Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The new normal

with 8 comments

The author's daughter

I’m a fast writer. These days, my routine involves getting up around six, taking care of the baby, having breakfast with my wife, and finally settling down to write the morning’s blog post. This usually takes about an hour or so, allowing for another twenty minutes of fiddling and formatting, although I’ve generally been thinking about the topic of the day for much longer than that. Multiply this by three years—which is about as long as this blog has been up and running—and you come up with a volume of work that amounts to three or four novels. For an hour’s work each day, that’s not bad. And this doesn’t account for all the time I spent on the projects that actually pay the bills. (As satisfying as maintaining this blog has been, it isn’t exactly remunerative, although I do hope to repackage some of this material one day in a form that people might conceivably pay to read.)

Yet I’m uncomfortably aware that this pace can’t last forever. I’m still trying to match the rate of production that I established in my twenties, when I was single, living alone, and capable of working past midnight. Once you get used to a certain writing regimen, you want to stick with it—anything else feels like slacking off. But there’s no denying that it’s getting harder for me to write as much as I once did. The effects haven’t been all that visible this year, since I spent most of the last six months revising a manuscript that I’d already written, but the signs are there. Previously, I’ve tried to submit a couple of stories to Analog a year, but now I count myself lucky if I have time for one. Last year I wrote a bunch of freelance pieces; this year, I’ve pitched none at all, and that isn’t because I’ve run out of ideas. A human being has only a finite amount of energy, and as more of it gets channeled to my family life, there’s less of it available for writing.

The author's daughter and friend

And I’m not sure what the solution is. One possible answer, which I’ve weighed more than once, is to pare down the amount of time I spend on this site, and it’s likely that at some point I’ll cut back from my daily post to blogging two or three times a week. (Writing a post a day, in addition to a daily quote, was never something I intended to do forever—but, again, once you’ve established a baseline for yourself, it feels weird not to hit that mark.) The other is to rearrange my personal life to create more time for work. At the moment, I’m watching my daughter three full days a week, with help from my in-laws on Thursdays and Fridays, and my wife and I pass the baby back and forth on weekends. Until now, weekends and nights have been sacrosanct personal time, but when the moment comes for me to start writing a new novel from scratch, I may need to push my workday well into the evening hours.

More than anything else, though, I need to come to terms with the fact that this may be the new normal. Even if my schedule were magically restored to what it was before Beatrix was born, it may not be realistic for me to meet the same targets that I did when I was five years younger. And there’s a certain pleasure to be had in taking things more slowly. Word count, after all, is only the visible part of the writing life: the rest is found in the habits of mind it encourages and the range of subjects it allows a writer to think about, even when he’s changing a diaper or doing the dishes. That inner state is something that only comes into being after you’ve invested the necessary time and energy over many years, and even if the externals change, it doesn’t go away. I may not produce the maximum number of pages possible each day, but I still spend the same number of hours in my own head, and I like what I see there.

Written by nevalalee

August 1, 2013 at 9:09 am

8 Responses

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  1. Impressive…you manage your time extremely well especially producing the quality of work you do. Enjoy what you have written, so keep it up!


    August 1, 2013 at 11:02 am

  2. Thanks! I’ll do my best.


    August 1, 2013 at 11:11 am

  3. I am getting addicted to your blog and I am looking forward to reading both your novels in the very near future (just put them on hold at our local library … sorry but we have no room on our bookshelves!).


    August 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm

  4. Thanks! Glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog, and I’d love to know what you think of the books.


    August 1, 2013 at 9:37 pm

  5. The solution here is simple: simply refrain from ever saying anything to your daughter that doesn’t also double as dialogue from an in-progress written work. Not only do you immediately cut your workload in half, but she gets to grow up in a fast-paced world of international intrigue.

    I’d like to think Aaron Sorkin does this. And speaking of efficiency, that particular SNL sketch pretty much writes itself.

    Alex Varanese

    August 4, 2013 at 1:48 am

  6. You’re closer to the truth than you know…


    August 4, 2013 at 7:39 am

  7. I really enjoy your blog – it’s intelligent and articulate, and I also enjoy the daily quote.
    Good question though about the best use of your time…
    Hope you find the right balance that works for you!


    August 7, 2013 at 6:20 am

  8. Thanks so much! I hope to keep it going for as long as I can…


    August 7, 2013 at 9:11 pm

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