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

Writing-or-thing-about-writing

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?

13887679_fe204165ff

Don’t Let Life Pass You By

The_Time_Traveler_by_xetobyte

It’s easy to get lost in the folds of everyday. The countdown to the weekend seems to rule our lives. It’s a vicious cycle that blurs together days and weeks and months, until you forget how old you are on your birthday, and you no longer want to celebrate.

To-do lists are endless highways, as though life were a road trip, and you stay up all night just to get to where you want to be, and by day you’re too exhausted to enjoy the views. Attempts to workout or eat right or quit that habit or say the right words or commit to that perfect routine seem to follow you like a recurring daydream (or nightmare). Then you wake up one morning and realize six months have gone by (or worse — years), and you still haven’t taken the steps to accomplish all that your heart wants to do. Your passions are hanging on a hook behind your bedroom door. I’ll get to it tomorrow, you say as you make your usual exit, walk down the path of your usual routine. Because first things first: bills need to be paid, and your boss is expecting you to be somewhere on time — on their behalf.

And all the while your dog is getting older as he waits for you on the couch each day. You are getting older. The days continue to dissolve and you continue to put off calling up that friend or family member whom you haven’t seen in ages. You don’t remember what you did last weekend because every weekend looks the same, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You seem to be constantly saving for something and constantly broke. Not because you don’t have money, but because you’re worried that like time, you’ll never get back what you spend, so you tuck it away hoping something worthwhile will come along, something that will give you a good return on investment. And you’re constantly searching for that one thing that’s certain. Because better safe than sorry, right?

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I remember having what was probably my very first moment of clarity. I was sitting at the dining room table eating alone, looking across the room to the wall that held a round-faced clock. I remember staring at the second hand, focusing every thread of my being on its incessant ticking, its endless quest to move forward, to keep going. And for some reason, I remember feeling an immense sadness at the sudden, stark awareness that seconds were falling away from me. Falling away as I sat there on that table with a spoon in my hand, into a place I could never visit. It was the first time I realized that time is irretrievable.

We all have things that we want to do and things that we must do — sometimes those things align, sometimes they conflict. But no matter where those things fit in your life, I’ve learned that it’s important to prioritize what makes your heart catch fire. To do what makes you feel alive. Too many of us walk around drugged by coffee and obligations — utterly subdued into mindless routines that undo the threads of the heart by night and numb the passions of the soul by day.

Until you wake up and your skin is stale, and the pages of the novel you’d never written are sitting on your bedside table, yellowed by years of neglect. And your boss doesn’t exist in your life anymore, and you don’t remember how old you are, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Suddenly your life’s priorities involve getting to the bathroom before you let yourself go, and making your doctor’s appointments on time (they’re very busy so it’s important to be on time) because those shiny-eyed doctors with their sympathetic nods hold the answers to elongating your life (at least that’s what your mind has you believe) — though you’re unsure what you would do with your time if you did live longer. Because by that point, your best years are gone anyway (at least that’s what your mind has you believe). And dreams are for sissies anyway. Dreams are for street musicians and artist hippies and young inventors and college students who think they can change the world. Who are you to dream? Who are you?

Working, Sleeping, Writing: A Writer’s Rant

Insomnia Clock

Here’s my problem, and I’ve been analyzing it for some time: I write best at night.

It’s 1:01 am right now and here I am writing. It may not be very good writing, but I’m writing and that’s what matters.

I need to write.

That’s why I’ve been cranky. That’s why I’ve been feeling hopeless. That’s why my blog’s been dry. I haven’t been writing on a regular schedule because I write best at night.

So write at night! What’s the issue?

The issue is that I can’t afford to be an insomniac writer anymore. I used to stay up into deep hours, my brain on fire for as long as my fingers and eyes could keep up, sometimes until dawn.

But jarring adulthood has thrust me into the arena of full-time employment—the arena of bus and car and train commutes, where every morning I’m surrounded by fellow worker bees clutching their coffee cups with drowsy faces, eyes still puffy from sleep that hasn’t worn off yet.

I am now the rush hour traffic.

And when I come home at night, I’m tired of the computer screen. I’m tired of the sitting. I’m tired of the to-do list that won’t detach from my hip. I’m just tired and I want to unwrap my brain from its knots, and I don’t feel like writing just yet.

I walk my dog. Make my dinner. Eat my dinner. Do the chores.  (Wow, imagine if I had kids. Hats off to all the mom writers out there.) And by the time I recenter myself and open up my laptop, it’s 10 pm and my bed starts whispering… tick tock… the time for sleep is near… and I don’t want to sleep—not yet—so I rebel: I type away, I type and I type till I look up and see the time and it laughs in my face and says something like don’t you have to wake up in four hours?

So when am I supposed to write if I write best at night?

As an insomniac, I hated the night. It was lonely, maddening, a time of hallucination, but also—and I didn’t realize it then—a peak time for my creativity. At night I can zoom into my words, my world, my brain, uninterrupted, because I need silence when I write. The night is my writing cocoon.

But my lifestyle doesn’t allow for this nocturnal love story anymore.

Rusty clock swirl

And I’ve tried to be an “early bird”, and you know, mornings aren’t so bad; they’re pleasant, actually. They too have their element of peace and quiet. I love coffee. I love tea. I love breakfast and brunch. I love sunlight—I love windows flooded with sunlight.

But mornings are just not me. Mornings make me want to be outside and breathe the air and get active—not sit down to confinement.

Writing is discipline. Half the work is just getting yourself in the chair—holding yourself hostage to the task. The other half is to not hate yourself as you write so you can keep on writing. Suppress that voice of the oppressor, as Anne Lamott said—the perfectionist in your ear that snickers at your ugly first draft.

So that’s my problem, fellow bloggers. And this is not an excuse to not write regularly. I need to reprogram myself somehow.

How do you do it? How do you harness that discipline and hold yourself accountable to a writing schedule? It’s not that I have to force myself to write—I’m just struggling to find a time frame that works for me.

What kind of writer are you?

writing-life

An insomniac writer?

A morning writer?

A between-house-chores writer?

A stay-home-on-the-weekends to write writer?

A writer by full-time employment?

A writer who types away secretly at work and minimizes the document when someone walks by?

A writer with multiples jobs who still manages to write, thereby shrinking me to a sorry, whiny bucket of excuses?

Under what conditions do you write best and how do you set yourself up for success?

What struggles do you face when it comes to carving out your writing time?

And do you have any advice for me?

I need to get some sleep.

All I want to do is write

feather

I’m on a mountain top,
wrapped up in a down coat,
huddled in a tent or igloo,
silence all about me,
the sky open and translucent,
stars burning holes in it;
my thoughts swirl in the
wind, making patterns against
the clouds, and not a life nor
a thing, no calls whatsoever,
save for the echoes of ice
dribbling down
the slopes,
is around to
interrupt
me.