When do I find time to write? Ha! No… double HA! DO NOT GET ME STARTED!
This is probably the single biggest lament of a writer (that and, “How do I get published… appreciated… valued… and paid fairly for what I do?”) But we’ll leave those additional philosophical musings for another time. I’m actually writing this post in the midst of a stormy deadline extension for two books due the same week. Alas. However, like any good story, let’s begin at the beginning and end on a happy note, shall we?
Ah… in the beginning. Yes, that’s the time of innocence when you write for the sheer love of the craft alone. You will always love the craft—don’t get me wrong, but there is something pristine and pure about writing that first book for the love of it. There’s no contract, deadline pressure, marketing requirements, or emails asking when the next tome will be in the bookstores. Now is the time, much like that first baby, where you have a vague idea of what to expect (but not a clue), you’re frightened and excited all at the same time, and if you’re lucky, people will be nice to you while you carry and craft it.
Still, you will feel a constant nagging pressure to get back to your new infant creation the second you’re away from it. The daily job and household chores will feel like an onerous separation from your beloved book. This is to be expected, because introducing a new part of yourself into a family equation will cause jealousy. Yes. Jealousy. Friends, family, parents, lovers, children, pets will all be jealous of the time you spend with your book (or writing it). It may be subtle or outright nasty:
Example #1 (subtle):
Friend: “Whatcha doing?”
You: “Oh, I’m… sorta just writing…. Trying to get my head around my story—”
Friend: “Wow, cool.” (cutting you off mid-sentence) “But let me tell you what happened at my job today—you’ll NEVER believe what my co-worker said to her sister’s husband!”
You: (Listen silently raging internally, wishing she’d/he’d get the hell off your phone with that nonsense. Sigh. You just lost three hours—one for your friend’s story, two to get your head back into the game.)
NOTE: These can also come from kids, parents, and real intimate partners, too… as in, “MOM/DAD! I’m hungry!” (No translation necessary—you will become lax in meal preparation, I guarantee you), or “Hey, Baby, you coming to bed?” (Translation = I’m horny), or “Me and your father miss you.” (Translation = I haven’t talked to you in a week and that’s not acceptable), or “Bark, bark, bark, bark” – followed by a “present” left in your writing room/area (Animal translation = pay attention to me or deal with the consequences, jerk.)
Example #2 (Nice/Nasty):
Frienemies: “We haven’t seen you in ages. What’s been going on in your life?”
You (timidly): “I’ve been working on a book.”
Frienemies: “A book? What! Oh, yeah, you can definitely self-publish a bunch of those as a side hustle and sell them on the street—you know everybody wants to write a book. Hey, eight million stories in the naked city… lots of inmates are even writing from behind bars so why not you, right? Good luck with that. Anyway, how’s your real job going?”
This is how it all begins, a battle for territory that most people haven’t fought in their lives. To quote a very good military buddy of mine from West Point, “Control your battle space, soldier!”
You are trying to carve out space for a very cerebral activity that doesn’t work like normal activities. Most hobbies other people can relate to (and yes, I said hobby, because that is how it will initially be viewed by everyone around you). But unlike most hobbies, you cannot will writing to always fit into a prescribed time slot. Creativity doesn’t click on and off like a light switch.
If I were doing an athletic event, taking a class, or otherwise going to an exhibit (car show, NASCAR, quilting circle, whatever), it would have a prescribed time—and my family, friends, spouse, lover, whoever would know, that when I was at the Antique Road Show, that’s my time. Don’t mess with me. We’d negotiate that reality and soon it would be a part of the Leslie equation. But when you are sitting at home at a desk, staring at a blank screen, it invites the question—“Whatcha doing?”
Like I said, this thing we do as writers is just not something that clicks on and off at will. If I’m taking a yoga class, the minute I’m off the mat, I’m not upset if my kid needs me to stop and get a quart of milk on the way home. But if someone interrupts my flow while I’m banging out the most exquisite passage I’ve come up with in weeks just to ask me that same mundane question, I’m ready to throttle the caller. Why? Because what I was working on is LOST… OMG… and if I can’t get that mental thread back, it could take hours until the rhythm connects again. The only thing similar, and not being crude here, is sex. Yeah, it’s mental coitus interruptus.
Think about it… if you were to get a crazy, off the wall call about something ridiculous during hot steamy sex (supposing that you were so foolish as to answer the phone), I’d dare say it might take a moment to recalibrate and get your head back into the game. Same level of intensity here folks—if you’re working on a passage in your mind, oblivious to the world, laying down a flow of sentences with rhythm, structure, melody, harmony… hey, when it’s good, y’all, it’s really, really good. Then let’s really paint this picture—the doorbell rings and it’s somebody who didn’t have the courtesy to observe the fact that, OBVIOUSLY, if you didn’t answer your phone, email, or other electronic interferences (and they know you’re writing because you’ve told them), then they decided that your writing wasn’t all that important. So, I say, just like you would respond if they rang the bell and you were otherwise indisposed, you do NOT have to go to the door. And if they lay on the bell and basically act stupid, go to the door (just as you would if you had a lover in your bed), crack the door and say, “Hey, I’m writing. Can’t come out at the moment,” and close the door. Hard. Guaranteed they’ll only do that to you once. Ask me how I know—Big Grin.
I empathize with you, lament and feel your pain, trust me. My family is from Philly, ‘the subtle rebuff’ approach is lost on them. I once actually had that happen—a person who came to my door unannounced—when I wasn’t writing, was truly indisposed, and I only answered the door because this person (who will remain nameless) banged on my front door and laid on the bell as though my house was on fire. I came downstairs breathlessly in a robe with my hair sticking up all over my head, fully expecting that there had to be a family emergency. It wasn’t. This person just didn’t understand why (for a few hours) I hadn’t returned their call. Then this clueless individual tried to come in. The hastily tied robe, crazy hair, and flushed face wasn’t a dead giveaway somehow. But I was so pissed off that I said quite bluntly—“I was in bed and not asleep, and won’t be done for a couple more hours. I’ll call you when we’re finished, okaaaay?” LOL! I might as well have put down a ring of holy water in front of a vampire, because that person’s mouth flew open, they released a horrified gasp, clutched their chest, and stumbled backward down my front steps. The truth works people. It really does. Blunt truth is the elixir of freedom. They got the message and still talk about me badly at holiday gatherings to this day (which tickles me no end). I consider my scarlet letter a badge of honor, and people don’t parachute into my life like that any more.
Command your battle space and draw a line in the sand, my writer colleagues. What you do has merit and deserves respect.
So what if people get pissed off because you’ve employed the operative word “no.” Aren’t you pissed off when they trample your mental space? Every writer knows what I’m talking about! Interruption from that glorious process of bringing something from the depths of your mind onto the page is an invitation to war. You’ll be angry, upset, out of sorts, and it’ll take you a while to calm down and get back to that sweet spot you’d been in, if you constantly allow it. The only exempt parties are little kids, because they don’t know any better. Therefore, it’s up to you to write when they’re gone, asleep, or in school. But all adults… uh, uh.
All right, now that I’ll laid out the time-stealing scenarios that make writer’s crazy, how do you fight them? How do you make time?
Training. Seriously. Time boot camp. You have to train those around you like an electric dog fence trains the animal not to cross a certain barrier. You have to use every electronic gismo at your disposal—the very ones that actually invade your space, use them to protect your space. (BIG SMILE.) Draw the boundary. Make it clear that, “Every day between the hours of X and Y, I’ll be writing.” But also be reasonable with yourself and fit it into your real life… after work, after you eat with your family, whatever. Maybe for you it’s getting up very early in the morning to start at four or five AM? Or, you may get your engine running at night after the day’s hectic schedule calms down? But whenever you do it, turn off the television, unplug the house phone, put the cell phone on vibrate, and only pick up if there’s a 911 emergency, text message folks that you’re going off the grid, make sure you set email away messages, and let your Face Book family know you’re going dark. Then do it. And make sure that anyone who crosses into your territory gets stung with a very sharp barb if they violate your edict.
Sidebar: if you start earning income from your writing on a consistent basis, it’s no longer a hobby. It’s a second job. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean the money spends any less than it would if you worked outside the home for that same cash. That means that the folks you live with (kids included) will have to deal with a redistribution of labor. You cannot continue to work a day job, do all the household chores, attend to everyone’s dietary and social needs, and hit a deadline that you are contracted to deliver. That is a myth, just like unicorn horns will make you immortal. If you live alone, hey, you’ve got it easy. But realigning the balance of power and the who-does-what in a working household is serious stuff. If you have a supportive partner and/or kids, treat them very, very, VERY well when you’re done with your book. Honestly.
Back to Boot Camp: Human nature is very trainable. Trust me. Those who can’t deal with it…well, maybe it’s time for them not to be in your life (LOL). Seriously. This writing thing really separates the wheat from the chaff of relationships. There are a LOT of folks who didn’t make the cut in my life (including a recalcitrant husband who thought my writing was a hobby, although it supported the entire family a put kids through college, smile). Notwithstanding that fact, you also have to then live up to the hoopla you’ve created, namely, you do have to produce a book.
Here’s the thing, pressure goes both ways. On the one hand you’re asking people to respect and believe in you; so if they do, don’t you have to at some point show that this wasn’t just a self indulgent exercise? I’m just saying.
So, figure out your own bio-rhythm—the time you write best—figure out what you waste time on and can eliminate (not all of it is family and friends, some of it is television, conversations, and piddling around, if we’re honest). Then commit to sit yourself down during the time you’ve allotted to write daily and do so. It is like strength training. It requires repetition and dedication. Then sooner or later your mind will be “ready” more often than not to click on when it’s “your writing scheduled time.”
Even if you are not in the frame of mind to actually “write” when you’re scheduled, do something writing related. Research the topic, edit some previous chapters, find out about a skills-building conference, but use that time toward strengthening your craft… and yes, go to conferences to hone your craft, commiserate with others who are going through the same drama, and to feel better. You are not crazy.
Well… by loose definition I guess being a writer we’re all a little batty—we listen to imaginary voices in our heads, both good and evil ones at times, but still. My point is, finding time to write requires knowing that you will face challenges, being prepared for that and being prepared to stand our ground, and then committing to a schedule that you keep and insist that others around you respect. One day you’ll look up and you won’t have the excuse that, “People keep interrupting me.” Then what? LOL! OMG, the gig is up and you’ve just gotta produce! (Next blog I’ll tell you what it’s like to be a full-time writer and still not have time to write—that’s really scary!)
Just know that it is possible, you’ll find the time when you’re really ready to embark on this journey, and once you carve out your space you’ll be amazed at how the rest of the world will start to fall in line. Write on!
GOOD LUCK and Keep the Faith!
L. A. Banks is a New York Times bestseller, and the recipient of the 2009 Romantic Times Booklover’s Career Choice Award for Paranormal Fiction, as well as the 2008 Essence Storyteller of the Year award. Ms. Banks has written over 42 novels and contributed to 12 novellas, in multiple genres under various pseudonyms. She mysteriously shape-shifts between the genres of romance, women’s fiction, crime/suspense thrillers, and of course, paranormal lore. Her post is part of an on-going series here at the Liars Club, addressing “Burning Questions” about publishing and writing. Visit our “For Writers” page and subscribe to this blog to see all posts in this series!