Time moves differently when I’m home from college. An hour at home means deciding what to do, watching two Food Network episodes at my grandparents’ house, driving to the beach, or puttering out half-sentences at my computer that I tell myself I’ll finish later. An hour at school means completing a homework assignment, attending a newspaper meeting, reveling in this unusually lengthy chunk of free time, or simply talking with roommates right before bed, making me lose sleep but feel the good tired of a full day.
This discrepancy in time is a welcome product of summer and its lazy days of food excess, television and marathon reading (most recently for me, Emma Cline’s The Girls and, of course, the latest Harry Potter). It’s also a product of place. School is an academic environment of people moving, working and participating; their productivity encourages your own. Home, on the other hand, allows you to sink into the comfort of family and the familiar. An unusual brand of discipline gets lost in the switch—not the responsibility that makes you show up for your summer job, but a deeper self-motivation, the kind I equate with writing.
At the end of May, my friend and I set a deadline (mid-summer) by which we’d trade short stories. We figured having someone to hold us accountable would incite us to write, writing not for any greater audience, but as fuel and practice for the dream we both entertain of writing for a career. And yet it’s past mid-summer and we haven’t traded. Without a hard deadline or schedule as I have during the school year, I find myself abandoning writing for reading or watching television or just hanging out in my kitchen before dinner. My concentration is short, my short story attempts rambling, because I bet on always having more time—the classic folly of procrastination, the gateway to never getting anything done.
My struggle with discipline during the summer makes me think about the incredible amount of commitment it takes to create the kind of fiction I admire. I wish to strengthen my writing, story by story, but this commitment has always been shared with something else—schoolwork, other interests, the lure of free time. And yet, I think something more than this natural division of commitments prevents me from being more disciplined: a fear of the openness of writing.
The possibilities for stories overwhelm me, paralyzing me from writing (a.k.a. allowing me excuses to stop), in the same way possibilities for free time in the summer do and, most of all, the way possibilities for what I want to do with my life do. Being fearful and overwhelmed by possibilities (in other words: the unknown) is an age-old concern—we feel powerless against the unknown and yet afraid of our own power. On the macro-level: what if we create the wrong life for ourselves? On the micro-level (and actually macro too): what if we write a truly no-good story?
For me, right now, wanting to “write for a career” (and figuring out how to get there) remains as loosely defined as the plot of the short story I’m trying to write—which is as loosely defined as what I’m going to do tomorrow. But I have to stop letting this uncertainty—this openness—worry me. I can have faith that I’m working towards something even if I don’t know exactly what it is. And with this faith, I hope, I’ll gain more self-discipline, more confidence, and ultimately, more direction, learning what I want and how to get there.
So perhaps tonight I’ll spend that hour writing, even continuing past that hour, mixing discipline with enjoyment. Or perhaps I’ll eat dessert and watch television, taking advantage of the slow way time—and all its demands of the future—is moving these last few weeks of summer.
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Rachael Allen is a rising Junior at Bowdoin College studying English and Italian. She serves as editor-in-chief of Bowdoin’s arts and literary magazine, The Quill, and news editor of Bowdoin’s newspaper, The Bowdoin Orient. She loves to write (and read) both fiction and nonfiction, including monthly columns for her local newspaper. You can read these columns as well as other work on her blog: https://rachaelallenblog.wordpress.com.