Writing In Snatches

In the secret part of my mind where the future lives, I dream of a cottage in the English countryside.

There are fireplaces and big farm-style windows, a study-meets-library with a big sturdy desk, and miles of rolling green to gaze upon as I ponder my writing.

It’s a cherished dream, because it feels cosy, and quiet, and somewhere I would get to write, uninterrupted, for long, long stretches of time.

It feels completely protected from the tedium of paying bills and dashing out to the dry-cleaner and phoning up the rude customs agents who keep taking my packages hostage.

Somewhere along the way I picked up this idea that all the best writers have this countryside idyll and that’s why their work is so good.

But really it’s just the writers who lived in Oxford and were of that genteel class that had servants…

And there are plenty of amazing writers who don’t fit that narrow bill.

So, for those of us who must live amongst the racket of daily life and have to run our own errands, the question becomes how to write great stuff without the luxury of those long stretches of time.

Today I think the answer is to write in snatches.

(Other days I think the answer is to throw off the shackles of society and run like a mad thing for the hills.)

Writing in snatches is not the most efficient method of writing. It’s very stop-start, and sometimes you forget the point of what you were writing when you’re forced to step away mid-thought.

It can be unbearably slow and immensely frustrating.

But the point of writing is not that you have a lovely breezy time of it. No. The point is that you say the thing that needs saying, do the work that needs doing.

It’s happening right now.

I want to finish writing this email.

Obi is digging on our bed and, oh, I think he just jumped down to start chewing the side table — a surefire sign the productive time left in the day is dwindling.

I’m back. It’s 40 minutes later.

Today’s work has been interrupted by deliveries, the mailman, Obi, the construction team upstairs, a call, Obi, and my own compulsion to read all the news about what coronavirus is going to do to Christmas. And Obi.

Still, in the 15- to 30-minute snatches between all these stops, I’ve written 2 blog posts, planned 2 more, and written this email. Nothing for the book yet, but still a good 4000 words or so.

So I suppose what I’m getting at is that there are a million reasons not to write (more if you have kids), and many of them are legitimate.

But what’s not legitimate is the belief that you have to have the perfect routine, the perfect environment, or even the perfect idea to sit down and write.

You can get a hell of a lot done in the little chunks of time between other things. I learned this morning that the average waking day is made up of 100 10-minute intervals.

Even if just ONE of those is spent on writing, you can get a few paragraphs on the page, an idea outlined and ready for the next free moment.  

It might be half an hour before work each morning, or on your lunch break. In the bleachers during a kid’s swim practice, or on the evening commute back home.

You will be in the most illustrious company: the vast majority of writers do their life’s work squeezed in around their other commitments.

I am not a fan of productivity porn and will not lecture you about squeezing something out of every damn second of every day.

But what I will say is that if you want to write, and don’t feel you have the time, there might be little windows scattered through your day that you could put to use.

Over time those little snatches might just add up to a great body of work, and you’ll be all the more accomplished it for having done it amidst the fray of daily life.

So my dear, onwards.