When I was a little girl, I loved to make daily schedules for myself. I got the idea from a book (where else?) called “Healthy Living for Boys and Girls,” and I clearly recall its mottled green cover with red script lettering. The first chapter recommended sticking to a daily schedule, advising that regularity was beneficial to the growing body and the mind. The book even had sample schedules for a typical day, so I copied it down in my round grade school handwriting and posted it on the wall above my desk. It went something like this:
8:00 a.m -Get up
8:05 a.m. – Use the bathroom, wash hands and face
8:15 a.m. – Eat breakfast
8:30 a.m. – Brush teeth and comb hair
8:35 a.m. – Get dressed for school
8:45 a.m. Leave for school
It went on in this quite rigid vein, with prescribed times throughout the day for play, homework, and family time. Naturally, I soon fell off the schedule wagon, as it were, and reverted back to my normal, more relaxed way of doing things. But there’s something about schedules that still appeals to me. I suppose it’s the part of me that prefers my life to be neat and orderly, hoping that if I impose some schedule on it, then I can make it so.
In terms of my writing life, I also crave a schedule. I’d love to set aside a certain time every day when I could sit down and write. Some writers swear that’s the only way to do it. “You sit down every day at approximately the same time,” Ann Lamott says. “This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.” (Bird By Bird) Julia Cameron agrees. “I write daily,” she says. “I get up to write the same way I go out to the barn and toss hay to the horses. My creative horses demand the same care. They, too, must be fed, and in a timely fashion, and that is why I write first thing in the morning.” (The Right to Write)
Admittedly, I haven’s always been too successful in slotting writing time into my daily life. Partly, it’s my own fault, for letting other things take priority. On work days, I’m out of the house by 8:30, and don’t get home until 5:00. There are dogs to walk, the husband and I to feed, and always emails to answer… Somehow, it feels indulgent to set aside time for myself within the framework of other more pressing responsibilities.
But setting aside a certain time of day to write, helps acknowledge the importance of writing in our lives. It becomes a necessary activity for which we make time within our personal schedule, amdist the myriad of responsibilities to family, work, and the world. Scheduling writing time is more than being obsessive compulsive – it’s a way of telling ourselves and the world that our writing practice is valuable and worth the effort. “Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first, at least for some part of every day of your life,” states Brenda Ueland. (If You Want To Write)
However, as I learned back in fifth grade, a schedule that is too rigid simply invites non-compliance. So I try to give myself some breathing room. I’ve committed to writing every day, but the time of day and the amount of time I can devote to writing tends to fluctuate. Monday’s and Friday’s are my days off, so they’re big writing days for me. I get up at my regular time, have coffee and read, then do morning pages. Some laundry goes in, while the dogs and I go out to walk. After that, it’s come home and sit down to write – first the week’s post for Sunday Salon, or Write On Wednesday, followed by some work on another writing project, such as a short story or essay. After a lunch break, I often return to the keyboard, and find myself writing well into the afternoon.
I agree with Natalie Goldberg when she says that “in order to improve your writing, you have to practice just like any other sport.” But I also see the wisdom in the rest of her advice. “Don’t be dutiful and make it into a blind routine. Don’t set up a system-’I have to write every day’- and then just numbly do it.” (Writing Down the Bones)
I think there must be a balance between commitment to a writing practice, and simple adherence to an arbitrary time table. Otherwise, writing becomes just another on a list of mundane chores – like “washing face and combing hair.” And writing is so much more than that, isn’t it?
So, how about you? How does writing fit into your daily life? What’s your ideal time to write, and why? Do you “write on schedule” or “when the spirit moves you”?