Bad Advice Wednesday: A Little at a Time

categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour


A few years back--can we do it again?  Yes.

A few years back–can we do it again? Yes.

Every year it’s the same–I look out over my garden and wonder how on earth I’m going to get it ready and then planted in time to have any chance of food from it at all.  And every year, an hour here and five minutes there, a morning next week and an hour last week, the thing gets done.  And all the other things.  Including, like, parenting.  And novels.

If a novel’s not a garden, I don’t know what is, except a garden of course, which is a novel of a different kind, the same old story.  A novel has to be tended, a novel proceeds from all the years of gardening that came before, writing being gardening.  The best thing being that stuff grows even when you’re not looking, and even because you’re not looking.

People like to say to me, well, I’m going to write a novel one of these days.  Or a book.  Or screenplay.  And I always reply, start it right now.  Take five minutes after you leave this conversation, and just start.  And then tomorrow, take five more.  This, you can do no matter how busy.  This, you can do even in the midst of your own wedding, or in the midst of a family illness and subsequent funeral, or in in the midst of your pummeling career, whatever your career might be, and no matter how trying, how time-consuming. Emergency-room doctors write novels, for heaven’s sake.  They put in a half hour today, five minutes tomorrow, that’s how, finding the gaps between disasters.

Waiting for that big unbroken block of time just means waiting forever.  Finding five minutes means you can get going today.  In fact, I just wrote this post in several five-minute excursions in the interstices between a hike, making a script deadline, making lunch for my daughter, and cleaning the house before the housekeeper arrives (if you know what I mean).

Later, while the girl’s at her piano lesson, I’ll sit in the car on this very laptop and turn back to my novel in progress, hundreds of pages now, written at all times of day, in every form of transportation, in dozens of houses and hotels, but also at my desk. My desk, my desk, how I miss thee!  When I get back there, finally, and because I’ve been working incrementally, I’ll know just what to do, and that unbroken block of time won’t become an unbroken block of despair.

See you in five!


Bill Roorbach is a walker in the woods, a noticer, and an amateur short-order cook, among other things.

  1. Debora writes:

    Five on the Fly. Exactly. Good to know there is a whole society of us.

  2. Lucinda Kempe writes:

    One word at a time. One sentence. One paragraph. One chapter. One day at a time. It can all be done. Thanks for the reminder, Bill. I, too, garden and like you do the same wonder how will it get done pre spring.

    It’s also okay to take time off from the work and, say, garden or walk and mull. As long as you get back to it. One line at a time.

    And one day I sure hope to finally metcha in person. :-))))))))))))

  3. George de Gramont writes:

    Enjoyed this essay. Hope your lovely daughter and Hadley see each other. So as we say in my home country “Continuez le bon travail”!

  4. Elizabeth Hilts writes:

    “Finding the gaps between disasters.” I’m printing that line out. Thanks, Bill!