Finding the Time to Write
I recently began working with a new writer who leads a very full life. She’s a professional, has two young children and is active in her community. “I know I’m really busy,” she told me, “but I’ve been creating this novel in my head for years. I don’t want to put off writing it any longer.”
“If you really want to do this—and I think you do–” I told her, “you are going to have to let go of something in your already very busy life.” Writing isn’t something you can stack on or squeeze into your day, I explained. Rather than an activity, like riding your bike or singing in a chorus, writing is a practice. To engage with writing fully, you’ll need to dedicate a certain amount of time to it on a regular basis.
“I’m pretty good at managing my time,” the writer replied. “I think I’ll be able to find a half hour each day to fit writing in.”
“In my own experience and from working with other writers, fitting writing in doesn’t work,” I replied. I told her about clients who had sworn they could do this, had tried it for a month or two, and in the end—with one or two exceptions–had discovered that days passed without their getting around to their writing.
“Why?” the client asked.
While I know it to be true, I cannot fully explain why so many of us tend to put writing off. When I teach writing courses—even in MFA in Writing programs–many of the students tell me they need the deadline of assignments to get their writing done. A friend’s daughter-in-law, who is an excellent writer, recently turned in her dissertation minutes before her deadline. I once worked with a corporate writer who could get his assignments completed only the morning after he had missed his deadline. And I’ve worked with scores of individuals who have wanted to write for years, kept believing they would start, yet never did.
To write is to sit down with yourself and no one else. Whatever you are writing–nonfiction, fiction or poetry–what you put down on the page comes from you and you alone. And the truth is, most of us do not have the best relationships with ourself. We might be kind, compassionate, and generous with our friends and family, but when it comes to us, we are stingy and critical. We find fault with much that we do and say. We think it selfish to take time to accomplish our dreams. Instead we should be working toward a greater good. And because we feel bad about taking time to pursue a dream, we become hypercritical of every word, every sentence, every bit of content we create.
No wonder so many of us put off writing. Why would we choose to face these demons?
The first step to becoming a lifelong writer is to accept that writing is something you want and deserve to do. Once you do this, a handful of your demons will slink away.
Next, you need to commit to a regular writing practice. By this I mean writing at least five times a week, with no more than a day in between writing sessions. To do this, as I told my client, you will most likely have to let go of something in your schedule. Writing is not an add-on. It is a commitment. At first, deciding what to let go of may seem impossibly difficult. In the case of my client, she couldn’t imagine relinquishing any of her community obligations. They all felt too important to her. But once I explained that she didn’t have to drop everything, just something, and we discussed exactly what she did for her community–and when–she realized that letting go of a small part of what she did, in no way meant abandoning the cause.
A few months, my client understood that she had sacrificed only a small portion of her community involvement. And by committing herself to her writing, she had made a deep and rewarding commitment to herself.