Writer’s Paradox: The Less Time You Have, The Better You Write (Or How Writer’s Are Like Grape Vines)

Wannabe writers often bemoan that they can’t find the time to write. It’s not going to happen, they say. They’re too busy.

This reminds me of an adage I once heard: Want something done, ask someone who’s busy. On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. Busy people shouldn’t have time to get something done. But that’s exactly it. Busy people get things done.

Okay, I have to segue to the wine thing. What in the blue blazes does wine have to do with writing? (Other than it can sometimes help loosen the fingers for typing.) Glad you asked. It goes back to something a winemaker stuck in my head years ago. That is: stressed vines produce better grapes.

Here’s the science of it in a nutshell. A vine, like any other plant, wants to flourish. Give it plenty of water and rich soil and it will grow vigorously. Yet it’s fruit will be lackluster. This is because the vine is happy. Why put much effort into reproducing when everything’s so peachy.

Now put that same vine in rocky soil and cut down it’s water to a dribble. The vine will still live, but it’s freaked out now. It’s thinking, I need to find a better place to live. Alas, plants don’t have feet. So the best solution is to produce fruit that birds can eat. The seeds are spread, and the plant hopes to flourish on better soil. The worse the environment, the more the vine will want to search out better sites through reproduction.

The same applies to writing. Imagine you’re a writer with an easy life. You’re like those vineyards where the vines are laid out on flat, level plains with plenty of moisture. Heck, you can even use a machine to pick the grapes. This sort of writer doesn’t have a strong desire to produce work because life is so good.

Now the stressed writer only has a few precious hours a day to get the writing accomplished. No time to dilly dally about. You either write, or it doesn’t get done. Period.

I can’t say I wanted to choose the path of the stressed writer. Economics did it for me. Now, for any wannabe who still claims they have no time, let me illustrate my schedule. First off, I’m a school teacher. A damn good one. I don’t goof off at school. I commit myself to my students. And this takes a good chunk of my time. I get home around 3:30 or 4:00 each day. Then I switch to my family. My daughter usually hits the sack around 7:30, so the hours in between belong to her and my wife.

After that I get to write, correct? Not really. I have a second job (third if you count writing). This is creating test questions for various standardized tests. Remember those word problems about trains barreling toward each other on the SAT? I’m the chap who writes them. This takes usually two hours of my night, which puts me at about 9:30.

Something you need to know about me. I sleep easily. I can fall asleep driving, or reading, or even talking. No, I’m not narcoleptic, but my body shuts down when my brain isn’t stimulated. On long drives, I have my wife read me trivia questions to keep my brain functioning (so I won’t crash the car).

Thus by 9:30 I’m already winding down. I used to write during this time, but I found that I fell asleep on my keyboard after maybe thirty minutes. I still do a bit of writing, but it’s mostly blogging like this or critique work from my writing groups.

That leaves the morning. I set the alarm for 4:11 (What can I say? I like prime numbers). I hit the snooze at least once. But I’m usually up and caffeinated by five am. This gives me a solid hour to work. By six, my daughter is usually stirring and I have to get ready for teaching.

That’s not a lot of time. But I do it every day. Rain or shine. Sick or well. I’m able to produce about 75,000 words (typical novel length) of polished material in one year. Plus, I take weekends off (sort of) and write short stories.

So if you claim to have no time to write, ask yourself this: When will you have time? Stop thinking about what you will do someday, and get it done today. Right now.

Writing is my passion. My mind would starve without it.

Tim Kane

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