Bill Roorbach: Finding Time to Write
I had the pleasure of having Bill as an instructor, while I was getting my creative writing MFA at Ohio State University. I was focusing on poetry at the time, but I took a workshop with him (Creative Non-Fiction) and it dramatically changed how I viewed my writing process.
Like a lot of people, I always tried to arrange some large window of time – a block of multiple hours where I’d pour myself a drink, have the right music going and lose myself to the work. In some ways, it was like the idea of a vacation: a set amount of time where you could forget about the rest of the world, and just get to doing the thing you really want to do.
Here’s the problem. For as much as I kept wanting and waiting for that chunk of time, it rarely ever came. I kept thinking about writing, but never actually sat down to do it. Other things always seemed to be in the way: prep work for classes I was teaching, grading student papers, reading requirements for the classes I was taking, writing papers for the classes I was taking, part-time jobs, household errands. You name it, there was always something that stood between me and that magical time at my desk.
After hearing about how Bill handled his writing, it clicked for me. Make your writing more important. Make it a priority and give it the same attention and gravity you give to other things. Make it first, and all the other stuff will somehow get done, in the time remaining. In Bill’s words:
I remember in his workshop he’d show us his weekly planner. He had a section each day that he had highlighted, indicating the time he scheduled for himself to write. His wife and family knew about this time, his colleagues at school knew it. He didn’t schedule anything else, and made it a point to stick to his timeline. Work is work, after all.
In class, Bill told us about how he used to stress out about faculty meetings. How he’d do a ton of work and focused a great deal of his energies on committes and presentations and that sort of thing. And he talked about how others would give him praise by telling him how great a presentation he made. To this day, I can hear him pretending to be another professor, saying Hey Bill, great… just a great job. And then he’d faux-clap his hands by lightly dragging his fingers over his palm.
He cites his friend Wesley McNair as being the guy who set him straight about his time. McNair said to him: “We’re not going to be remembered for going to meetings. We’re going to be remembered for what we write.”
In addition to treating your writing (or whatever artistic approach you have) like work, Bill also was a strong advocate of doing something every day. Some days are busier than others, and sometimes there’s simply not a free hour for you to sit down to write. But how about 30 minutes? How about 10?
For Bill, so long as you did a little work each day, that was better than nothing. If all you’ve got time to do is look over the writing you did yesterday, do that. Whatever you can manage, doing it every day is a huge part.
While I’ve not done much creating writing in the past few years, I think that this blog is a manifestation of Bill’s philosophy. I don’t think what I do here really counts as writing, because it’s oftentimes fast and sloppy and loose. But it’s practice, and it’s something I try to do each morning.
I still long for those magical blocks of time, those windows where the world disappears and I’m free to just create. The difference for me, though, is that I no longer rely exclusively on those moments.
The danger in waiting only for those large blocks of time is that you treat all travel like a marathon. To get from Point A to Point B is usually not one big 10K run – it’s comprised of smaller increments. You walk to your car. You drive or take the bus. You walk to your destination. You tackle a little at a time, and before you know it a great distance has transpired.
It’s been over ten years since I first heard Bill’s advice, and it still rings true to me today. Make your art your work, and give it the importance and priority it deserves. Your normal tasks and obligations won’t step aside out of kindness, or of their own accord. You have to push them aside.
[CC-licensed photo via tj.blackwell]