Hitting the Spot

“The “if I had time” lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment. Enough stolen moments, enough stolen sentences, and a novel is born — without the luxury of time.”

I know authors who have written whole manuscripts on their cell phones while schlepping on the subway to and from the day job. I am in awe of that sort of focus and dedication–kudos, hats off, fair dinkum!  But the quote above, from a very respected authority on writing, still maketh my blood to boil.

This is the same shaming, simplistic thinking that would tell a couple overwhelmed by three kids under the age of five that making time for sex is easy. Just do the smooching part in the kitchen while waiting for the coffee maker to do its morning thing. You’re both standing there with nothing better to do for three whole minutes. Stop lollygagging!

The moaning phase can be dispatched during your commutes. Everybody else is wearing headphones on the subway anyhow, so just let ‘er rip, and wiggle a little too while you’re at it (multi-tasking!). So what if you’re on separate trains headed to separate parts of the city? If you get in some groping and carrying on while dinner’s heating, then all you have to do is the last five minutes when you fall into bed.

Easy peasy!

I could no more write a coherent scene one sentence at a time, separated by a thousand others tasks, thoughts, obligations, and wishes, than I could produce a healthy baby by gestating for the 31 days of March for nine straight years.

That’s not how any of this works–for me. And yet, I do keep a set of hand weights by the microwave. When my tea water is heating, I’ll do a few reps of a shoulder series or some parson curls. When I’m collecting my monthly sales data, I’ll round up all the figures at Apple and jot them down. Later in the day, I’ll visit the Kobo dashboard, and so on, such that by evening, I can do the data entry on a title for all vendors.

I do most of my housework in five-to-fifteen minute spot-chores, with few exceptions (the bathroom can take an hour to do properly and it is not a fun hour). But no, Oh Famous Writing Guru, I cannot write my books one disjointed, isolated sentence at a time, and more to the point, it would hurt to try. The issue with, “I don’t have time,” often isn’t a paucity of idle minutes, it’s emotional safety, imaginative breathing room, A Gentleman Worthy of Kisses by Grace Burrowesand the stubbornly non-linear nature of worthwhile creativity.

Says me, but for others–the stolen moments, spot-cleaning, approach is the only viable way forward. What tasks can you tackle in micro-measures, and which ones would you never subject to that strategy?

The next title I will have in Advanced Reader Copy shape, is the first Lord Julian MysteryA Gentleman Fallen on Hard Times–though I probably won’t publish that tale on the major platforms until late summer. Leave a comment, though, and you might end up with Lord Julian’s debut whodunnit this spring!



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14 comments on “Hitting the Spot

  1. I’ve started doing kitchen cleaning in small increments and I find it less of a chore. I’m so glad that you’ve got another mystery series coming as I find myself reading more historical mystery these days than romance.

  2. I was literally (not figuratively) laughing out loud at the “why this doesn’t work” part of this post!
    Like you said, the problem with Mr. WellRespectedWritingAuthority’s theory is this; yes, technically, a novel is written on sentence at a time. But those sentences ARE joined together with thoughts and feelings and ideas. You can lose a lot if you aren’t connecting your ideas in one sitting. If just writing a bunch of random sentences could get me on the New York Times bestseller list, I’d have done it decades ago.

    PLUS, you are SO right that the human brain needs breathing room! It needs to relax and take a break. Being constantly busy does not make a good product.
    I can tell you that, the “breaking a large task into its minute super itty bitty tasks” way of life doesn’t work for me, either.
    The distractions that occur trying to make life happen this way can be dangerous… incorrectly administered medication, not paying attention while driving, putting oil to heat on the stove and forgetting it because you go to clean the toilet bowl then forget that pan of grease is on your gas stove top and a fire ensues. (I have done all these things when distracted by other thoughts or tasks.)
    There are some people who can make that kind of task list work (my sister is one), but I am not.

    It is absolutely insulting to tell me I am lieing/lying … dang it, I can never remember how to spell this word.
    It is absolutely insulting to tell me I am not telling the truth when I say I don’t have time. WHY do THEY get to decide how I prioritize my life? WHY is my much needed brain-breathing-room poo pooed?
    Why does the Writer Guru think keeping busy the pinnacle of a successful life?

    It’s hard to describe for people how busy a brain on chronic illness can be. But, I saw a visual labelled the “Taxonomy of Burden for Decision Making in Patients with Chronic Illness”. It visualizes how much extra decision making has to happen. It’s the same thing here. Getting to a place to be able to make a decision or do a task might require 150 questions to be answered first. Being busy doing something else means the questions don’t get answered or are not answered fully leading to not fully thought out answers.

    But, none of that answers the question. But, I sure did have a good time venting! ;p
    It’s a hard question: which tasks can I tackle in micro measures? Well, putting dishes away, etc.. In other words, small, simple stuff. But, it’s important for me to not leave something that could turn dangerous to do a small task because I will forget the first one.

    That’s not well-written or very clear. I kept getting interrupted the whole time I was writing it, lol. Life!! ;p

  3. I let things pile up, yep, I do. And just when I think it will take FOREVER to finish them up for a deadline, I realize if I only did a small portion, they would be accomplished in no time. I have a bunch of little things, languishing since Christmas, to put away and that’s what I’m doing tomorrow afternoon. And I BET it will take me 30 minutes,tops, to get it done! From now on, I’m taking care of it as I go along much like the *clean as you go* approach to cooking/cleaning I’ve always espoused.

  4. When I am in baking mode, I clean as I go. When faced with a sink full of dirty dishes- I wonder why they aren’t in the dishwasher- and rinse and stack them in the dishwasher. All other kitchen work is done in fits and starts.
    Dog nails and teeth are done Sunday mornings. Same with vacuuming. Every thing else is done as needed.
    I find I am more organized at work than at home.

  5. Anything I do with a up and down motion of the wrist or with pressure must be done in fits and starts (or not at all). I have longer with back and forth.

    I do nothing quickly, anything creative perhaps least of all unless I can put everything into the effort in what our son calls “a deep dive.” I will not be writing a novel any time soon. Wishing those who can and do everything magical and amazing in the production of same.

  6. I can start the day with 10 minutes of weaving-if I’ve already put in to e time to plan the weave, warp the loom, and fill the shuttle. I can’t sew in microbursts- that needs some flow. I can’t plan and carve a linoblock without a big chunk of time. I can load the dishwasher-and hope it’s unloaded and dinner is ready when I get home. I teach- kids often need chunks of time but schools usually aren’t set up to provide that. And they absolutely do not multitask! 🙂

  7. SO many things require a chunk of time! Journaling, especially.
    Planning may occur on the fly, but is better done in chunks of time too
    major Exercise requires larger chunks for me, but little things like pushups or planking can be done in stolen moments of time.
    A good mix of both is key, I think!

    So many aphorisms contain both a kernel of truth, yet also a blithe disregard for reality. It’s frustating, isn’t it?!

  8. I have to admit I am no good at tackling things I don’t want to do. I think the short spurt idea is a good one and wonder how it is that I am so efficient at avoiding doing it. I don’t want to blather on with excuses but the bottom line is that I don’t follow through. I don’t have a solid grip on exactly why that is my truth. I do keep up with the dishes, laundry, and oddly making up my bed every morning. Almost every evening I make a plan for small bursts of “must do” throughout the day. I think I will make a list right now … tomorrow is a new day.

  9. I do almost all tasks in bursts. I wait until I am forced by an outside occurrence to do chores. For example, I have a guest coming next Monday, which means the guest room – the room of uncompleted projects – has to be opened up, the junk taken off the bed, the sheets put on, pillows found, etc. The bathroom will need to be cleaned but that will wait until Monday morning because I would have to do it twice if I do it today. I will have to cook something! Egad. I had better go to the store this week so I can do that on Monday morning. But I wouldn’t be doing ANY of these things if I didn’t have someone coming, thus forcing me to leap into action. I have to have a reward as well to look forward to after the chores. I would much rather be sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine and the latest Miss D —-, but in order to get that reward I force myself to spend 30 minutes doing the unpleasant chore. Pretty obvious that I live my myself in pleasant slovenliness most of the time, isn’t it!?

  10. Cooking is something I tackle in large blocks. For me, cooking is an event, a hobby, a passion. The fact that we get to eat the results is just gravy (excuse the pun!). When I cook (especially for a large party), I tie back my hair, put on loud music, and assemble all my ingredients. I can be immersed in the experience for hours, until I finally collapse, exhausted, with tons of food to show for my efforts (being Italian, feeding people generously is in my blood).

    Something that I do in micro-measures is paying bills, a chore I can only endure for short periods. I am thankful for online bill paying which has shortened the time needed for this odious endeavor considerably. I remember the days when I would sit at my desk writing out checks and addressing envelopes for hours (and my family knew not to approach me with any important questions). Today I have as many services as possible billed directly to my credit card so I mostly have to pay just one bill each month (there’s the occasional holdout who won’t debit my credit card, but they are becoming more rare by the day). There’s the added benefit of rewards on my credit card for money I am spending anyway! I can knock out that miserable job in minutes where it used to fill a large part of every payday. Technology has definitely improved that aspect of my life! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  11. Off topic, my Amazon Echo just announced, “From Amazon Shopping, ‘A Gentleman Worthy of Kisses’ will arrive today.” And I snorted & said, “I wish!”

    That’s one order I’d love to place! LOL

  12. I picked up knitting (in part) because I needed a creative outlet that could be done in micro-measures — a few stitches waiting for a meeting to start, and a few stitches on the walk out from my office to the car (bring on spring!), and eventually I have a dishcloth or a hat or some other small, simple thing. I doesn’t work for everything I want to knit — some things require more sustained and careful focus — but it helps keep me from feeling stressed in many environments that would otherwise drive me batty.