September 24, 2010


My electric toothbrush has a two minute timer on it. I try to be disciplined and stay the course, but sometimes standing for two minutes with a brush humming in my mouth is just too-o-o long. All in all it requires six minutes a day to keep my dentist happy but sometimes, I have other priorities. Some days, I hit the shut off button with a sense of righteousness. I want to keep my teeth in good condition, but I also want to get to my writing because I’m amazed at how little I can accomplish in a day.

I’m on the 4th draft of my fourth novel. While on the first draft, I was lucky to get three or four pages written in a four hour period. On the second draft I aimed for 5 pages a day but didn’t always reach my goal; and now that I’m on my fourth draft, I feel lucky if I can edit twenty pages. So two minutes with a tooth brush is the equivalent of a hard-fought paragraph of a fourth draft. 

Of course, all things are relative. When I’m eighty-five I don’t want my dentist to tell me I need upper and lower dental plates. Sticking with my two minute regime may spare me pain, money and lost time in the future. I know this. I reason with myself every day, but it doesn’t change the fact that two minutes with a toothbrush seems an eternity. By contrast, I can work four hours on a manuscript and feel as though I’ve just sat down to my computer.  

Deciding how to organize one’s time must be a big problem for Americans. I’ve seldom picked up a woman’s magazine that didn’t have at least one article on the subject. I’m always amazed at what needs organizing according to one or another household expert. Frankly, I refuse to learn how to fold my fitted bed sheet in a manner that will conserve space. I haven’t got the time.

What I still have time for and insist upon is books, not the ones I write but the ones I read. At the moment, I’m enjoying a delightful Beatrix Potter mystery series by Susan Wittig Albert. I mentioned the writer to a friend the other day and her first question was, “Is it long?”  When I asked why it mattered, she threw up her hands as if she despaired of my understanding. “Caroline, who has time to read the complete “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” nowadays?”

As I walked home, I thought about her remark. I could think of a number of long books it would be a shame to discriminate against. My beloved Harry Potter series would be one of these. “The Deathly Hallows” is over seven hundred and fifty pages long. The more I thought about her notion, the more I disagreed with it. Long books are a blessing. They’re less costly per minute and, as they take longer to finish, on one doesn’t spend as much time at a book store searching for another read. In terms of toothbrush time, a longer book is always the better value.