I must say I was pleased as punch with all the yahoos over my last post about taking an unpaid year off from my job to write. And I’m late posting this particular update because I’ve started doing exactly that—writing. I haven’t felt this content in years. But truthfully, the most scary part of the whole business has nothing to do with short-term poverty. The scariest is how I’ll manage my time. I admit I’m still reeling from the month of April. At the end of the last weekend—after traveling to a Mass Book event on Thursday, the Newburyport Lit Fest for dinner and a panel Friday night through Saturday morn, and teaching two sessions at Grub’s Muse and Marketplace on Sunday—all events which in and of themselves were thrilling—I could barely remember my name. Still, Ron Carlson’s keynote speech at the Muse that Sunday resonated with a simple phrase “stay in the room.”
So here are the rules I’ve set for staying in that room for the upcoming sixteen months:
- Alarm set between 7:30 and 8am. This may seem the height of sloth to some, particularly my friends with children, but I hate mornings. I feel like flan. I mean, I physically feel like flan. Plus, all my inhibitions are at their height. That makes for bad writing in my book, or actually no writing. If left to my own devices, I’d sleep till ten and stay awake till one or two, so eight seems a proper spanking without feeling like absolute abuse.
- I’m an afternoon writer. Have been for years. So phone calls, emails, text messages, death cries, etc., will go unanswered between the hours of noon and five every weekday. My “airport” is off. Most likely it will be off even earlier and later than those hours. Don’t expect much on weekends either.
- A minimum of six hours a day every weekday, four over the weekend, for at least 34 hours of writing every week. Seems easy, but this already feels tight with the fifteen or more hours a week of work I’m still holding onto—the work that will keep me flush with toast and potatoes for dinner over the next year. But it’s doable. I’m doing it.
- A minimum of 120 hours of writing per month. This number seems safe but serious in considering the possible interruptions, side trips, holidays, emergencies, etc., that will certainly turn up. And that’s a minimum people.
- At least one hour of “vomit writing” every other day. You’ve never written vomit? It’s fun. And it turns up the strangest, most wonderful material. My recommendation? Open your laptop, stare blankly at the far wall, and start typing. Anything. You’ll get a lot of muck, and you might not be able to read that much on the page, but I swear by it. Ever heard both Gardner and Butler speak of the writer’s “dream”? That’s my way of getting there.
- Short-term deadlines: I’ve got five voices in this baby I’m working on. Stupid? Yes. Haven’t changed my mind yet? No. So I’ve given myself three months for each voice. I’ve already finished one, will finish another by the end of June. Then three more. The remaining months I’ll rewrite what I’ve got. Hopefully by the end of August 2012 I’ll have something meaty enough, ready enough, to hand over to my agent.
- Read: I’ve got a list of 138 novels on my to-be-read list. The library will keep me stocked. This is the stuff that will keep me going, that will show me that what I’m doing matters and can be done.
- Stay in the Room: In my case, this is my front room, on my red couch, where I allow myself to do nothing else than write. When the ice cream truck plays outside my window, I know I’ve hit the pinnacle of my writing day—half done and still more glorious hours to go. That’s my favorite time, when you can really feel the light outside settling down. I just have to stay there to enjoy it.