A friend emailed me the other day and asked where I find time to write.
It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question. I have a full time job — a real full time job, made up of a forty hour work week, combined with an hour long commute each way. I have a three year old who is in day care and preschool, and I have an awesome thirteen year old stepson who’s with us half the time. I also coached fall soccer for the preschooler’s team, and I’ve participated in just about every school event so far this year.
I’m also a writer. I get words on paper.
I’m not supermom. (OMG, the stories I could tell you. Don’t get me started on the time Nick walked around the cooking island, clutching a butcher knife in his hand…) I’m out of shape and my body is crying out for me to make use of my gym membership. And writing time does not come without sacrifice.
Here’s what I don’t do:
Seriously, I rarely go out. I try to write almost every night. This has to wait until after Nick goes to bed, which means I don’t break out the laptop until 8pm. I’m not a fast writer, so if I want to put 1,000 words on paper, I know I’m going to need to devote a good two hours to get a quality scene in place. When someone asks me to go out, I always hesitate because it’s going to make me sacrifice three things: time with my family, money, and a night’s worth of writing. Sometimes it’s just not worth it.
I rarely watch TV. My husband was out of town recently for three days. My television only played Nick Jr. for my son. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of these anti-TV die-hards. I don’t think my son would eat breakfast if I turned the TV off. But I do pick my shows judiciously. Again, TV steals my writing time. Here’s what I watch, and please feel free to judge. (You know you want to.)
- The Office
- Modern Family
- Vampire Diaries
Sometimes I will catch an odd episode of something my husband watches (like The Biggest Loser or Fringe or something), but those five shows are pretty much it.
I’m not a shopper. I might be more of one if I had a body I wanted to show off in nice clothes, but I’m still living under the illusion that I will one day fit back into my pre-baby clothes. At least I’ve stopped telling myself, “It’s okay! You just had a baby!” But seriously, I don’t go out shopping.
Here’s where the true sacrifice comes in, and it was never more acutely painful than this morning, watching kids at a horse show. I used to be an avid equestrian, but I don’t do it anymore. I just don’t have the time. My son sat on a horse this morning, and I just about burst into tears. He clearly inherited the genes. I spent years teaching horseback riding lessons, and he’s one of the first kids I’ve ever sat on top of a horse who just sat upright with his legs hanging down, ready to go. This, this is a sacrifice. I miss the horses. A lot. But riding takes a lot of time and money, and right now I’m not willing to give up either of those. Every minute is too precious.
Okay, sometimes I do. But usually it’s a 3 hour process, after I’ve spent a month letting the house fall into a state vaguely resembling an episode of Hoarders.
Here’s what I do do:
Sometimes writing is like going to the gym. You don’t do it for a few weeks, other things creep into those time slots, and suddenly you don’t know where you’re going to find the time for it. The time is always there, people. The only way you’re going to get a novel written is to do it. Sit down, open your laptop, and do it. Don’t let other people steal your time either. Tell your husband (or wife) you need some alone time, tell your kids to do something else (or wait until they’re asleep), plant your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard.
Yes, this is harder than it looks. That’s why my husband got me a reloading Starbucks card, and I’d camp out there for two nights a week. The card automatically reloaded once a month so I stuck to a budget, the place had awesome comfy chairs, and I got a ton of writing done. That’s what it took. We now have a remodeled basement where I can hole up while my family forgets I exist, but you might have to go off-site to get some writing done. At least until you get into a routine.
It’s also hard to know someone needs you at home. When I’m at Starbucks, I don’t know that the dog has peed on the floor, the three-year-old has turned his juice box into a water gun, and the pasta sauce has somehow fallen on the base of the cupboard. I can just tune out the people around me (hello, headphones!) and write.
I have awesome critique partners. Amazing people. Sometimes I hear writers say they don’t want feedback. But let me tell you: beta readers with teeth make a huge difference. It’s great to have one cheerleader who always tells you you’re great. But running ideas past people who give you an honest opinion is a great way to find out if you’re writing something over your head. Seriously, do you want to be great or do you want to be placated? My mom’s a total cheerleader. If my son coughs, she’s practically telling him he invented the reflex. She’s not so great at genuine feedback. That’s fine, because I know it about her. Look at your beta readers and make sure you’re getting more than, “OMG this is amazing!!”
The other benefit to regular critique partners is that you’re suddenly accountable to someone other than yourself. If you’re swapping stories back and forth, you’ll get into a nice rhythm, and you’ll want to keep it going.
This is a really hard one for me. I’m a people-pleaser. I want to say yes to everyone. But I realized that I was being a total crap-head when I would say yes, then back out at the last minute because I was too busy. I’ve finally started saying no (nicely!!) to people. (See above where I say I don’t socialize.) If you put your writing at the forefront of your mind, you’ll quickly learn to look at every situation as, “Do I want to sacrifice my writing time to go out for drinks with Jerry?”
And hey, I have a life too. Sometimes you do have to sacrifice writing time. That’s FINE. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Lots and lots and lots. This is what keeps me awake to write in the evening.
There’s one other thing I don’t do, but I probably should: set writing goals. I would read about people saying, “I have to write 1,000 words a day or my life is crap,” (or something), and it would make me want to cry. Some days I can’t write 1,000 words a day. I tried setting those goals, and I always felt like such a failure, so I stopped.
But the other day, I read a great entry at the Story Flip blog (www.storyflip.blogspot.com), where she said she didn’t do daily goals, she set weekly goals. She, too, didn’t like the pressure of having to write every day, and didn’t like falling behind so quickly. I love the idea of weekly goals. So when I start the next MS, I’m going to try to push myself into that.
Writing isn’t a sacrifice for me. I love it. But there are definitely things I’ve had to shove out of my life for it. Do I miss them? Sure. A lot. Sometimes, painfully so.
Do I regret it?
Not one bit.