the clockwork muse

i haven't had much time for writing this month. its a busy time of the semester, and i've been constantly grading (besides this blessed four day reprieve! so happy to see the end of that stack of papers!). i had a little time to edit the other day and to start reading poetry again. i've felt frustrated with finding time to write this semester though--August and September, i was writing everyday, but i found that to be unsustainable.

which leads me to a quick book recommendation...

i've just started reading The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books by Eviatar Zerubavel, and it is indeed the most practical books on writing i've ever come across. i wasn't sure how relevant it would be for me--i'm not writing a dissertation--but so far i'm about a third of the way through (its only 100 pages long, a quick read), and i find myself taking notes.

the premise is that all writers need to find a weekly schedule that works with their life, and stick to it. this seems like common sense, but i think most creative writers, especially when they start out, are more apt to wait for the muse (and i think that is particularly popular among poets, not working on a longer piece).

i know that i used to do that--when i was single, with no children, i could just write whenever fancy struck. then i got married and had to adjust a bit to bryan's various work schedules, but still could largely write whenever i felt like it. my schedule during that time in my life was to write a poem a week and to find time whenever i could to fit that in.

then we had a baby.

i've done a lot more on my writing than i would've thought possible this first year with zu. i finished my book, revised it a few times, wrote many (though not As Many) new poems this year. but the way i work has been completely different. mostly in snatches of time--naptimes, bedtimes. and there were (and are) lots of interrupted poems that never quite got off the ground after being interrupted. i don't expect myself to write as many poems a year or revise or submit as extensively as i did when i didn't have as many demands on my time. still, it gets frustrating sometimes, like this month, when i feel that i've not had time to sit down and write at all.

so, here are my notes from the book so far-

1} every writer needs a weekly schedule

2} even the full-time professor with a husband and toddler has more time than she thinks she does

3} establish your ideal writing-time-block (for me, that would be about 3 - 4 hours at a time)

4} establish your ideal writing schedule during that time ( mine: 45 min - hour reading, 1 - 1.5 hrs writing, the rest of the time revising, maybe some time submitting)
5} to find When you can write, first block out all the times in your schedule that you can not change due to work, life, etc, And block out times that you are likely to get interrupted or find that you can't work well.

this is the challenging part for me because i really do not have that much time in the day where i can write.

Mornings (impossible): i teach MWF, zu wakes up at 5am everyday, and i can't write earlier than that
Afternoons (not happening): zu has her naps but bryan works nights so that is some of the only time we get alone together--and i am not giving that up for writing!!
Evenings: fridays we lead small group and saturdays bryan is off work, but i do have time between zu's bedtime at 7 and my bedtime at 10 on sundays, tuesdays and thursdays. the other days bryan goes in later, at 8, and i usually do my housework then. 

after going through those steps, i found that i could potentially have a decent 3 hour writing time on sunday, tuesday and thursday evenings--that is nine hours a week, much more time than i would've thought!

realistically, that won't work for everyweek--we might have friends over or i might have a ton of papers to grade. and i'll have even more time than that in between semesters, when i'm not teaching.

so my commitment for next semester is to plan on using tuesday and thursday evenings for writing, tuesday being my hard-and-fast writing date, thursday being more flexible, and sunday being my potential stand-in for thursday. (of course, i'll revisit this schedule when there are any work/life schedule changes that i'll need to adjust for)

i love schedules and organization, so i think what i've learned most from this book so far is that a flexible schedule doesn't mean not-scheduled-at-all--my problem this year has been if my rigid writing schedule is messed up, i don't write at all that week. or, if i am on a writing everyday schedule and i don't write that day, i feel guilty. hopefully introducing set writing dates and flex days will solve that problem!


  1. This is great advice. We have such a weird family schedule with Tyson working from home and having a roommate part of the week that I've not bothered to form any type of writing schedule this fall because I've assumed I just wouldn't keep up with it. Your notes are really helpful; after Thanksgiving, I think I'll try to figure something out! Tyson keeps offering me a "writing night" at Panera each week while he stays home after Milo's asleep but I keep turning it down because I feel guilty about it. I think that's most often why I don't prioritize writing - I worry that I could be doing something more "useful." :/

  2. i know what you mean, i find it very difficult to not feel guilty about taking writing time when bryan is home or zuzu is awake (which is why for now i'm writing while bryan is at work and zu is asleep). you should take that writing night though! even if its just once a week. i think if i can establish even just Tuesday as a writing night, i'll get a lot more accomplished than if i don't schedule anything at all and feel a lot less frustrated than when i expect myself to write everyday.