Can good work be done in short sessions?

Dear Literary Ladies,
I always thought that one needed great swathes of time to get any writing done. Now I hear that some esteemed authors worked in short bursts and still produced an enormous amount of brilliant work. I want to hear from one of you. How did you do it, and what did you do with the rest of your time?

I work from two and a half to three hours a day. I don't hold myself to longer hours; if I did, I wouldn't gain by it. The only reason I write is because it interests me more than any other activity I've ever found. I like riding, going to operas and concerts, travel in the west; but on the whole writing interests me more than anything else. If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make it an adventure every day. I get more entertainment from it than any I could buy, except the privilege of hearing a few great musicians and singers. To listen to them interests me as much as a good morning's work.

For me, the morning is the best time to write. During the other hours of the day I attend to my housekeeping, take walks in Central Park, go to concerts, and see something of my friends. I try to keep myself fit, fresh: one has to be in as good form to write as to sing. When not working, I shut work from my mind.

— Willa Cather, from a 1921 interview


Em June 27, 2009 at 12:11 PM  

Wow - great answer, and one I could certainly apply to my world. I use the excuse of "no time" to not tackle the words - I think I need to discover the real reason why I procrastinate.

Blogging, maybe ;-)?

Eileen Williams June 28, 2009 at 9:45 AM  

I would love to hear from the writers who can grab a bit of time here and there and jot something meaningful down that will be appreciated by readers everywhere. I've heard you should carry a notebook and, when waiting for your dentist appointment, riding the train home from work, or other times that would normally be wasted, you write out your pearls of wisdom.
Sorry, no can do! I need to be at my computer, fully focused, with loads of time to spare to even begin to ignite my imagination. So, I'll be checking back in to hear from those literary ladies who've achieved this amazing feat. Tell us how, PLEASE!

Nava Atlas June 28, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

When my sons were really little, I'd hire a college student to come in from 9 to 12 every day so I could work. They would do all kinds of fun projects, and knowing they were having fun I could work guilt-free. Also knowing I had just 3 hours of unbroken time, I managed to get a lot done. Now I'm able to work a lot more hours but it's all so unstructured that I wonder if I'm really getting a lot more done. I think that having a fixed amount of time and a consistent place to work really helps.

Madeleine L'Engle said she wrote on planes, etc., wherever she could catch a little time. Eileen, I'm with you about the need to be fully focused. I'm not very good at catch as catch can working, but it's more about the ability to focus than the amount of time. Hi Em, thanks for your comment!

Kendra Bonnett July 1, 2009 at 1:46 AM  

When I sit down to write I like to know that I have a large chunk of time. That way I feel confident that whatever I'm working on--be it a chapter or a press release--I can finish it uninterrupted. Now I'm not suggesting that I will be finished and ready for publication. Rather, I will have a first draft, a second draft, whatever. I just like to go from beginning to end in one uninterrupted period of time.

I think this process works for me and that I can be pretty efficient when I'm physically writing because the rest of the time I'm writing in my head. So when I put pen to paper or fingers to keys I know what I want to say.

Anonymous July 3, 2009 at 1:17 AM  

I absolutely love your site and wonder if you will entertain a question I have.

Dear Literary Ladies,

Where do you go looking for plots? Did your stories once begin with just a title in your head? Did you have a mundane thought that you somehow developed into a plot? I enjoy writing and am satisfied with my craft but sometimes feel that I must be really dull or lack imagination. I might add that I am especially fond of children's literature and fantasy.

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Wouldn't you love to get advice from  classic women authors on writing and the writer's life? Here I fancifully pose the questions, and the Literary Ladies answer in their own words.

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