Here's one I hear rather often:
"You're so lucky – you get to write any time you want. I have to squeeze it in between work and kids and everything else. I wish I could sit home all day and write."
I have no idea who this person is talking to, because it certainly can't be directed at me. Oh but it is. Writers I work with think that because I work at home (most of the time), and/or because I am immersed in working with writers and with the written word, that I can spend hours each day on my own creative writing work.
For me, like for most people, most of every weekday (and some Saturdays too) are spent on making a living. It just happens that I do this around writing -- teaching writing (and planning lessons, assignments, reading materials), coaching writers, providing feedback on student writing, editing book manuscripts, editing for a regional website, editing essays and short stories for a magazine, writing book reviews and freelance feature articles. Even the reading I need to do to for all of the above is done mostly outside of regular working hours – the books to review and, next month, the books that will arrive for a contest I'm judging.
This leaves me – like oh, a zillion other writers I know – with the late night and early morning hours, the occasional full weekend day, the stolen coffee shop hour, the occasional light workload day (when I'm busy worrying about finding more work) to spend on my own creative writing work: personal essays and the memoir manuscript, poems and short stories; even submissions. I too write while parenting and amid other obligations.
So, how to get it done?
I can go on and on about time management and routines and discipline. I could talk about being a night owl (and when I need to, an early riser). But here's the one thing I know for sure: One of the key reasons I get things done is because I say I will AND I say it to the right person, at the right time.
Usually, I tell my friend Deborah, also known as my accountability buddy and the "Chairman of my Board of Directors" – that I will get X written by Y date (usually the next time we meet for breakfast a month later). And then I get it done. Because I said so.
In December, I told her I wanted to get something written that had been nagging at me for a year. We set two interim check-in dates (also known as her sending me pestering emails and texts). We put our January breakfast on the calendar (we've been meeting once a month for more years than either of us care to admit). And then, I did it. I got up two hours earlier every morning for about 16 days (and you know how I hate to do that), and positioned myself at the keyboard from 6:15 to 8:15.
So, to the student above who thinks the secret to being a more productive writer is in working at home, or in working within the writing world – I can only say: it's not.
There is no secret, no luck. Or if there is luck involved, then you are just as "lucky" as me, because you too have the ability to get up earlier, stay up later, ditch the volunteer committee, get someone else to empty the dishwasher. You too can write in the fringes – and make those hours a little emptier, a little longer.
To get my recent writing project done, something had to go -- in this case, sleep. If you are occupied most of the time with work, kids, eldercare, or other obligations, and you are going to write, you are going to NOT do something else. I'm not the first to say that. And neither was Anne Lamott, though she said it so well. But it will always be true.
Do I on occasion work on my own writing in the middle of the day when I should be working on something that's attached to a paycheck? Of course. Do millions of people occasionally shop online during the day when they should be working? Of course. And like them, I get the paid work done later – after dinner, instead of eating lunch, on Saturday morning.
Everyone who writes can figure out how to get lucky in that way.
You can read the rest of the Stuff My Writing Students Say series here.