So, I was sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to get weighed (fun, right? Blech) when I came across this article in Oprah’s Magazine. It’s called, A Contract of One’s Own by Aimee Bender. Basically, Aimee talks about finding a place, time and person who will hold you accountable to your writing. Everything is up to you. The where doesn’t matter. Aimee actually worked out of her own closet for two years. Sound fun?
In regards to her closet, Aimee says, “The first morning I stepped inside, I was dizzy with a strange new panic; the closet seemed small, too dusty– and what was this ominous gray electrical box to my left?” The gray thing was her laptop. Anyway, I become so engrossed in her article that I actually forgot why I was at the doctor’s. I KNOW RIGHT! I am as shocked as you. Stepping on that torture device and watching the numbers with bated breath is not something a woman forgets. But, I did forget because Aimee’s article struck home for me. Writing on a schedule sounds as horrifying to me as a world without Ian Somerhalder. (Insert collective screams of despair here.)
Still, I try to commit myself to as much writing/editing as I can take during my toddler free day. Sometimes my eyes bug out. Other times my writing is shit on shit on more shit, but Aimee talks about contracts. She says, “The contract is for all writers. It’s completely separate from what is good and bad. It is entirely about investment in process. It’s not about publications; it’s not about workshops, or prizes, or critics, or book jacket photos. But in the prioritizing of voice, things shift. They improve. As far as I’m concerned, if a person desires to write, it’s worth trying to find a way to do it, even five minutes a day, and what happens to the writing afterward is a separate issue. The act of doing it has enormous value on its own.” Aimee had set up a contract template with one of her good writer friends who she mentions in this article. The guidelines are set by the writer and given to another writer who acts as a sort of sounding board. Someone who nags when you don’t meet your word quote or have skipped a day of work altogether. Another wonderful tool Aimee discuss is setting a time limit of two hours.
She says, “At readings, audience members sometimes ask if I keep writing past the two hours if I’m on a roll, but I don’t. I figure that if I’m on a roll, it’s partially because I know I’m about to stop. I believe Hemingway’s great advice, about leaving the work when the going’s good so that there’s excitement when the writer sits down the next day.
The fact that I didn’t know this already, baffles me. As writers, we all put in the time, but do we know when to put it away? I have a problem with this. Usually, I stop because I have responsibilities to attend to such as picking kids up from daycare, cooking, cleaning and so on. Stopping before I have to never occurred to me. Okay, it occurred to me I just didn’t do it because I thought it was the equivalent of calling in or walking off the job before your shift was over. Reading this article forced me to see that my job isn’t a typical job. Stopping at a set point, whether the work is good or not, could allow me to do more with my day. As many of you may know, I’ve neglected my blog terribly while working on Messy Death edits. Perhaps if I had been operating under the strict guidelines of this contract, I would’ve had more time to spread my writing wealth.
I think this approach could help me feel more productive and in control of my work. This is important because it will directly affect how quickly the first draft of Messy Life, book two in the Vira Silk series, is finished. Aimee does talk about how other writers view the contract. She says, “…the contract is then also a fighting gesture against the every-present idea that writers walk around with alchemy boiling in their fingertips. That we are dreamy wanderers carrying a snifter of brandy, with elegant sentences available on call. It’s such a load of crap. Sure, there are writers who work this way, who embrace their writerliness and are still able to get work done, but most I know have found their voice through routine, through ordinariness, thorough some kind of method of working. Guilt and dread, after all, are creativity killers.” Could this contract be your solution? Do you agree that routine and method are important? Are there any writers out there willing to give this contract a chance? Or even a read, LOL.
If you’re struggling to manage your time, I truly think this article will help. Aimee Bender teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. Her most recent novel is The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.