Project manager vs. the artist: A Discussion of Time

Yes, it’s a very strange place, this space between my ears. It’s a place that stretches time, that plays with it, and that sometimes even pretends that time is something real.


Now that I am writing full time, I find that I am becoming considerably more sensitive to the passage of time within any single day (and my apparent misuse of it), yet considerably less observant as to the day itself. For example, Lisa got me a desk calendar for Christmas specifically so I would be reminded of the actual number that this particular day carries. I glanced at it a minute ago, and saw it read “13.” This is good. The 13th is a lucky day in my book, even if it’s not a Friday.

What got me picking at this subject again was that my morning today was not a particularly productive one. By that, I don’t mean that I frittered away the time. I don’t mean that I grazed too much of the interWebz, or wandered incessantly upstairs for snacks, or spent focused inordinately on any other time waster. Instead, I sat dutifully at my desk and created words that were targeted at a story I will sometime complete. I created words. Yes, I did. So when I say I was not particularly productive, I mean that I did not find any of the words I created this morning to be particularly worthy, and that I fully expect none of them will ever be read by anyone else (unless some poor hacker works her way into my hard drive, that is … and if she does, she’ll deserve every word she reads).

At the end of the morning, I was torn between two conflicting views of myself.

The corporate leader and project manager that is still fully resident across most of my thought patterns was distraught. I “wasted” three hours. I mean, just wasted it. Three hours. A full 180 minutes (or more, really), and I have zero words to show for it. What a slacker.

But the artist in me is growing stronger every day, and the artist in there knows that the point of the morning was to show up and to do the work, regardless of what happened. The artist knows the score, understands the process. The artists looks at these last three hours as soak time–that period where the brain is churning over things and trying on ideas and saying “Dear God, no!” and “Well, if you were to tweak that just a little it might sometime be not too embarrassing to show out in public” and the several other kinds of things that (what I’ll endearingly call) my personal muse goes through as I’m figuring things out. The artist knows these last three hours were not wasted, but were, instead, part of the deal.

This means that, yes, I throw a lot of words away.


So, you say, that all sounds good. But what happens if the good stuff never comes together? What if the good stuff never shows up, and you wind up throwing out all the words all the time?


Since, again, I have a calendar on my desk, I can, again, report that this is the 13th day of the month (and, by chance, the 13th day of the year). I can also report that in this month I have, to date, finished three short stories, comprising something in the range of 10,800 words of what I will call “publishable” fiction (in this context, “publishable” means only that a work is completely finished through first draft, all personal revisions, copy editing, and through any other refinement I felt was needed, and that the story therein is what I consider “good.” In general, it also means the story is either on an editor’s desk or in transit to same). I have another 5,500 short story that I will be finishing up here shortly, probably 2K of those words were done in January (the rest in December). Given these numbers, I’ll state that I’ve been averaging essentially 1,000 publishable words a day for the first two weeks of the year. If you could stand over me and watch me work, however, you would see that those 1,000 words a day never come flowing out in simple, free-flowing 1,000 word chunks. Well … almost never. Okay. I lied. Sometimes they do come out in those rivers and currents–but those times are almost always preceded by an hour or two or three or … more of bouncing other words off the page while I wait to get into the right flow.

This is unfortunate, but it does seem, for me, to be true. Catching that flow–and ensuring it’s the “right” flow–is the issue. That is the magic.

The story I finished yesterday, for example, managed to see light of day only after I explored the starts of three other stories and deemed them not interesting enough to carry me. Each of those stories required me to invest time to decide if they were the right ones, and that time “paid off” when I hit the flow that gave me that “aha!” burst of energy that told me I actually cared about it and was interested enough in it to drive through to its end–the arrival at which then came with relative haste. I could say that it took me only a day and a half to write the story I wound up with, and I wouldn’t be totally lying (though it was a long day and a half). But the truth is that I was working on the idea for two or three days prior to that without arriving at any words that would remind anyone of the final draft I wound up with.

The project manager in me calls those first two and a half days “wasted.” The artist in me just gives that guy a knowing nod, understanding that the world needs movers and shakers like him–and in fact, happy (most of the time) that this piece of him exists. But as he’s nodding at the PM that sits inside me, the artist portion of me just moves on to squint at the next blank page and imagine which words might look best on it, which words might capture the essence of what it is that I might have to say.

This is because the artist side of me knows that there really is no garbage. It knows that the words you throw out are just as necessary as the words you keep. The artist side understands that the “good stuff” happens in different ways every time, that it’s all good stuff in its own way. The artist side of me knows that it will always come together as long as I trust in it, and as long as I give it the space to let it happen in its own way.

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Posted in Daily Writing, Life.

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