By Alice Stopher November 9, 2016  |  Fiction, MFA, Writing  |  no responses



With fall break on the horizon and my first semester of graduate school readying itself to be tucked in I can’t help but do that looking-back-thing and wonder if I’ve best used these past weeks. If I’ve stretched myself enough, leaned in and learned from my initial discomforts, been a thorough and generous reader, if I’ve been thoughtful and purposeful with my time.


I worry this last point most. When the semester started I couldn’t figure out how anyone had time to write. I couldn’t seem to do it. Though I wanted to establish a consistent writing practice I felt stuck. Overwhelmed. I felt lucky, and then worried, to get a sentence down on paper for myself. Like I was cheating somehow either way – I’d made it out to be a choice between course work and my own, and neither choice seemed right. It was a whole guilty spirally mess.


Part of it, I recognize, is rooted in my own disorganization. And stubbornness.


I have long had a problem with the term time management, or to be more precise, not so much a problem as a rebelliousness. Time management – those words are ugly next to one another and worse than ugly I find them abstract. Time, a human imposition of order on the inherently un-orderable, cannot be further “managed”. For much of my adult life I’ve rejected the whole project. Something about the term puts the taste of ridiculous late night infomercials in my mouth, the smell of self-help sections segregated to the stale backs of their chain bookstores as if their overlong and under-punctuated titles could somehow contaminate the rest of the books.


I might have stayed unwilling to engage more deeply with this stubbornness if I hadn’t been fortunate to receive some advice that called out my childish sticking-out-my-tongue at managing my own time.


I was told the story of a wife who, for her recently graduated husband, colored in blocks of his calendar in light blue to schedule time for his writing. Writing that down now seems simpler than it felt. Something about it – the specificity of detail, the intimacy of the gesture – made my understanding the phrase “making time” differently. Made me understand it as a gift. As a gift I could give myself.


Which serves for me, and maybe for you too, as a good reminder of what brought me to the MFA in the first place. I’d been living out in the world, with its unceasing demands on my time, for a handful of years when I decided to apply. I wanted more than to become a better writer. I wanted to give myself this kind of miraculous gift, the gift of time. Of three years I could set aside for myself, my writing. Three years out of the busy busy world. Time to take my own work seriously.


And yeah, okay, I don’t have an established writing practice. Yet. I’m trying to wake up early, make myself coffee, but many mornings in the haze of waking up I can’t convince myself I’d rather write than sleep. And maybe I’ll never be able to schedule my writing like a more organized person; mark my calendar in light blue or hot pink or pale green at specific days and times and stick to that same routine.


But I am negotiating my relationship with the phrase time management. I’m reminding myself that I have as many hours in the day as everyone else does, as even the prolific Joyce Carol Oates has. I’m avoiding the spirally messes I tangled myself up in at the top of this semester. I’m taking my days as they come and finding quiet scraps of them here and there and sitting myself down at my desk/on a bench/under a tree and pulling words out one at a time and arranging and rearranging them. I’m giving myself these gifts.


I’m still not calling it time management. I’m not calling it making time. I’m calling it, instead, gifting. And maybe that’s splitting hairs, a silly rebranding. But hey, it’s working for me. I’m writing.

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