Quantity, not Quality, Time with the Muse

Photo Credit: Mararie (Creative Commons)
An Astronomical Clock // Photo Credit: Mararie (Creative Commons)

When my sons were little, the debate over Quality Time versus Quantity Time was in full swing. The idea was this: if a parent spends meaningful time with a child, then that cancels out the need to spend large amounts of time together, right? Umm…

Having worked in daycare, I already knew the answer: Quantity Time wins. It does. Always. And this doesn’t only apply to very young children.

Fast forward to Mom’s Weekend at Oregon State. I would show up Friday night with my sleeping bag, ready for their sofa. Since each son also worked, he would put in his shift and return to their apartment. We watched movies (ha, of my choosing!) and talked and took walks by the river. I treated them to dinner at a local Chinese dive. And bought pizza and snacks and sodas and coffee.

Ah, but when did the meaningful conversations emerge? I think you can guess. Not until we were having our farewell coffee–as Starbucks was closing! I was facing a 90-minute drive and school the next day, but I was always late coming home. Because it wasn’t until the end of our weekend together, after I’d put off my departure several times, that the real questions would come up–about girls, or a work-related conflict, or the news of a failing grade.

The meaningful stuff bubbled up because I stayed around. Because I spent time–what felt like unnecessary time–connecting. We were able to get comfortable together, and one by one the barriers came down.

With Roslynn in beautiful Ventura
With Roslynn

It’s the same with my writing. This is Roslynn. On the last day of the 2014, we had lunch in Ventura and spent the afternoon talking–ha, until the coffee place closed! As usual, I was sighing over my lack of progress with the novel. Then she asked, “Can you be done by the end of January?” My response: “Oh, of course I can.” And I meant it.

When a deadline is far-off, it sounds so simple to meet. After all, it was New Year’s Eve and finishing seemed attainable. Heck, anything did. The sun was shining, tail-wagging dogs pranced by, and gulls soared in a cloudless sky. 2015 was just over the horizon, fresh and unexplored and new.

Last Thursday, I looked at the calendar–really looked at it. I was not even close to making that finish date! Eight chapters–the forecast length had grown by four–with only sixteen days in which to write them. Ah, but I had two three-day weekends in which to work–but only if I spent Quantity Time with the muse.

“A long way to go and a short time to get there.” And so, mindful of my promise to Roslynn, on Friday I settled into my self-imposed Writing Marathon. With notes and outlines and pages of ‘My 500 Words’ sketches of scenes, I put (almost) everything on hold and dug in. “A chapter a day,” I told myself. “It’s only a chapter a day.” For me, this amount is huge.

So I went AWOL from the Internet–I kept slapping my hand when I peeked–but I accomplished my goal. Three chapters–finish-quality work, close to 8,000 words–all because I spent Quantity Time with the Muse. As with Mom’s Weekend, the longer I kept at it, the more good stuff came bubbling up.

There are still five chapters to write. Next weekend will be more of the same, except that I have report cards to finish. I’m signing off now, in fact, to grade papers.

One way or another, I will finish this novel. And then it will be time to begin another…

8 thoughts on “Quantity, not Quality, Time with the Muse

  1. I can work like this only in short bursts. I have the book outlined, but it’s getting the subtle stuff placed, making the emotions believable, coming up with the clever and the unexpected…

    Are we nuts?

    We are, and worse. It’s been a rough start up to the school week. I am burnt down to the socket. But if we don’t work intensely, our books will languish forever.

    All the best to you as you labor, my friend. I’ll be thinking of you.


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