I promised this blog would deliver a series of steps to creating and organizing your writing life. And we will get to those steps and more. However, after reflecting on the first post and struggling to write the second, I hit a wall. I tried climbing over it, scooching around it, tunneling under it. No dice.
And then it hit me. To start any journey, we must begin at the beginning. Method is, after all, at the heart of this blog. We are not quite yet ready for practical magic. Before we roll up our sleeves and get busy with launching a writing life, we need to have a serious chat.
You’ve got to let go of the guilt. Period. This may be difficult to hear, but your biggest blockade to a writing life may be you. If you resist making the life changes necessary to becoming a writer, then writing is never, ever going to happen. Maybe it’s because you think you shouldn’t take the time away from what you’ve been told are your ‘real priorities.’ Maybe you don’t truly believe that your dreams are as important as those of the other players on your stage. Whatever it is that’s been holding you back, you have to confront it. Then you have to let it go. Write it on a cocktail napkin and burn it under a full moon. Scream it into your pillow. Dump it on your analyst, your mom, your tennis partner, your playgroup, book group, significant other, ficus tree (they’re very forgiving.) But wherever you send the guilt, you have to ship it hard, and you have to mean it.
If you’ve told yourself that you’re just too darn busy to write and please get off your back, you might be doing what author Elizabeth George calls the Divine Dance of Avoidance. In her beautiful book WRITE AWAY, she explains: “Throughout my life I lacked confidence...All signs pointed to the writing life...and yet all of this [career development] took years. It constituted an elaborate avoidance device...[you must] clear your life of the things that keep you from doing the actual writing.”
When I first read this, I literally broke down and cried. I realized that I had spent years doing precisely that: I kept busy raising my family, working all my different jobs, getting another degree and launching another career, all of it done well, but with writing a dream pushed constantly—and dare I say safely?—onto a back burner. By staying busy, I avoided taking the risk of attempting to be a writer.
And even more critically, I avoided the necessity of confronting my guilt about committing so much time to an endeavor that might not bear fruit. Not until I forced myself into the terrifying step of typing “Chapter One” onto a blank document did I accept the truth of what George is saying.
Being ‘too busy to write’ is a dodge. It is at heart an elaborate excuse, or it was for me. We can pretend that it’s not, because plenty of real work is happening every day. We’re not sitting around eating bon bons and reading Cosmo, after all. But the fact remains that we are the ones who decide what fills our lives, no one else. Remember the pebble and the jar of sand? If you don’t want to be a writer, that's fine. Continue making excuses. But if you are truly called to this lonely, frustrating, thrilling endeavor, then you have to step up to the plate and own it.
Nothing you try will be successful until you truly accept that you deserve a writing life. Share this goal with your family, with those who will be most affected by any changes you decide to make. Getting their support is critical to your success. Do it tonight, and make sure they know how much writing means to you. It won’t be about money, or fame, or being interviewed on the Late Show. It’s just about you. And if it’s important to you, then it’ll be important to the people who love you.
Ms. George says it far better than I can. “I write because I was meant to write, I was called to write, I was told to write. I write because that’s who I am.”
And so we arrive at the question: Are you a writer? If the answer is ‘yes’, then let’s get busy.
Try this simple experiment: Take a small jar and remove the lid. Fill it almost to the brim with sand. Now take a pebble and set it on top of the sand. The lid won’t fit anymore, right? But what happens if you pour out the sand and put the pebble in first? Miraculously, with the pebble at the bottom, you can pour the sand over and around it and screw on the lid. Everything fits perfectly, just like magic. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself and be amazed.
Think of the jar as a single busy day in your busy life. The grains of sand are the myriad tasks and commitments with which you fill your precious time. And the pebble? That, my friend, is writing.
The lesson is simple. If you carve out time to write FIRST, you will fit in all the other stuff. You will. But if you try to cram it in last thing at night, after completing every single other thing you had to do that day, you’ll never get to it. We know it’s true, and we want to do better, we really do. Sadly, it’s easier said than done.
I worked a full time job all day and attended grad school at night. At the same time I ran a Scout troop, raised two kids, maintained a home and a happy marriage, and...I wrote my first novel. I’m not bragging or putting myself in for the Busiest Mom Award (although if they ever create one, I should get at least an Honorable Mention.) But during those crazy years—and things haven’t slowed much as I close in on completing my second book—I learned a few things about time management and getting things done.
It’s not enough to say, “I will get up at five every morning and write for one hour.” It’s not enough to say, “I will call in sick tomorrow and start Chapter One.” (Both of these are actual strategies recommended by famous writers who shall remain nameless. Hint: both are men with wives and personal assistants). Maybe you’ll actually try one or the other, but if you’re a busy person, you won’t be able to sustain a writing life for long, at least not without a sensible strategy that works for YOU.
How, then, to get ahead? How do we carve out the time, the quiet, focused space that writing requires?
We organize. We containerize. We make lists. I’ve been there—hell, I’m still here, and I’m telling you it can be done. It takes discipline and a few simple tricks to get started. After that it’s up to you. In this blog I’ll be sharing my methods for fitting the writing life into a life already brimful of living. We’ll look at creating a working workspace, determining your best daily schedule, responding to editor notes without panicking, naming characters, managing social media and promotion, and much more.
So sharpen a few pencils, square up those note cards, and prepare to prepare. You can do this, if you want it. I’m here to help.
I am a writer and teacher of writing. After a lifetime of attempting to squeeze writing into my busy life as wife, mother, Scout leader, teacher, and far too many additional hats to list here, I have achieved my dream of being published and becoming a 'real writer'. How did I find the time? In this blog I'll share some of my strategies for having it all--and still getting dinner on the table by six.