A Little at a Time
John Erskine

  

I must have been about 14 then, and I dismissed the incident with the easy carelessness of youth.  But the words Carl Walter spoke that day came back to me years later, and ever since have been of inestimable value to me.

Carl Walter was my piano teacher.  During one of my lessons he asked how much practicing I was doing.  I said three or four hours a day.

"Do you practice in long stretches, an hour at a time?"

"I try to."

"Well, don't!" he exclaimed.  "When you grow up, time won't come in long stretches.  Practice in minutes, whenever you can find them--five or ten before school, after lunch, between chores.  Spread the practice through the day, and piano-playing will become a part of your life."

When I was teaching at Columbia, I wanted to write, but recitations, theme-reading and committee meetings filled my days and evenings.  For two years I got practically nothing down on paper, and my excuse was that I had no time.  Then I recalled what Carl Walter had said.

During the next week I conducted an experiment.  Whenever I had five unoccupied minutes, I sat down and wrote a hundred words or so.  

To my astonishment, at the end of the week I had a sizable manuscript ready for revision.

Later on I wrote novels by the same piecemeal method.  Though my teaching schedule had become heavier than ever, in every day there were idle moments which could be caught and put to use.  I even took up piano-playing again, finding that the small intervals of the day provided sufficient time for both writing and piano practice.

There is an important trick in thins time-using formula:  you must get into your work quickly.  If you have but five minutes for writing, you can't afford to waste four chewing your pencil.  You must make your mental preparations beforehand, and concentrate on your task almost instantly when the time comes.  Fortunately, rapid concentration is easier than most of us realize.

I confess I have never learned how to let go easily at the end of the five or ten minutes.  But life can be counted on to supply interruptions.  Carl Walter has had a tremendous influence on my life.  To him I owe the discovery that even very short periods of time add up to all the useful hours I need, if I plunge in without delay.

1941

  

No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes
or a fig.  If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must
be time.  Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.

Epictetus

  


  
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