenneth Atchity. The subtitle is Making the Time to Write. Even though I have found ways around the time problem (all will be revealed later), I have to admit that when I started to read it, I did harbour a secret hope that I’d find THE answer. There are days and weeks when I don’t get it right, when there simply isn’t enough time, and I’m ashamed to say this even though I work only two days a week. My writing time is missed, too short, rushed through, cut off, chopped into tiny segments and of course, wasted or frittered with little tasks and digressions that are writing-related but not actually writing.
Alas, Kenneth Atchity was quite clear that there was no easy way. Finding time, he says, ‘begins with an act of the will.’ It also begins with knowing yourself; knowing how your mind works, knowing how you work best. For me, there is no real trick to it. It’s a bit like losing weight – if you want to weigh less, you have to eat less. Well, if I want to produce more writing, I have to write more. Simple as that, and simple doesn’t mean easy. Kenneth Atchity has all sorts of handy hints – and I mean that, some of them really are – but there’s no magic. In the past I have devised all sorts of different plans to find more writing time for myself. I have commanded myself sternly to get up at dawn and finish all the household tasks before breakfast; I have blocked out slabs of time on a planner or a diary; I have even made graphs of my time use and discovered a shameful amount of time lost to unproductive slacking about for ten, twenty, even thirty minutes with a cup of tea and the weekend papers.
What I’ve found works for me is simply this; the more productive I want to be, the lower my standards have to sink. Which may mean I leave the dishes in the sink, washing piled up in the laundry, dust kitties breeding under the couch and the garden morphing into untamed wilderness. None of this is because I hate or despise housework – I’ve inherited the domestic gene from my father, who was a house-husband and stay-at-home dad – and in fact, I actively enjoy keeping house, especially since the housekeeping methods I absorbed from my father involved many shortcuts (he did actually sweep things under the carpet), a sincere appreciation of the contentment that a well-run house produces, absolutely no obsession with germs and, most importantly, lots of lovely food. I never stint on cooking, so we don’t live on baked beans, although cake production does take a dive when a working spree is on. I have discovered that, just as you can spin out housework to take up the whole day, it is amazing what you can achieve in a frenzied half hour.
In about ten days, however, all that – finding time, baking cakes and frenzied half hours – will be academic, because I am going to Varuna. Varuna is a house set in a lovely wild-ish garden in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains. It was built for the novelist Eleanor Dark, author of ‘The Timeless Land’, and her husband, but now it’s ‘The Writer’s House’, and operates as a retreat for Australian writers. I’ve been awarded a Varuna Publisher Fellowship which means six nights at Varuna and a couple of mentoring sessions, as well as a commitment by ‘my’ publisher, Scribe, to consider the finished ms for publication. I’m excited and happy, because I’ve been before and I know that at Varuna, there is absolutely no time problem at all. No cooking, cleaning, taking anyone to sport or getting anyone off to school, no anything but writing, reading, thinking, walking, eating delicious meals brought in by the caterer every evening, talking to other writers… and more writing.
With no time problems, you get to discover your ultimate writing routine. Mine was; start work at 9am and work until around 1pm, have lunch and a walk and be back at the desk by around 3pm, then write till 6 and that’s it until the next day. I wonder if it will be the same this time?