Monday, November 27, 2006


by Nancy Martin

Elizabeth George calls is "bum glue." To be a writer, you must have the will to keep your butt in the chair for long, long periods of time to generate pages.

These days, I have plenty of bum glue. (And I have the bum to prove it!) I can stare at my computer screen for hours. But lately I tend to be reading blogs, cruising the internet, shopping online, checking stats, catching up on news in the publishing industry--and let's not even discuss the many hours I can spend e-mailing. The PR work I do is never enough: Build a mailing list. Keep a listserve going. Create a MySpace page, my editor urges. Sure--but it takes hours every day to build a sufficient network of "friends." It's easy to start it all, but maintaining it requires . . . you guessed it--time.

Some days I look up and discover I've spent the whole morning on this junk and haven't written a word of my book.

I'm frittering away my precious keyboard hours.

If I don't have a book to show every year, though, I'm in big trouble. In the end, it's the finished book that matters. (Okay, maybe my marriage and my children factor into the equation somewhere, but you know what I mean.) If writing is my career, I need to spend the time required.

Every now and then, I need a wake-up call. That moment has arrived. I need to re-assess my time management.

Many years ago, I trained myself to stop watching television. (Yeah, I still watch a little. Mostly on the treadmill in the mornings or one or two evening hours a week to watch the one or two shows my husband and I limit ourselves to every season. Over the summer, it was Weeds. This fall, it's Dexter. Both shows provide something new for a writer to think about--a troubled protagonist who could be bad or just struggling to be good.)

A couple of years ago, I went cold turkey to quit Free Cell, another huge time drain. (I must be an addictive personality. The Free Cell got so bad I discovered I was writing one sentence, then clicking over to the Free Cell screen again.)

I've pretty much given up on the telephone, too. Better to email a friend than spend an hour chit-chatting. Of course, my mother is the exception to that rule. (She was in labor for 30 hours, so I guess I owe her.)

My children grew up learning when to leave me alone and when it was safe to venture into my office without getting their heads bitten off. I trained them--and myself--to value my writing time except during emergencies like the dog upchucking on the living room rug. The kids learned to do their own laundry in junior high, to clean up the mess themselves if they spilled a glass of milk. (It seemed cruel and unusal to make them clean up after the dog, though. See? I'm not a monster.) They seem to have survived, and in fact have grown up independent and fondly amused by their mother's eccentricities.

But I found myelf slipping again lately. Frittering. It's easy to do. Especially around the holidays. This is the only time of year when doing laundry seems to take precedence over just about everything else. Except doing dishes.

This morning I vowed to get myself back on schedule. I've got a book due in the spring, and I need to focus. A moratorium on blog reading! I must remember what's important. Make the time to write. Honor the commitment that's actually spelled out in a legal contract that I signed. I need to strip away the activities that waste time. So I'm saying it in public here and now: I need to have 150 clean pages by Christmas. Goals are important, but that's another blog. (Is anyone doing that NaNoNooNooWhatchacallit challenge? What a great way to stay on task!)

Perhaps most of all, I need to quiet my brain so I can concentrate for long periods of time . . . and allow my characters to inhabit my constant thoughts again. That's when the magic happens.

But only if I can stop frittering.

And if anyone has some ideas for getting rid of all those hours I seem to spend running to the grocery every week, I'd be very grateful.


Gina said...

As a fellow Free Cell addict, I hear you! Have you tried the mental flip-flop reward system? Most reward systems pick the task you're trying to accomplish -- writing -- and link it to a reward -- chocolate? [Makes more bum to glue.] The mental flip-flop system makes the task itself be the reward, thereby undercutting our natural rebellious inclination to avoid whatever it is we are required to do. Turn it around: if I do these dishes, I get to write for an hour! If I do laundry, I can write between loads! Try it. It works.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Nancy, I hear you! I keep running into things I CAN'T put off any gotta go get that flu shot, gotta get the winter tires for the car. That weekly grocery trip is a killer. How's a gal supposed to sit and write when life keeps making these ridiculous demands on out time???

mike said...

Nancy, can I identify! My middle name should be "Fritter." As my critique partners can attest, I've made frittering into an art. But even I have my limits. So, recently, I started a 5 a.m. one-hour writing routine, and it seems to be working. Between waking and sitting down with my mug of coffee at the computer I think about the scene I'm writing, taking advantage of a mind that hasn't become cluttered with the day's worries, aggravations and assaults. The discipline seems to be working for me...better that than finding ways to fritter away the hours before the computer screen at the end of the work day, when all I really want to do is veg out and play.

And, actually, I think grocery shopping, at least in the East End stores, can be quite creative. Slow-moving obstacles in the form of clueless shoppers and self-absorbed clerks (will Giant Eagle ever learn to train their personnel?) prompt all kinds of murderous thoughts!

Tory said...

I think what you're really saying, Nancy, is that writing creates anxiety. Why else would we rather be playing Free Cell? So, the question really is, why is writing so anxiety-producing?

I'm not sure there's a general answer so much as a particular answer for any given person on any given day.

Joyce said...

I have the same problem. Months ago I said I'd have the first draft of this book done by the end of the year. Well, the end is near and I'm only 2/3 of the way through. I feel guilty if I don't get the chores out of the way first, and by that time, it's 9pm.

I wish I had a solution for you, because I'd use it myself!

kathie said...

Hey Nancy, great post. I do the same, ban myself from blog reading--a few bits here a little time there. But guess what. My blog landed me a spot on Montel Williams...well, maybe. I have a scheduling conflict. Doesn't that sound very important? Really, they contacted me because they googled "housewife blog and politics" and my site came up number 4 of 707,000 blogs. I have no book deal, my agent's on maternity leave, but my freaking blog gets me a spot on Montel. See, there is a happy medium. Oh well. Back to the book.

Kristine said...

Wow, Congratulations, Kathie! I can't wait to hear the details about this.

Nancy, I'm feeling the same way. In an effort to avoid the Christmas shopping crowds, I've been using my precious writing time in the mornings to get my shopping and errands done. The problem is that now every morning I seem to have another thing to do or pick up, and before you know it, the day is gone.

Nancy said...

Tory, you're absolutely right. Writing does produce anxiety. It's a wonderful subject for a blog. I think as soon as I sit down to type "Chapter One" the doubts begin to swirl. It will never be good enough. I will never find enough time to do sufficient re-writing. My agent won't read it. My editor will moan it's not funny/mysterious/sensory/setting-driven as it should be. My faithful readers will hate the plot. Some will object to too much of one character or not enough of another. There's no way I can produce a work of fiction again because I'm just not smart/motivated/hungry/skilled enough. So I might as well play Free Cell.

And I just came back from running errands, which stretched into 2 hours. (But I do have a book for the gift exchange on Sunday!)

Nancy said...

Okay, how's this for frittering? My daughter is on her way over to install wireless internet in the house. If you never hear from me again, it's because we've killed each other. Or we can't get the wireless to work. Certainly not that I'm actually writing!

Cathy said...

Once upon a time, I had a discipline and devoted more time and energy to writing. I'm still looking for the discipline and can't find it. Nancy, you've been so prolific with your many works, I'd be thrilled to accomplish a fraction of what you've done.

And good luck with the wireless internet. Sounds like a great idea.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

If you can't get the wireless working, call (better yet: e-mail). The Tour Manager can come bail you out.

I've done Free Cell. I've done NaNo -- twice, but only won it once. Lately, I spend a lot of time deleting links that attach my blog to link farms. (I'd rather be writing)

I DON'T do the grocery, though. That's part of the deal with The Tour Manager. He's better than I am sometimes at creating time for me to write.

Nancy said...

Wireless update: We failed. It has something to do with not knowing our Verizon password. Which I gather is Important. Hm. Another couple of hours down the tubes!

Debra Lee said...

Kathie, big congrats on the Montel Williams spot. You'll have to keep us updated.

Great post, Nancy. Before the internet I managed to get a first draft finished in a month or two. No way am I fessing up to how long it takes me now. Wasn't all this high tech stuff supposed to make our life easier?

Meryl Neiman said...

My laptop is in the shop! So I have an excuse for frittering. Well, not really, but I'm frittering anyway. I've decided that my children have to have a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. My in-laws were going to get them one and now that the game system is impossible to find, I feel hell bent on securing one. I am definitely one of those people vulnerable to the allure of a scarce commodity.