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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Writers Need Other Writers

Quill_and_InkI’m a writer, an aspiring fiction author, an occasional poet, a fairly new blogger, and I don’t know many others like me. I’m talking about others who share my passion for putting words together and watching them come alive. Not necessarily accomplished authors, but regular people in everyday circles who, like me, feel as desperately about writing as I do. Who understand the strange, torturous, tantalizing magnetism of the writing life.

The writing life is a struggle against the self — against silence or too much noise. One aspect that I struggle with most is self-discipline: sticking to a writing routine. Ideas are never a problem. Putting them to paper and not giving up on them once I’ve doused them with ink, that’s when I need the most encouragement. I’m fortunate to have a significant other whose support and faith in my writing never falters when I’m wading in self-doubt, but only writers truly understand the writing frames of mind — the writing life.

I went to grad school for creative writing, to really hone my craft and give myself a chance to evolve as a writer, which I did. When graduation day arrived, my heart was swollen with hope and excitement and motivation and readiness to go out there and be the writer I know I can be. Not only did the program I was in validate the fact that yes, I could sit at the writing table with other writers, it also helped me beyond measure in the accountability department. Structure and deadlines are what I need to keep me from slacking.

But as the years passed (I graduated in 2011), I began to realize that my grad program had provided me with something even more valuable: a community of writers, of other people on the same squiggly path as me. quote-Mary-Gordon-it-was-actually-a-womens-writing-group-181318_1People with whom I could learn from and grow… and connect. I missed the writing workshops.

I think no matter what your field, no matter what your passion, you need to surround yourself with people who are on your similar journey. It’s not vital to your success, but it helps. Writing especially is such a solitary activity, and although our characters keep us company and our obsession with our writing topics distract us from loneliness, sometimes you just need someone to talk to about your progress or lack-thereof. Someone who understands the craft to give you feedback with a writer’s eye. I think this is especially important for aspiring authors like myself, who yes, write for themselves, but who also dream of their work being read one day, and dare I say, enjoyed. (More on this dream later.) Mentors are important no matter what your pursuit, but I’m more so talking about a community that can help you thrive. Communities provide context and nourishment.

Something interesting happened to me last year. I had finished a short story draft and was feeling rather ecstatic about it. But I needed a reader… I needed… feedback. I don’t have any writer friends, as I mentioned, but I do have reader friends. So I called the one friend I thought could give me the best critical feedback because we both share a similar appreciation for good language and literature.

I gave her my awkward little infant of a story and waited. When she finally responded, it was so interesting to see the kind of feedback she had given. I realized she had basically written a literary analysis on my story — which was wonderful to read! — but it didn’t give me specific feedback I could use to improve my draft. It certainly gave me insight into how a reader would perceive my story, which was enlightening, but there’s an art to reading as a writer — to giving feedback as writer, which I hadn’t realized completely until that moment. That’s not to say I won’t ask this friend to be my reader again; the experience simply gave me some interesting perspective.

2692992498_0889df0aeeWriters need other writers.

Whether it’s an online community (WordPress bloggers, you are amazing!) or a writer’s workshop or writer’s group or just one single writing friend — writers need other writers.

We need each other because only we can understand one another. Only we can give the craft-specific feedback that non-writers aren’t as apt in giving. We need each other because writing is hard, and sometimes (a lot of times) we need to commiserate — or celebrate! — with someone who understands. We need each other because we can encourage each other in ways non-writers can’t.

Writers, after all, inspire other writers. That’s why I’m a writer to begin with. I fell in love very early on with reading, with the written words of writers. And when you have a writer friend in your life, or a group of writers, the mere fact that they’re writing is encouraging to you because you don’t want to be left behind. Their writing becomes inspiration for you to write. Their writing tells you… hey, you’re a writer too… so get to writing.

Also last year, my aunt connected me with a writer friend of hers on Facebook. She said hey, this  person is a writer too, and she blogs, so I thought you two should add each other because you seem to have a lot in common. So through that virtual introduction we became virtual friends. And every time I saw this new virtual writer friend of mine share her latest blog post, it lit a flame — a small flame — but a flame, to my fingers. It inspired me to see another writer, just like me, writing. Every time she shared a new post it put up a mirror to my own journey as a writer.

Now, I know that comparison is the thief of joy. I know that the writing world is overwhelmingly competitive, that reading a peer’s marvelous work can make your confidence cripple, that jealousy is a very real thing in writing circles (there’s a whole chapter on jealousy in Anne Lamott’s wonderful book Bird by Bird), but I also know that it takes tough skin to survive the writing life, and that only great writing can inspire great writing. And hey, as ugly as it can be, jealousy is a part of life, not the end of it.

I suppose this post was inspired by the fact that I recently made a writing friend. We’ve been getting together to share each other’s works-in-progress, and holding one another accountable as a result. We both struggle with self-discipline, we’re both desperately in love with writing, and we both just needed another writer in our lives to gently nudge us with encouragement and inspiration to not give up on our many drafts.

When I gave my writer friend the same story I had given my reader friend, she said something so simple that I wanted to get up and hug her (but that would have been weird because, I mean, our friendship is still new). I have a vision to expand this story of mine into a longer work, so as we discussed where and how I could revise my draft, she said: don’t revise what you have, just keep writing; write what comes next. Don’t write backward, write forward.

That has really stuck with me because as all writers know, the mere thought of tackling a revision project can be paralyzing. better-writer-graphic-560x724

But just keep writing, is what she told me. Because as a writer, she knows the struggle well. She knows that the number one rule to succeeding as a writer is to just keep writing. I have plenty of those just keep writing quotes plastered around my room and on my computer’s desktop. But the fact that it came from her, another writer, somehow made all the difference to me. Somehow fueled me with the motivation and courage that… she’s a writer, she knows… and if she can do it, I can do it too.

There are many things we need as writers. Coffee. Good conversations. Overheard conversations. Snacks. Long walks. Long nights. Plenty of books and reading time. No interruptions. Readers. The perfect writing nook or desk or pocket book. Sharpened pencils. A favorite pen. Every writer needs something different.

But for me, other writers, it seems, are what have been missing in my writing life; other writers, I’ve found, add much fuel to my writing fire. Joining WordPress and following other writer’s blogs has given me so much inspiration, as well as a platform and community.

So thank you for being a part of my journey, WordPress bloggers! You have truly helped me become better and more accountable to my blog and to my commitment to the writing life. Do you have any writer friends? Does it help you to have a writing community? Do you wish you had one? Or do you disagree with this notion? And how do you feel about receiving feedback from writers vs. non-writers?

And while I’m on the topic of community and inspiring one another, I highly recommend this fantastic blog as a resource for aspiring authors.

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There is Nothing to Writing

I sit at my desk, typing then backspacing, typing then backspacing. Highlighting paragraphs. Deleting, undoing, rewriting. What’s wrong with me? I look at my dog who looks up at me helplessly. What? You want to go for a walk? I’m busy writing, okay?

Well, not really…

I get up to make coffee.

I think of Hemingway’s words: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And of John Gardner’s words: “The dream must be vivid and continuous…”

And of Anne Lamott’s words: “Perfection is the voice of the oppressor…”

Why would anyone want to be a writer?

I’m hard on myself when it comes to my writing (in case you couldn’t tell). It’s healthy to be self-critical of your work, necessary to hone an objective eye, but not to a degree that makes you lose confidence. I want my writing to be perfect. Perfect! But this yearning for perfection has only gotten in the way of my writing. The quest for perfection is nonsense. It’s distracting, and not the point of writing at all.

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say the most valuable of traits is persistence.” Octavia Butler

You know what else is distracting? Comparing yourself to other writers. They cannot write your stories just as you cannot write theirs. So focus on your own work.

I have my coffee now. I look down at my page and think of Hemingway’s words again, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Well that’s great. I suppose I should whip out the band aids. (Or does he mean internal bleeding? Probably both.)

But I love this quote so much because it gives me hope. It reaffirms that I’m not crazy. That the path to the most coveted words “The End” is supposed to be thorny, is supposed to draw blood. That I feel the way I do about my writing because I am a writer. All writers have their insecurities, moments of self-doubt and agony. But real writers write their way out of these emotional trenches. Real writers don’t stop writing.

Because writing is a passion. We don’t write for money or recognition (and certainly not for physical well-being). We write because we have an aching in our hearts, a story to tell. A story that occupies our daydreams and keeps us awake at night. A story that we need to set free into the world so we can finally set ourselves free.

A story worth telling and a story only we can tell.

There is nothing to writing. So I sip my coffee, roll up my sleeves metaphorically, pet my dog because she calms my nerves, and get to writing.

I have this ache in my heart for a reason.

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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.