Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Get That Stamina Back

I'm just back from a three day weekend spent in the country with a few writer friends.  On Friday morning, we left New York City and drove 3 hours north to a rented house in the Catskill Mountains.  We did this specifically to have an extended block of writing time, from Friday through Sunday, with no distractions.  And everyone stuck to the plan.  All Friday afternoon and into the evening, each of us wrote, and the same went for Saturday and Sunday from about 9 AM till about 8.  Breaks were short and infrequent.  After 8 came dinner (we had three topnotch cooks among us) and drinking and talk.  Not a bad way to spend three days.  And from what I could gather, everyone got a good bit of work done, whether it be straight writing on something new or making an editing pass on something completed.  I did pretty well myself, making solid progress on the novel (could end up being a novella) I'm doing.

I found out something unexpected, though.  I'm not sure why it came as a surprise actually, because it makes sense; I just didn't think of it before we embarked from the city for the weekend.

Before marriage and kids, I used to routinely write 4 hours a day.  That was my goal, and sometimes I'd surpass it and sometimes do less - like 3 hours - but more days than not I hit 4 hours.  But those days are long gone, what with work and familial obligations.  Don't get me wrong.  I was working before I had a wife and kids, but a job without a family still leaves plenty of writing time.  A job with a family doesn't leave much time, but as with everything, the idea is to adapt or perish, and over time, I've become adept at working an hour here or two hours there, after work in my office, at home before bed, whenever.  Through sheer necessity, I've gotten to where I don't need time to "warm up".  I have my productive and less productive writing days like anyone else, but generally speaking, I sit down and get to work and something comes.  Again, I don't want to give the wrong impression. My actual word count each day is small.  I'm glad to get 300 words a day done.  But those are 300 pretty clean words and when you think about it, if you do 250-300 words a day, let's say even 5 days a week, you're talking enough to have a novella or short novel (I've written no long ones) done in a year.

But getting back to the writing weekend escape.  In that country house our group rented, I suddenly found myself having several hours to write at a clip, as I once did, and it felt odd.  I was glad to have the time, but I found that I didn't have the stamina I once had.  I've trained myself to do a sprinting session, as it were, and this weekend I could afford to jog for hours, but my wind wasn't quite ready for that. 

I'm not complaining.  The extra time was a luxury.  And it's nothing remarkable to say I basically wrote 2 hours at a clip, took a short break, maybe a walk outside, fired up more coffee, and repeated the process. Each day, for three days, for several hours each day, till we had to leave.  Thus the progress I made on the thing I'm working on.  But it was still interesting to see how my stamina has waned because of these years of rarely having the time to do more than a couple of hours at a clip.  You do get into a different headspace when you have four, five, or six hours, on a consistent basis, to write. Fatigue does its own things to your imagination; it pushes it in surprising ways; it's like in running or other endurance sports when you hit the wall and have to push through; you can get a high, a particular intense sensation, that you simply can't get from a 100 meter dash.  

Now I'm home, as I said, and back on my work schedule, so it's time for the hour or two stints again.  No shame in that.  Adapt or perish.  But I'm keeping this weekend in my mind so I remember what I need to develop again - stamina, like I used to have, the ability to sit at a desk and just write for several hours at a time.  It's something to shoot for anyway, like you shoot for retirement.  Will it happen? Who knows? But I'm trying to get there.


Charlieopera said...

Great stuff, amico. I've changed how and when I write several times over the years. It is what we make it, and you're right, there is a difference between having too much time and too little time. I think I've grown accustom to sprinting myself. My last novel took me 30 days to write and another 3 months to edit it--with help from a few people. I started the sequel and stopped to write a play ... we're fickle MF'ers, aren't we?

scott adlerberg said...

Ha. Yes, we often are.