Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Writer's Guide to More Writing Time. You may not like it.

In the past few months, I have advised several writers with whom I'm working as a writing coach to lie, to cheat and to steal. Oh, we've also talked about other things – developing a submission tracking spreadsheet, choosing a writing conference, preparing critiques for an upcoming workshop, trying new structure ideas for a memoir.

Yet, some of the most interesting conversations have focused on treachery – the questionable things we are sometimes forced to do, in order to have the time to write. While it would be just dandy if into every writer's daily life, some sizable chunk of uninterrupted time were to magically appear, free of day job tasks, child rearing, commuting, household duties, pet care, spousal maintenance and meal preparation.

But since that's a fantasy, most writers need to instead wrestle time for their writing. When one has exhausted strategies for squeezing more time from the same 24 hours – getting up earlier, writing during the (public transit) commute or on lunch hours – it's time to get serious about getting a little bit (or maybe a lot) more cunning. Even deceitful.

When my first son was an infant, I had access to free daytime child care but only if it was for an "important reason," which I quickly understood to be exactly two things: bonafide paid work or a medical appointment. A walk in the park or a haircut to refresh my colic-baby brain and remind myself I was still human? Nope. Lunch and adult conversation with a friend? Not a chance. Writing creative work which had no sure market value? Are you daft?

So I lied.

I didn't go to the dentist. I went to my writing group.

I cheated.

I said I had to work for 4 hours, knowing the brochure I was finishing for a client would take only two hours.

I stole.

I did paid work late at night for two solid weeks and used the daytime child care time for my own writing instead.

Lately I find myself advising others to take similarly drastic action. Why?

Because otherwise no writing will occur. Because significant others who say they want to be "supportive" -- aren't. Because children who are old enough to make their own meals -- don't. Because bosses keep making unreasonable (and uncompensated) "requests" for ever more time. Because house guests keep wanting to arrive, or stay. Because the volunteer committee to whom one has always said "yes" just won't hear "no". Because a relative thinks writing falls into the same category as watching reality TV in the middle of the day.

Because in some homes a closed door, a person hunched over the keyboard writing (and not on Facebook), and/or a request for "some writing time" is the same as announcing to those within earshot (and everyone else who has your phone number or address): "Please interrupt me as often as possible for the most mundane, trivial reasons and then after I answer your silly question, by all means, please keep hanging around."

So toss your gym bag in the car, but head to the cafe next to the gym to write instead. Keep the sitter an extra hour (or two). Leave for that appointment 30 minutes early (traffic, you know?). Send the spouse and kids out so you can "rest."

Lie. Cheat. Steal. Get your writing time.


Anonymous said...

Love it! And yes, having recently been on the receiving end of some of that advice, I can say it's not easy, but it must be done.

Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Lisa, this is a great essay about making time for writing. I love your list of those things that can interfere with our writing time if we let it. "Spousal maintenance" is my favorite.

Lisa Romeo said...

Thanks, Kristen. Love it when my tips take hold!
Barbara, I thought twice about that phrase, and then decided it really was rather spot-on. Thanks for reading!

kario said...

Bless you. Now that it is summer "vacation" and my kids are both home full-time, I'm certain to need this advice more than ever!

Lisa Romeo said...

Kario - I think I hear an audible gasp this week as school winds down and many writers lose their "write while the kids are in school" routines. May we all survive!

Kimberly Merritt said...

Great advice. Now I have no more excuses, and I guess I'll have to join a gym.

marydaylo said...

You are so right--and I really needed to read this just now! I've forwarded it to my writing group, too.

Lisa Romeo said...

Kimberly, maybe one day we'll be able to can find a gym/cafe combo!

Marydaylo, thanks for sending it on to more writers!

June O'Hara said...

Oh. My. God. I've just been coming to the realization that as long as I write seriously and try to become known as a writer, my life will never be balanced or sane. My apartment will be a disaster. My hand-wash won't get done, and I'll wear the same things to work every week. My front hallway will be filled with crap, and there will sometimes be strange odors coming from my fridge. It goes on and on. Last night my boyfriend paid an unexpected visit and I freaked. It just doesn't feel like a normal life. And yet I choose it, every single day.
Thanks so much for your post.

Lisa Romeo said...

Oh June - welcome to my world! Just replace the hand-wash with an entire family's laundry, and the boyfriend visit with one from my mother-in-law. Glad you enjoyed the post - now go write!

Christi Craig said...

Lisa, Such a great post. Just the other day I was scheduled to work an hour later than originally planned, and I did just what you said: went in early anyway. It certainly felt good, and I got just a little bit of writing done. But, a little is better than nothing!

Lisa Romeo said...

Thanks, Christi. The words all add up, whether they accumulate in small chunks of time or an entire day bloked out for writing. Your example is a great reminder.

Melody (Melody & Words) said...

Thanks, Lisa! This is good advice, and I've found myself thinking about it over the last few weeks since you posted it.

I keep thinking of Trent Reznor at a concert in Australia, where the price of his CDs were exorbitant. He said, "Steal it. Steal, and steal, and steal some more."

It's a reminder that sometimes, you have to be tricky to get what you need, especially as an artist.

Lisa Romeo said...

Melody, thanks for letting me know something you read here is of help, even weeks later -- makes a writing blogger's day!