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On Not Writing (Peter)

February 2007

Last week in Quaker meeting, I was thinking about what I would do if I won $100,000,000 in the lottery. Yeah, I know it sounds like wool gathering, but I came up with one real insight. After all the good causes I'd support, like AFSC and battered women's shelters and St. Gregory's Abbey and Linden Hill School, and after all the friends for whom I'd set up trust funds, then I got to what I'd want for myself. I'd buy oil paints (because I've always thought it would be fun to learn to paint) and I'd set aside time and space for writing.

And I thought some about the novel I started writing a decade ago. It’s about 80% finished, and it’s good, but every time I pick it up again I find myself starting at the beginning, trying to “comb it out” for its entire length, and I’ve got to stop that. I’ve got to put down the first half of the novel and call it DONE and start with those still-unwritten transitional chapters in the middle.

But a week has gone by, and I haven’t actually written anything. Or at least nothing more creative than some lesson plans and a list of things-to-do.

I had some idea yesterday of sitting down to the computer when I first got up and being productive—either doing a bunch of grading or digging down into some writing. But instead I opened up my web page software and set up a template for a thumbnails page and then spent pretty much the whole rest of the day cropping and resizing photos of my miniatures for a new gallery page on my web site. Oh, and I updated my comic book inventory, and I ordered a few more minis on line. And I made love with Cat. That’s always worthwhile. But I didn’t write. I didn’t write any fiction, I didn’t journal, I didn’t write letters, and even that would have been writing, would have been creative and literate in a way that resizing photos all day just wasn’t. I mean, the web stuff is creative too, in its own way, but it’s like potato chips for the mind. Salty crunchy goodness, but ultimately not all that satisfying.

I had an idea yesterday, while walking the dogs, of setting up two timers next to my computer. One of them would time me while I write at the computer—any kind of writing—and the other would time me while I do anything else at the computer—primarily web stuff. And I would set a strict policy of 50% of my seat time to be spent writing. (Though thinking about it now, lesson planning would have to be its own category, not subject to either timer.)

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