Time + Panic = Manuscript?

A wise friend asked me yesterday, If I had all the time I think I want to write, would I spend the time actually writing?

I say I would. I stood there and told her I would. I stand here now (fine, I sit here now) and I’m telling you I would. But of course you can’t know until you’re in it, can you?

I’ve made good use of little time in the past. I’ve made bad use of little time a lot more than I want to admit—hello, reality-show train wrecks I’ve stared wide-eyed at for hours at a time; hello, internet. I’ve made bad use of endless swimming pools of time—full summers, whole years—wasting every drop.

Twice in my life, I had long expanses of time ahead of me in which to write, and each time I faced up to it. I did write. The reason? A ticking clock. Impending doom. I seem to work really well under the heated, ticking pressure of doom, I guess. If I am panicked that the time will soon be over, I make better use of what I have left. Sometimes.

Here are the two times it worked:

Success #1—Spring 2003: Quit day job, stayed in the city, worked on a novel until I found a new day job. Memories: happy. Pages: lots.

Success #2—Spring 2005: Took leave of absence from day job, went to colony in New Hampshire, worked on novel for four straight weeks. Memories: Missed E, but happy. Pages: approx. 300 revised.

Both of those times I consciously told myself I’d use the time to write—and I did. However, the novel I worked on (same novel, different revisions) didn’t save my life or anything, so I probably shouldn’t label them “successes.”

What do those times have in common, aside from lack of day job? There was an end in sight. Spring of 2003 I desperately needed a new job asap. Spring of 2005 I got kicked off the colony at the end of four weeks. The time ahead of me didn’t float on forever—it stopped short and shoved me off the edge. I was in a panic about it, and the panic pitched me forward, woke me up mornings, kept me in my cabin, made me write.

If only I could re-create the colony experience every weekend. I would need the following things:

  • anxiety
  • a picnic basket (they delivered early lunch to your door in a basket painted with the name of your studio)
  • thermos of coffee (found in picnic basket)
  • a laptop
  • a desk
  • a chair
  • NO INTERNET ACCESS unless you walked to the main hall
  • at least 8 hours until the dinner bell rings

What am I waiting for? I don’t have a picnic basket, but I have more than enough anxiety to fill up 8 hours… Now how do I turn this internet thing off again? 😉

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