Mastodon The Writing Desk: So You Don't Have Enough Time To Write? Guest Post by Nava Atlas

26 February 2015

So You Don't Have Enough Time To Write? Guest Post by Nava Atlas

Woman at her Writing Desk, by Johann Ender
A 1921 interview described author Willa Cather’s work schedule as follows: “Miss Cather works but three hours a day—hours of perfect joy and happiness, she describes them. She finds that at the end of two or three hours she has exhausted her best efforts. 
She spends the remainder of the day with her friends, or taking a walk in Central Park, or listening to good music… She believes that a writer should keep in as good physical condition as a singer, and so she regulates her life on a simple, normal schedule. She writes easily and seldom tears a paragraph or a page to pieces.” 
Would that we could all enjoy such a schedule—and free of angst! However, most of us are lucky if, after two or three hours, we’ve written more than a few paragraphs that upon subsequent inspection don’t read like sheer drivel. Let’s not forget that prior to this interview Cather had already published four of her major novels, and those, after her long apprenticeship as a journalist. When she sat down to write for those two to three hours, she was a seasoned writer. Despite this leisurely schedule, Cather wrote ten more novels, plus many essays and short stories, in the years that followed this interview.
Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888)
Louisa May Alcott, on the other hand, was less than happy with her curtailed work days. Though she complained of being “chained to my galley,” that’s what she preferred. L.M. Montgomery may have spent few hours at her desk, but worked all the time in her mind, unlike Cather, who left her work at her desk. Maybe there will be times in your life when, as Alcott described it, “the steam is up.” 

That usually means it’s time to take a breather and let the well fill up again. But whether  your writing schedule is constrained voluntarily or by circumstances, much can be accomplished, so long as whatever time you have is spent  diligently and, if at all possible, joyfully.

Brilliance in no time flat

Willa Cather (1873-1947) 
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 an interview in The Bookman, 1921
Twenty pages in two hours
I used to write from morning till night without fatigue when “the steam was up.” Now, however, I am paying the penalty of twenty years of over work, & can write but two hours a day, doing about twenty pages, sometimes more, though my right thumb is useless from writer’s cramp.
Louisa May Alcott, from a letter, 1887

L.M. Montgomery in her 30s
L.M. Montgomery (1874-1942) 
Women have always multitasked …

I write fast, having “thought out” plot and dialogue while I go about my household work. I only do three hours’ literary work a day—two hours’ writing and one typewriting.
L.M. Montgomery, from a letter, 1909

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About the Author
Nava Atlas is the author and illustrator of many books on vegan and vegetarian cooking, most recently Wild About Greens and Vegan Holiday Kitchen. Her backlist includes Vegan Express, Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, and The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. Her first book, Vegetariana, published in 1984, is considered a classic in its field. Nava also has written scores of articles on healthful cooking with natural foods, which have appeared in Vegetarian Times, VegNews, Cooking Light, and numerous other publications. In addition to her food writing, Nava also produces visual books on family themes, humor, and women’s issues, including Secret Recipes for the Modern Wife (2009)— a satiric look at contemporary marriage and motherhood through the lens of a faux 1950s cookbook. The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life, (2011) explores first-person narratives on the writing lives of twelve classic women authors, and comments on the universal relevance of their experiences to all women who love to write. Nava is also an active fine artist. Her work is shown and collected by museums and universities across the U.S. You can see her work at Her home is in the Hudson Valley region of New York State, where she lives with her husband; they have two grown children. Find Nava on Twitter @navaatlas2.

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