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"So, When Do You Find The Time to Write?"

Saturday, December 17, 2005
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Like anything else related to writing or motherhood, there isn't a single -- or a simple -- answer to this question, so you may be getting more than you bargained for when you swung by my blog to ask this question. Just as I don't believe in whitewashing the truth when it comes to motherhood, I don't believe in pretending that everything about being a writer or an author is totally wonderful all the time. Perpetuating that myth would be like putting the same type of pressure to be happy all the time that is placed on new mothers on writers -- something that only serves to add to the feelings of loneliness and isolation of someone who may be having a really hard time. So here's a frank and honest response to the frequently asked question, "So, when do you find the time to write."

ANSWER NUMBER ONE: Sometimes I DON'T find the time to write. Sometimes life gets in the way of my writing because people I love die, my children pass through challenging stages that zap me of a lot of my creative energy, or other bad stuff happens and it takes me a while to rebound.

When life is going well and I'm able to write at a leisurely pace, I write when my kids are in school. I try not to go back to my computer in the evenings or on the weekends so that I can enjoy some serious timeoff. It took me years to figure out that this is important -- that I'm actually more productive, more creative, and happier when I take regular breaks.

Does my writing schedule work out perfectly day-after-day? Do I always sit down at my desk at exactly 9:30 am, open the lid of my computer, and type a brilliantly-worded sentence, smile to myself, and launch into my writing day? Of course not! That only happens in made-for-TV documentaries about writers -- and generally writers who don't have kids.

You see, there are times when writing and motherhood don't mesh together particularly well. Sometimes the writing is coming together just the way I want it to -- and then I have to stop writing because it's time to go and pick up a child from school or at a friend's house -- or drive a child to a middle-of-the-day dentist appointment. That is so frustrating, because I may have spent hours getting to the point where I know what I need to be saying and to get the words flowing just the way I want them to be flowing -- and suddenly I have to turn off the word tap and walk away. This is something that has been frustrating the heck out of writer/mothers since the beginning of time. I find it frustrating that I can't seem to make my family understand why a 15 minute interruption isn't just a 15 minute interruption. It can mean an entire writing day down the drain.

ANSWER NUMBER TWO: Sometimes I have no choice but to write. When I am sprinting towards a fast-approaching deadline (or a deadline that I spotted in the rear-view mirror a few miles back), the normal rules of time no longer apply. I write in every spare moment. In fact, the concept of "spare moment" goes out the window. The writing has to get done. Waiting for "the muse" to drop by isn't an option. This is when things start to get ugly. "Hell schedule" gets invoked. "Hell schedule" means not taking evenings and weekends. At its worst, "hell schedule" means working one shift during the day when the kids are in school and another shift after the eight-year-old goes to bed -- stumbling to bed in the wee hours of the morning, between 1:30 am and 3:30 am (only to dream restless dreams about writing and deadlines), knowing full well that I have to start the entire process all over again at 7:00 am.

Working crazy hours to get an article finished is one thing -- or even the final chapter or two of a book. But you can't sustain this pace indefinitely. I can do it for a few days, and then my body forces me to take a break, whether I want to or not. I fall asleep at my computer. I have to take an afternoon nap or go to bed early one day. And then I go back to "hell schedule" again until the dreaded deadline has been met, the task-master has been satisfied, and I get my life back.

ANSWER NUMBER THREE: I never stop writing. I write in my head all the time. In the shower, while I'm walking down the road at the cottage, when I'm talking on the phone, when I'm watching TV, when I'm listening to the radio, while I'm driving (which necessitates having a notepad, a Starbucks napkin, or something else I can scrawl on within grabbing distance), when I'm angry or upset or happy -- pretty much whenever. This is why my desk resembles a kaleidescope of ideas in progress -- post-it notes and napkins that are waiting to be fed into my idea journal or the electronic book/article idea file on my computer. (When I have a spare moment, I toss the bits of paper into a basket on my desk so that they don't get stuck in books or piles of research materials or scooped up the other stacks of materials that cascade across my workspace over the course of any given week.)

ANSWER NUMBER FOUR: I make the time to write. Even if I'm insanely busy doing writing I have to do, I'll still find time to do writing I want to do (witness this blog). I love the way that words connect me to other people. I love playing with words and language. I love the way that a random phrase will pop into my head, and suddenly a whole cluster of ideas will suggest themselves to me. I love writing, period. I know I will always be a writer, and that I will always write. It's a matter of finding the time to write at a saner pace so that writing continues to be an activity that is fun and soul nurturing and playful and creative. My biggest fear is that I will work so hard that I either burn myself out or I lose my love of writing. Next to losing someone I love, that would be the worst possible thing. What do you call yourself if you're a writer who no longer writes? There isn't even a word for that.

This is one in an ongoing series of Author University posts designed to encourage frank and honest discussion about the book publishing business and life as an author.

| posted by Ann D @ 11:12 AM