Friday, April 8, 2011


  I remember studying that picture in my elementary school library instead of watching the film on the Dewey Decimal system. I also remember feeling sort of scared by  it, but only in the way you can be scared in an elementary school library which is not too terribly scared.

I think it was the mysticism of the painting that alarmed me. On the whole, there is not too much mysticism in American schools, even though I was taught by returning Vietnam vets and hippies (the real kind who had lived, or at least had visited, Haight Ashbury and met Jerry Garcia, or at least had attended one of his concerts)

It was an interesting time to be a child because none of our once-upon-a-time hippie teachers agreed with anything the Vietnam vets thought and vice versa. And we could tell who they were because the VietNam vets all dressed like hippies and the previous hippies wore conservative clothing to indicate they had now changed and decided to devote their lives to working with children. Both groups told us a pretty sanitized version of what they had learned by their experiences.

We loved when they talked about their former lives.We used to steer them toward the topic and ask them questions.

It wasn't that we understood most of what they said; what we did understand was that it was really, really easy to get these young, devoted, highly sincere teachers to move and stay off the topic of say, the Dewey Decimal system. Or the exports of Guatemala. I became especially interested in learning about Vietnamese village life at the onset of math sessions.

But this is a post about time, not about Anne Spollen's politically divided elementary school experience. The above ramble actually sort of underscores what I haven't said yet...

Time is actually a concept that I grapple with every day. I don't think I am one of those people who is "good" with time in the sense that I am efficient. I do put on the wash and start dinner and help with homework all at the same time. I'll even return phone calls then and go through the bills. And I do it all really quickly, really efficiently.

 Then I take the dog out and spent twenty minutes wondering if I should put a few trellises of roses over the spot where the neighbor's hideous plastic and vinyl fence meets my property line. Or forsythia? Wait, I can't stand forsythia; they look like skeletons most of the year.

Could I put a fence up over that fence? Does that require a survey? How about vines? Yeah, vines.Only they would go everywhere. Or have thorns. On the ground that the kids and the dog would get tangled up in. So yeah, roses. Wait, I love wisteria. Is that a good name for a character? Wisteria Howard. Maybe. But how many rose bushes or wisteria vines? And so on....

I feel like I can focus in bouts, but most of the time my brain is, well, more like a tumble of vines than say a straight growing tree organized into brances. I don't know if that's good or bad for writing or how writers' brains work in general. Writers all seem so different to me.

I've tried this before, but I am going to try and create a specific period of time to write and only write. Since I have times when I work, when I sleep, when I spend time with the kids, I need to build in some part of each day to write. I think it would help focus.

How do you structure your day? Do you have  a specific time of day to write? Is it built in? Is it flexible?


Jemi Fraser said...

My life seems to follow a rather similar pattern. I blame it on being crazy busy, which is true, but I'm also someone who is so scheduled at work, I'd rather 'go with the flow' at home :)

Bish Denham said...

I hear you on this one Anne. I'm terrible about setting aside a specific time to write! There ALWAYS seems to be SOMEthing that comes up that takes me somewhere else.

In high school we had a WWII Colonel who taught us history. He was deadly boring UNTIL we discovered we could get him off topic by asking him questions about his experiences. Then he got very interesting.

Anne Spollen said...

Maybe that's it, Jemi. I have to be so careful with every minute when I teach, like "One more question, than we HAVE to move on," then quick run to the grocery store, drive frantically home so kids are not alone in writing time needs a little fluidity.

Still, I do envy people who sit and just produce for an hour or two each day. It's becoming a goal more and more.

storyqueen said...

If I am writing a first draft, I write in any moment possible, no matter how big or small (I like do write a lunch, recess, whenever). However, if I am revising, I need at least a half-hour chunk or it is pointless. (Hours at a time are point fixing up one place and screwing it up again in the next chapter...)

If I am revising, I work in the evenings. Lame dinners for everyone.

Anne Spollen said...

Maybe derailing dull lessons from veterans is a rite of passage, Bish.

Yes, things come up, but what I need to do is not let myself come up with things. Like hedges and wisteria and reading about Wiccan spells on the Internet.

Anne Spollen said...

I am like that too, Shelley. The writing times are easier than revision and they take more focus.

Oh, and kids need lame dinners. That way, better ones make them grateful.

Nathan Buck said...


I do love and appreciate writing at the same time everyday. It's easier for some folks than others -- say, writers like me, without kids! I'm a bit spoiled in how I get to structure my day, admittedly. But I do find that the muse remains happy with me, and works her mojo best, when I show up at the same time, in the same location. Something in my brain kicks in and says: "Get to it, Buster. Now." Plus, I just love ritual -- putting on the coffee, eating my cereal or eggs, gearing up for the "big event."

I love to write early in the morning. I'm up at 5:00am, on my computer by 6:30. The stinky part is that I have to stop writing by 8:00, so I can head to...yep, work. And it's right about then that I'm actually ready to let 'er rip without inhibition. So, for me, I find my most productive period of my ritual to be right before I stop, like the muse knows I have to head off to my secret double agent life in non-profit.

So there you have it!

Happy Spring,

Anonymous said...

I prefer writing late at night or early in the morning when I have the least distractions, but if that's impossible I write at other times. Tonight I took my manuscript to the laundromat to work on it since my day was extra busy. I figured I was being productive and time efficient, even though the place was noisy.

That painting is hauntingly eerie. Surreal art takes me outside myself.

Anne Spollen said...

Hi Nathan - nice to hear from you!

I love reading about what/how other writers go about organzizing their time to get things done. And even having kids, I need to do better with this.

If I got up at 5, I wouldn't make snese, but I think your scheduling is inspiring.

Anne Spollen said...

Typos above -- typing on a diff keyboard.

I need to have just one ms to lug around, Medeia -- one of the pitfalls of working on more than one project at a time which I am going to tame.

Good way to put how surreal art makes you feel! Perfect.

Anonymous said...

"I didn't know he was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it."— Is that the quote anne?

- Larry

Mary Witzl said...

I've been going through a slump for the past month, but when I write, I usually write during the morning when there are fewer distractions. I'm terrifically easy to distract. I set out to revise something and end up starting a new story instead.

I definitely garden the way I write, and I do what you do: I mull over everything. I go out to prune and I end up weeding; when I go out to weed, I inevitably see a branch that needs pruning and go back for my secateurs.

How about planting forsythia with a clematis at the foot? Then when it's in its skeleton stage, it'll be smothered with flowers.

Sigh...I'm supposed to be revising now. Can you tell?

Anonymous said...
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Anne Spollen said...

Thanks, Larry -- yes, that was the one I was looking for.

Lol, Mary - yup, I could tell you should have been writing there. But still, that's a great idea with the forsythia and the clematis. Proving our point further - maybe the meandering mind comes up with more creative ideas and solutions. Except we don't really need encouragement to do that.