I spent much of yesterday thinking about the issue of 10,000 hours of practice, and how demoralizing that idea could be to someone who is having trouble finding even one hour a day.
I've also spent the last week being interviewed by Ph.D. students. Several of my colleagues at work are earning Ed.D.s and for one of their class assignments, they have to interview people who have written dissertations. There aren't many of us on campus who have written a dissertation, so that's how I came to have several interviews.
At the end of the interview, I was asked for advice, and I said, "Don't wait until you have huge chunks of time to get the work done. Work for a little bit every day, and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish."
I've always used this approach with subjects that scare me or work I just couldn't face. When it looked like I might fail Statistics as an undergrad, I made myself study the subject and work on the problems for 15 minutes a day. I can face anything for 15 minutes.
Likewise with my dissertation. The thought of writing a long, scholarly work terrified me. But when I thought of it as 6 or 8 conference papers, I could handle it. The thought of working on it for 2-6 hours a day exhausted me. So I made a deal with myself. If I put in 15 minutes, I didn't have to do any more.
Some days, 15 minutes was all I did. But most days, I sat down and after 15 minutes, I was in a groove, and I kept going.
We can accomplish so much, even if we only have 15 minutes. In 15 minutes we could send a packet of poems to a journal--maybe even 2 packets or 3. In 15 minutes, we could write down ideas for a poem. In 15 minutes, we could do some word play. Many of us could write a poem in 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, we could read some poems which might inspire us. In 15 minutes, we could begin to think about how our poems work together--and after a week of 15 minutes of work each day, we'd likely have a chapbook or a book-length manuscript--or at least, we'd be well on our way towards one.
And many of us have 15 minute chunks of time scattered throughout the day that just evaporate. I cannot tell you how much time I've wasted because I get to meetings early, assuming that the meeting will start on time, even though it rarely does. I could take my poetry notebook and write. At the ear doctor last week, I had to wait for 45 minutes, which shouldn't have been a surprise (except that the last time I was at the ear doctor's, I went right in). If I had brought my notebook, I could have accomplished something. Last month, while stuck on a plane, on a trip where I'd read all the books I brought with me, I understood the appeal of some kind of hand-held device which could store all my computer files and would be so portable--but scraps of paper can also do nicely. What might I have managed to get done if I had forced myself to write, instead of rereading books I had just read on that trip?
For me, the hardest part is the getting started. I want to feel like I have hours and hours of time in which I won't be interrupted. Sadly, if I wait for those days, I won't write very often. My poetry self will get mad or depressed and that's not good for anybody. If I can give myself 15 minutes a day, and some days longer, I can accomplish so much more than if I wait for the perfect circumstances. Perfect circumstances aren't coming my way very often these days. But I can find 15 minute chunks here and there.
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