Developing Writing Habits (or not)

Day Four of Thirty Days of Writing

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Part of why I enrolled in an MFA program immediately after undergrad was the fear that, without workshops and deadlines and classes, I would not write again. When I entered the program, I resolved to establish some sort of set process or ritual to make sure that I got the work done.

During my first year of grad school, I was advised to write for ten hours a week. I was told to mark these hours on my calendar and to sit in the same place each time to get in the habit of generating content. I scheduled the hours but wound up doing homework or dishes instead. I felt guilty for not sitting down in front of a blank page. To escape the guilt, I walked my dogs.

To my dismay, my writing happened in small spurts. I eventually stopped beginning stories on the computer. I took a notebook and scribbled down a couple of paragraphs, sometimes rewriting the same one a couple of times before proceeding to the next. Because I don’t like making life easy for myself, I didn’t always write in the same notebook, either.

Eventually, as my deadline approached, I would pick a paragraph or two and type them up to get the ball rolling, rewriting and revising as I went before submitting the stories for workshop.

During the summer, though, the sort-of system that I had broke down. I took random notes in my planner, on the backs of envelopes and water bills, on the notepad that was supposed to be used for grocery lists, etc. I still felt like I wasn’t getting any real work done — I didn’t have a finished draft of my thesis, I wasn’t logging ten hours a week of writing, and I only had one year left to go.

In the fall of 2015, I gathered the pile of scraps, reading through them frantically for something good. I worried about not having a process, so I blocked more time my planner. More guilt. More walks. More dishes. I once worked on taxes instead of finishing my thesis, even though it was February and the clock was ticking.

In my second year, I had to acknowledge that the ten hours of writing each week was not realistic when combined with twelve hours of class time and forty hours of work. I listened to other advice: There will never be a balance between life and writing. You will always struggle for writing time.

I penciled in writing time but didn’t worry if it didn’t happen. I consolidated everything into one notebook. I continued to turn work in just before the deadline, but I always turned work in.

If you can schedule ten hours of writing time each week, hats off to you. I wish I could. The thing is, there is no one process that is best. Whatever works for you is okay. The work is what matters and, bit by bit, the work will get done.