On Finding Time to Write
Once upon a time I thought in order to write a book I needed big chunks of time – at least a couple of consecutive hours. Not the 15 minute snatches I was able to grab between diapers and soccer practice and groceries.
I thought I needed other things, too, like a room of my own, with a door I could close. Quiet time. The right kind of computer. Hot chocolate. And on and on.
The truth is, I didn’t need any of those things as I set forth on my journey toward Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Those ideas were merely obstacles I put in my own way – or as Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, would say, “Resistance.”
In order to overcome this Resistance, I had to retrain my brain. I turned first to Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer for help on the time factor – after completing her program, now I can access my story any hour of the day. And if all I’ve got is 15 minutes (or 5), I can put a few paragraphs in place, often entire scenes.
More recently (2015), I participated in a 12 week small group in which we worked through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way program. Morning pages and artist's dates and all the digging into and nurturing of my artist-self has made my writing time sacred and essential. Writing is spiritual practice for me – a way to love the world and feel connected to it. How can I NOT make time for that?
In practical terms, I do write every day. Most often, in the mornings, when the house is quiet. I love the discipline of writing a poem a day. I love how by the end of one week I'll have 7 poems, and by the end of amonth I'll have 30.
Also, when I am writing a novel, what works for me is to block off a 6 week period on the calendar. I look really closely to determine days I'm likely to be busy with other events and family stuff, and then I make a commitment: 2,000 words a day (or whatever number is doable/necessary – some of my books have been written on 500 words a day) – except on those days I know from the get-go will be impossible – school visit days or family travel days or going to the doctor days.
It's like planning for success. Because, really, what is more deflating than setting a goal like that, and then that busy day comes along, and you only have time for 200 words? It can be tempting to throw over the whole plan! Instead, be honest from the start. Stretch, but try not to overreach.
And then, stay the course. It's only six weeks. Having that cap makes it a whole lot easier not to become derailed. When that lunch invitation comes in, I can say “no,” and then schedule it for after the writing block is done. Six weeks is a blink! So, so temporary. Not FOREVER. And if the friend who invited me to lunch can't respect that, then maybe I need a new friend.
Mostly I find the writing lifestyle demands I be a good friend to MYSELF. I'm a much happier person when I'm writing. I NEED to write. It's what makes my life meaningful, it's the place where I feel most myself. Writing every day and setting reasonable goals is a way to treat myself like a precious object. Abundance is borne of that kind of attention.
The words are there. The hours are there. Won't you seize them?
Irene Latham is the award winning author of two novels for children LEAVING GEE'S BEND and DON'T FEED THE BOY. She also serves as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal and has published three volumes of poetry for adults. Her current focus is on poetry for children with the 2014 release of DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST, which was named an SCBWI Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor book, and two 2016 titles: FRESH DELICIOUS and WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON ANTARCTICA. In between writing, she is currently working on accumulating 10,000 hours on the cello.