Finding Time to Write (and the horrible, inevitable consequence of not writing)

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Finding time to write is one of those struggles that really gets under my skin. It’s like there’s a tiny porcupine who lives in the slimy space between my skull and my brain who rolls around like a tumbleweed on the days that I’m not writing. This tiny porcupine causes me great discomfort as you can imagine, and the only way to make him stop rolling about like a menace is to sit myself down to write, because writing lulls him to sleep… and gives me relief.

When I think about what I’m so busy doing that keeps me from writing, a definitive answer never comes. Instead, my mind mulls over the generic I’m just so busy. And yet, we’re always going to be busy. There’s always going to be something that needs our attention right now. Do we revel in this energy of feeling needed? It’s hard to say. But I don’t want to be busy in the sense that I’m caught up in the rush of the weekday cycle, going through the motions of must-dos, and losing myself along the way.

“How’ve you been?”
“Good. Just busy.”
“Busy doing what?”
“Being busy.”

Something will always need our attention, be it work, family, personal hygiene, or the tedious chores of cleaning and laundry that — will never come to an end. When I analyze it in this way I recognize how easy it is to put writing on the back burner. And since not writing doesn’t offer any immediately visible dire consequences in the short-sighted view of our world, we continue to put it off. And our tetras game of priorities thus continues to blur our desire to write further and further into the background.

Not writing does not equal having no clothes to wear the next day. Not writing won’t cause ants to parade around your kitchen counter or flies to invade your garbage can. Not writing will not get you fired from your job (unless of course, writing is your job) — nor will it result in your kids going hungry or your dog peeing all over the floor. (At this very moment my dog puked on the couch, so I had to interrupt my writing just now to deal with that wonderful mess — seriously!)

So yes, it’s very easy to put off writing; there are so many excuses to choose from! Too many times have I been in bed at end of the day agonizing over another day of not having written, whispering to myself meekly and ever so hopefully, I’ll try again tomorrow. This cycle of busy is a death trap. It’s killed many would-be writers.

This is my warning to you.

And to myself.

The reason not writing doesn’t cause any immediate ramifications is because its effects are, well, not immediate. Not writing is the surest way to kill a writer… but it’s a slow, steady, crumbling death, peppered with phrases of procrastination, excuses, overwhelmed sighs, and denial.

Not writing is a poison IV drip — every drip representing a single day of not writing.

A recurring nightmare I have is a moment in which I admit to myself — from the deepest, most tucked away chambers of my heart — that I can’t truthfully call myself a writer anymore. I’m staring at my old, dusty, long-forgotten drafts and don’t recognize the words as my own, and suddenly at dinner parties I’m standing around with a wine glass in hand, and with that awkward dinner-party half-laugh, I recount to the semi-circle around me that I used to be a writer. And when I go home later, pop my heels off my feet, think about how I maybe should’ve stayed home to write instead of go to that party — I realize I don’t feel the tiny porcupine anymore. He dissolved into my brain a long time ago because of how numb I’d become to the treacherous feeling of not writing.

It’s a dark thought, I know. That’s why it’s a nightmare. But it’s a thought every writer struggling with time management should reflect on — if a writer is who you are and who you truly want to be. Are you dedicated enough? The title of Writer must be earned.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.” – J.K. Rowling

It’s so frustrating trying to carve out the time I need to write, like I’m trying to steal pennies from a piggy bank before somebody notices and calls my name. But the solution is truly simple. Writers write — we must write. In the same way we nourish our bodies with food and water, we must nourish the writers that we are and can fully become by making writing more of a priority in our lives.

Writing is hard; we mustn’t forget that. Not just the process of writing and what comes after, but the process of getting to the writing desk in the first place. Everything about writing is hard. And only real writers are up for the challenge — are obsessed with it. Love it regardless.

For me my solution comes down to time management. Clearly my lifestyle hasn’t been nurturing my writing routine, so I’ve begun to rise an hour earlier each day to use that extra time slot to write. Anyone who knows me will know just how much of an effort this is… I’m a night owl by nature. But I’ve decided that writing is too important to me, more important than my self-proclaimed love for the night, and that I’m willing to do anything I need to do to put writing in the forefront. Leaving it for the end of the day has kept my unfinished drafts at just that.

Because I think part of the problem is that I shouldn’t be trying to find time to write, I should be trying to make time to write. (Yes, for me at this point it’s still a matter of try, but at least I’ll be trying in the right direction.) I’ve realized I need to actively shape my schedule around writing, not just let my writing fall wherever it may.gloria-steinem

What it boils down to is priority. You make time for what’s important to you.

Being a writer may not be a choice, but the writing life — the writing life is very much a choice. It’s a choice you have to make every day, every time you sit down to it amidst the million other things that are shouting for attention as you’re typing away.

Being a writer is not about writing when it’s convenient, it’s about making sure you’re writing no matter what — because if you don’t, you’ll live out the rest of your life feeling incomplete and resentful of everything and everyone around you. And your unwritten stories will haunt you.

Not writing may not keep your life from falling apart in the immediate sense, but it sure will cause the writer in you to die a slow and untimely death.

And I don’t want to go out like that.


What strategies do you use to maintain an active and consistent writing routine? What sacrifices or adjustments have you made in the name of writing?

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Writing is Hard (and other writerly problems)

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Writing is hard.

It’s the process of extracting with tweezers the intangibles (thoughts, dreams, ideas, images, emotions) from your mind and heart, and molding them into beautiful tangibles (inked words on paper) that not only have to make sense to another mind, but must provide a certain level of enjoyment, deemed worthy of a reader’s time.

Forget inspiring your reader to revelations, evoking thoughts and epiphanies. That will grow on its own time… later.

You just want to write.

You just want to create the conditions by which your reader will keep reading beyond the first few lines… keep reading the words that you poured so much of your blood into… so much of your blood… that you’re now lying dizzy and dehydrated, hallucinating slightly… and not water, not love, not fresh air, not a child’s hug or a cat’s purr can bring you back… because what you really need are more words… more words from your churning imagination.

Perfect words.

Writing is hard.

It’s excruciating, and feels near impossible sometimes.

It can drive you to madness… to doubting yourself (am I even a writer? Why am I doing this to myself?!)… to talking to or about your characters as though they were real human beings… to laughing out loud when your characters say something funny, only to realize… that you’re alone on your couch with your dog, and your laptop is burning your lap, and you’ve been holding your bladder for hours and you haven’t eaten since morning and you’re somehow sitting in darkness and your neighbors can see through your window, and they’re waving at you.

Writing is hard.

It’s walking through a dark room, hands along the wall, and each word you find is a light switch that makes the room a bit brighter, so that you can finally see the window on the other side, and make your way to it; the window that will show you the world from an angle that makes sense… so that you can finally understand… something… a little better.

Writing is hard.

It’s a thrill. To see your mind’s fruits BECOME. To CREATE… and then cast that creation into the world. 

Here! you yell from the mountain top, wind tousling your hair. Here is a piece of me! And you rip that piece of you from your chest, and it drips. Here is my offering, my sleepless nights and daily ponderings! Here is my contribution to the endless stream of consciousness that envelopes and connects us all!

Only for your book to end up in a used-book store with a $2.00 price sticker. All that agony of pulling images from your brain and surgically manipulating them onto a page, of saying no to friends and family because “I can’t, I have to write”, all that despair of wondering if this is the right idea, the right word, the right way to frame this scene, the right pace, the right allusion, the right calling for your life…

All that, and your book ends up in a donation box somewhere, or worse— a recycling bin— or worse— an attic or basement— dusty, unknown, forgotten.

And you just want to write.

You don’t want to be forgotten.

Isn’t that what writing is, partly? A validation of sorts? A confirmation of I Am Here or I Was Here?

You need only to scroll through social media to see how much people want that validation… that desire to be heard… that platform on which to announce to the world: I AM HERE. I MATTER. THIS IS WHAT I HAVE TO SAY. DO YOU SEE ME? I AM HERE.

Writing is hard.

You just want to create an oasis in a world of chaos. You want your book to be a refuge, a parallel universe unaffected, though very much inspired, by the truths and lies and questions of life. A safe place to visit. A place of comfort and enjoyment, but also a place that stirs you.

A place that reassures you: you are not alone in this wonderful explosion of thoughts and emotions and experiences. You are not alone and you are not crazy. And if you are crazy, then by all means be crazy. Be fabulous crazy. Be brave crazy. Be you.

Writing is hard.

But when you write…

Write with all your heart and blood and soul…

Write like your blood cells are letters in every single language that ever existed, and you’re the only translator left…

Write like it’s an involuntary bodily function, like your lungs need it more than air…

Write until you fall to the floor in hopeless exhaustion, then close your eyes and let your dog sniff your face (because that’s what dogs do and you love your dog), and when your dog’s done sniffing, sink into beautiful sleep, where your imagination can play and wander in your dreams, unbridled… where your words can simmer and bubble in your mind’s subconscious.

And when you wake up, head straight to the kitchen to make coffee— strong coffee— then sit your ass back down and write some more. Because you’re a writer, dammit. It’s what you do.

Also, don’t forget to eat. (And take your dog out.) You’re only human, after all. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

The Plight of the Artist: Inspiration vs. Habit

ImageInspiration is an elusive and mysterious fellow. I imagine him to live in the tree tops where he can observe the comings and goings of mundane routine from a safe distance. (He doesn’t do too well with monotony.) At times he might find a person of interest and decide to perch himself on his or her shoulder, and linger there awhile to the very delight of said person. Other times he might remain far and aloof, on a hiatus of sorts because apparently Inspiration too needs time to rejuvenate.

That said, I don’t trust Inspiration much. I adore his company and would never ever turn him away (obviously), but I have learned to not rely on him, to not wait for him to do my work. Inspiration will always be nearby somewhere, camouflaged in the tree tops, playing outside your window, or anywhere around you really if you would only quiet your mind and pay attention. But he’s fickle. He does not like to make himself readily available. He’s shy, has his insecurities like any artist, and thus seems to reveal himself only when he’s got his best suit on. Which is why, when he does finally arrive — it’s amazing! But frankly, I don’t have time for that.

And so I discovered my sturdy friend, Habit.

Now let me tell you. Habit will get you where you need to go. He will bee-line through any mess and screech to a stop right at your feet just to pick you up. Habit, in short, makes things happen, gets things done. Inspiration lounges, kicks his feet up, stays awhile only when it pleases him. Habit moves, demands attention, calls you to action.

So much for productivity, Inspiration may mumble, a cigarette hanging from the side of his lip as he watches us from a cloud. Habit on the other hand is a bull: fierce and proud and utterly dependable, once you learn how to harness him, of course. You must earn Habit’s trust before he will work with you.

I wasted spent a good many years waiting around on whimsical Inspiration. Declaring that I cannot be creative until I’m in his magical company. But I finally realized, thanks to a professor in one of my writing workshops, that I had it all wrong…

The art of living artfully is a matter of choice, a matter of prioritizing. Not a matter of waiting for the right idea and the perfect moment. We must set up the stage for the right idea and the perfect moment. We must plow through hideous drafts and forgive ourselves instead of punish ourselves when a piece we’re working on refuses to take the shape we want it to.

Inspiration may give us vision, but Habit is what helps us bring that vision to life.

We need Inspiration. His purpose is entwined with ours. And in time, he will come. He always does. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with a bang. He may visit us in our dreams or at the doctor’s office. He lives in a single moment; he’s as essential as a match. But ultimately, forging a strong partnership with Habit is how we can set ourselves up for success.

Habit will keep us moving through the streams of our imaginations even when those streams seem low and almost dry. Habit will keep us disciplined and determined and hopeful. Inspiration is a wonderful visitor. We must cultivate patience and keep an open window in our minds so that we’re always ready to welcome him into our creative process.

Inspiration without Habit often leads to unfinished projects and half-baked ideas. But Habit nurtures Inspiration. Habit keeps the artist going. Habit is the difference between a passive artist and an active one.