Thursday, October 21, 2010

It only hurts when I squeeze

Necessities of one sort or another have forced you to ration available time for such pleasures as writing or reading into fifteen-minute increments, an idea you plagiarized from a dentist who, when rescheduling you for a future meeting, would tell the office manager to schedule Mr. L for two units.  Or on one project of architectural complexityproject, you were down for three units.  Not always quick to pick up on the dental nuance, it took you about two units of thinking things through and noting time spent in the dental La-Z-Boy.  Fifteen minutes was, indeed a unit.

When things are going well, you can get the better part of a full page of scribbled text on a story in one unit.  When things approach drought, the same page can require two and possibly three units.  It is a splendid feeling to zip through page after page, luxuriating on a larger span of time or forgetting about responsibilities outside the world of writing in which you try to spend much of your time.

This last condition, although it feels wickedly good to you explains the degree to which individuals who are more client or acquaintance or student are more likely to have occasion to be exasperated by you if not outright irritated.  This is a good explanation for having writers as friends; they, too, are likely to extend their writing times at the expense of such responsibilities as their own contracts with reality exact.

The unit has been a particularly good measurement for classroom situations, particularly your late night fiction workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, but also for your Saturday workshop and intermittent classes here and there.  They, which is to say students or attendees, get fifteen minutes to read their work and another fifteen to hear responses, followed by your summary.  It was in this activity that you learned a basic law of literary physics:  Not all fifteen-minute segments are the same.  Some, because of the material being read, appear to go on for hours.  A busy mind makes time pass with relatively more quickness thus you attempt the busy work of doodling or constructing bawdy limericks.  This has its disadvantage because of the individual reading away his or her fifteen-minute segment wanting to "hear your notes."

The ideal writing time for you is a four-hour increment--but when was the last time you had the cushy advantage of four consecutive hours?  The ideal reading time is at least an hour, but there again, you have had to learn to take advantage of the unit; you can get quit a few pages read in fifteen minutes and if you find something particularly delicious, you can mark pages or insert index cards or some other confetti of signs that direct you back to the choice parts.

The apparent length of the fifteen-minute segment during which someone is reading from her/his work is in direct proportion to the editorial notes given.  Tight, evocative prose generates two or three suggestions; long narrative descriptions or talking head conversation masquerading as dialogue provoke the sorts of sermons no student wishes to hear.

Such things are, of course, all relative; they are also relevant.  Time constraints have the effect of getting things out of you as though your creative receptacle were a near empty toothpaste tube, greatly reminiscent of the days before you gave over completely to espresso coffee and, when the coffee ran out, had to resort to a second use of an old, sodden Chemex filter.  Back in the day, that reused chunk of grounds might have had the butt of a half- or three-quarter smoked Camel cigarette.

We all write against some aspect of time; you are no exception.  Every day is a separate battle for as many units as we can, dare you say it, squeeze out.

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