I made a bold start today on a big writing project that I plan to tackle every day until it’s done.
It’s a prose thing, a work of some size, and I’ve had it on the back burner for a long time—after mothering, teaching, writing poems, and blogging.
Since my semester started today and I had to teach at 7 a.m., I got up at 5 a.m. to write for an hour and a half. I live less than a mile from the college, and I’m extremely low-maintenance, to an almost troubling degree, so this is very doable for me. In fact, I was so excited to get started that I woke up naturally at 4:30 a.m. and cleared the electronic decks of social media, e-mail, and the like. Once the coffee was done, I was ready to write.
Yep. I was ready to write … a very big book.
It’s hard to start a haiku. After seventy minutes of false starts, I am here to report that it is nearly impossible start anything of size in a small window of time.
I’m always harping on this—the great barrier our capitalistic society places on the artist, who has to fit creative work in on the side. It’s incredibly affirming and powerful to foreground our art instead, putting the act of creation first and tucking the minutes we need for everything else into the spaces around it.
But there’s a problem with my plan, and it is that the time I’ve allotted myself isn’t sufficient for thinking deeply about anything. That means we sometimes produce surface work that stays at the surface—and often beautifully so—but the surface is not the place of discovery.
A new president will be inaugurated this week, and now is a good time to think about the ways in which our political and economical systems put pressure on our art. This problem is unlikely to be relieved any time soon, if it ever will in the United States.
What can artists do, if putting aside a block of time isn’t sufficient?
Well, we could put aside larger blocks of time. But that means letting some things go—volunteer positions, enjoyable distractions, connection with friends.
Some things are more easily set aside than others. I have a very energetic social media presence, but I have cut back significantly since November of 2016. It helps that I don’t care to read much of what people are posting and discussing.
Likewise, I’ve been a huge newshound most of my life, but these days I don’t watch news shows on TV, and I take it in small doses on the radio. If it’s not on my hour or so of listening to Morning Edition, I allow myself not to know it, for the most part—although I still end up reading lots of newspapers and media posts online. Knowing is important, and staying informed is a hard habit to break.
I also have some hobbies that don’t much serve my art. For instance, I really love cheesy mystery novels—but I’ve been working on Feliz Navidead since Advent. I don’t even remember who navi-DIED, and I’m not sure I care anymore.
Our time has value, and almost every day we have to give it up for some form of commerce. In the next administration, wherever possible, I plan to hold on to it. I plan to keep my time, to maintain my focus, and, when possible and practical, to say no.