“Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, ‘Is he sick?’ ‘No,’ my wife says, ‘he’s writing something.’”
We can “write” in our heads while we’re driving, working out, at the dinner table or lying in bed drifting off to sleep. We can work out a piece’s structure or imagine a crisper specific detail while we’re doing the dishes, knitting, playing with clay or shoveling snow. It’s said that everything is grist for the writer’s mill, so in a sense, we’re always doing research. It seems that writers can work anytime, anywhere.
Potato, Potahto, Tomato, Tomahto
This is one reason I use the phrase “Product Time” instead of “writing time.” Despite the portability of a writer’s true office – her or his brain – the image most associated with “writing time” involves fingers on a keyboard or pen on paper, and there is so much more to it than that.
I define Product Time as time you invest in moving a writing project forward. What activities will be most effective for you to do during your Product Time depends on which stage of the creative process you’re in. (I explain the stages of the creative process in depth in Around the Writer’s Block; if you don’t want to wait until August to get a copy of the book, we also discuss this in my Writing Habit class which starts March 12.)
Sometimes Product Time is staring out the window, wondering “What if…” and “Why not…” Sometimes Product Time is brainstorming, freewriting, mind mapping or making collages (of characters, setting, plot, images, etc.). Sometimes it’s doing research – in a library, online, with an expert in person or via telephone or Skype, or even riding a mule into the layered depths of the Grand Canyon if you end up writing about the Grand Canyon. Sometimes Product Time is even drafting, revising and editing. This list isn’t complete; Product Time (what Thurber called “writing”) can be so much more diverse.
So When Are You Not Writing?
This makes it difficult to distinguish when you actually are and are not, in Thurber’s sense of the word, “writing.” Especially when you can’t always tell in the moment whether you’re just living life or doing research. For example, snorkeling scenes are significant in my novella, but when I was snorkeling in Hawaii four years ago, I had no idea I was doing research. Is it right to call that snorkeling trip research? Or was my later recall and recollection of the experience (via notes I made in my fish spotter’s journal) the real research?
If we can fall into “writing” in a Thurberesque way – while we’re driving, pretending to listen, walking the dog or vacuuming the living room – how do we know when we’re writing/doing Product Time and when we’re not? And if we can fall into writing/Product Time, can we also fall out?
We’ll explore this further in my next post, but until then, consider these questions:
- When and how do you fall into writing/Product Time?
- When and how do you fall out?