July 27, 2015

Taking Time to Write

By Debra Coleman Jeter

There’s a lovely poem about prayer by Grace Naessens you’ve probably heard.

It begins: “I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day,
I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray.”

It ends: “I woke up early this morning, and paused before entering the day. I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.”

I love this poem! What Ms. Naessens writes is so true of prayer. I have found that for me, it’s also true of writing. Before starting The Ticket, I had been writing off and on for years. My writing came in spurts. Sometimes I’d go for long stretches without writing a thing, except for the stuff required by my job. At other times, I might start a short story and write obsessively for a few days until it was finished. It wasn’t that I believed I had to be inspired to write; it was just a pattern I inadvertently fell into. I observed one truth about myself: I was generally happier in my personal life and more productive in my academic career when I was doing some outside writing.

When I started TheTicket, I resolved to break my habit of writing either nothing or too much at once, rather like a person who crash diets and then binges on her favorite sweets. This time I was going to write steadily week-in and week-out until I had a decent draft.

To aid in this process, I used Robert J. Ray’s book on writing, The Weekend Novelist, to provide a structure. Ray describes a fifty-two week program designed to produce a finished novel writing only on weekends. Although I did not limit myself to weekend writing, using Ray’s book gave me a structure and kept me moving forward when I might otherwise have stalled.

For me, the first sentence of the day is almost always the one that comes hardest. The more I tell myself I need to get on with it, the harder it is to make my pen move (yes, I write the old-fashioned way using pen and paper). I didn’t discover any magic tricks here, but what I avoided was giving up for the day. Instead I would tell myself that I could always trash the pages later if they stunk, as I often suspected they would. Then I’d force myself to start moving my pen. As a part-time writer with another job, I didn’t feel I had the luxury of waiting until later in the day. Usually, after the rough start, the words would start to flow. But not always. Some days I’d have to grind out every word. Later, though, I discovered surprises in both directions. When I would reread what I had written, the stuff I wrote when I felt inspired sometimes turned out to be lousy; and some of the most painfully written pages turned out to be pretty good.

Never give up!
A Vanderbilt University professor, Debra Coleman Jeter has published fiction and nonfiction in popular magazines, including Working Woman, New Woman, Self, Home Life, Savvy, Christian Woman, and American Baby. Her story, “Recovery,” won first prize in a Christian Woman short story competition, and her nonfiction book “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson”: Tales of a Young Actor was a finalist in the 2007 USA Book News Awards. She is a co-writer of the screenplay for Jess + Moss, a feature film which premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, screened at nearly forty film festivals around the world, and captured several international awards. She lives in Clarksville, Tennessee, with her husband.Website and Blog: Pinterest: Facebook:  Twitter:

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