I see a lot of posts online in communities, on Facebook and in writers magazines talking about how people struggle to make time to write – about how someday they will have a life configured into xyz way that will enable them to adopt some perfect writing practice where they will – write for 6 hours a day, or do morning writes, or any number of other configurations that they have decided/been told is the right way to write, the most productive way to write, the way to write that will yield magical results- like a manuscript or a book deal. I think there are some people that need this kind of writing practice, but realistically most of us will never have a life that looks that way.
Above the desk in my home office (which as an aside is lovely and set up to be an idealistic writing environment, but not somewhere I’ve actually done a whole lot of writing) is this picture. It’s one of the most inspiring messages to me as a writer- I don’t know who the artist is (if you do, please tell me so I can credit them) and I found it years ago but keep there hanging above my desk so I see it when I unplug my charging iPad, or grab a spiral full of notes for a new project, or pack boxes of my books for an event I see it.
I know that because on facebook and twitter I only talk about my writing some people don’t realize that writing isn’t my only job. I believe it’s important to be real and transparent about what my life looks like. I have a day job, it’s a very high stress, high-pressure nonprofit management position it’s an important job, I’ve worked very hard to have it- but it does not define me. Intentionally I don’t talk about it a lot online because it isn’t my career, writing is. ::points to the image at the left:: I work two jobs.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of privileging whatever it is that we do that pays our bills, to say this job is what I am – but in relief the vast majority of us work two jobs. We do the job that pays the bills, and we do the job that feeds our soul. I’m am author even though I’m lucky if my royalty checks cover a dinner out. Being a writer is my job even though it isn’t what pays my mortgage. I remember seeing this drawing right around the time that Kicked Out released, and it shook me up. The first time I saw it, I realized that at events or out in the world I was discrediting myself, and my work by talking about the job that paid my bills instead of saying what I actually am in the world, an author. Try it- the next time your introducing yourself to someone at a bar or a show or whatever, and the inevitable question of “what do you do?” comes up, try answering with: I’m a painter, or I’m a performance artist, or I’m a writer, or whatever it is that you actually are.
Try leading with that front and center and see how it feels. It’s hard and will take some adjustment not to default to answering with whatever it is that paid for you to buy cat food this morning. I know when I first started saying I was an author it was before Kicked Out, had released and I would blush and get all embarrassed like I was an imposter, but slowly over time the more times I said it, easier it became, and most importantly, the more that I believed it.
It sounds silly and woo-woo but I really believe that belief in this being who you are is critical. I’m not saying that’s all of it, we can sit and believe in ourselves and never actually write a word and that isn’t going to translate into being a widely read author, also there’s no denying that the publishing industry is fickle. It’s a huge amount of dumb luck that got me to where I am today, BUT I think belief plays a role too. When I believed that I was an author, I started to give myself permission to see that as work. Writing became a priority, it became valued and put in the time to send stories to calls for submission, to write query letters to publishers, to blog, or simply just to write the stories that came to me. The more I wrote the better writer I became, the more I stopped sounding like how other people wanted me to write, or how I thought my writing should sound – the more I wrote, the more I was able to develop my own voice and find my niche.
Very few of us will ever be fortunate enough to have the ability to create the perfect writers life where we spend hours a day pouring over our craft in an ideal setting with no other responsibilities. I like having health insurance, food in the fridge, and knowing how I’ll pay next months bills. As such, I have accepted that a day job will probably be a very real part of my life for the foreseeable future. It’s a choice, I know people that make different ones, but it’s one that I’ve found peace with. Just because writing isn’t what gives me financial stability, doesn’t mean being an author isn’t my carrer, it simply means I work two jobs.
Unlike my day job with a set schedule that’s given to me, I have had to find a way to take initiative and create my own writing work schedule. It’s been trial and error, first attempts looked like attempting things I’d read on blogs or in “how-to” writing books, and while I would keep the schedule for a little while it never really stuck. It wasn’t until I gave myself permission to try something less structured that I was able to come up with a work schedule that for lack of a better word, worked!
I get a LOT of questions from people asking about my process: when I write, for how long, what programs do I use when I’m writing, or to organize projects etc. To some extent I hesitate to talk too much about my own practice, not because it’s secret, but because the last thing I want to do is contribute to anyone thinking there is a “right” way to make the time for writing. That said, my own schedule differs from a lot of what I see being discussed in the literary world, and there is something to be said for offering multiple perspectives.
I work a slightly odd schedule (12-8 most days) and so I have my mornings to myself- sometimes I spend that time writing, more often it’s spent at the park with my dogs which relaxes me, calms me and makes me a better writer. The vast majority of my writing is done in transit, to and from my day job. In fact, most of this blog was written on the subway on my way home last night. Roving Pack was mostly written on my iphone in transit on the subway, and while on tour with Kicked Out. Last summer I splurged and got an iPad, which for me has been a fantastic investment because of where/when I write (and because I adjust quickly to touch screen typing). Definitely in nonprofits taking a lunch break is not the norm, and I’m not always successful but I do try to get out of the office for a few minutes, usually to my favorite secret hideout the bubble teashop and knock out some text.
I identify as someone who dates my art, and think of writing not only as my career, but also in some ways consider my books to be lovers that I am in relationships with. I value what I love, and I make time for my relationships. I take my books on little lunch dates, and it makes a tremendous difference in my productivity. Even if I only spent 15 or 20 minutes writing it changes my whole day – I’m able to focus better on everything, and it keeps the creative juices flowing and ready for my commute home where one of the ways I’m able to unwind from my day is to sink into my work. It’s grounding for me to remember who I am, and the work that I know I’m supposed to be doing in the world. Of course, it’s imperfect, just last week I was writing a particularly sweet and brutal scene in my new novel Lost Boiand I was at my subway stop, and then again working through a tricky character moment and I had to go back to the day job and run a meeting. In both those instances I wanted to stay with my work, and couldn’t. I quickly thumbed some notes in my phone to remind myself where I was taking the story, and went about my day. Was it frustrating? Absolutely, but for me, it was also significantly better than not having spent the previous 15 minutes writing in the first place.
I don’t have all the answers. Ultimately everyone works differently and you have to figure out a writing plan that works for you and fits into your life. Try different things, mix it up, try something you’re sure won’t work – you might surprise yourself. Ultimately, the one thing I do know, is that no one is going to give you the time to write, you have to take however and whenever you can. You have stories that deserve to be in the world, and only you can write them.