If bet if we all had put aside a quarter for each time we heard someone say, “I’d write if I only had the time,” we could take the entire TKZ crew to Bali for a week, and bring along most of you, dear readers.
People say, “I don’t have time,” as though time were a finite thing, and not an infinite stream of possibilities. Does the idea of time as an infinite stream sound derpy and pie in the sky? Well, okay. Maybe it’s a little derpy. But it’s also true. (Oh, and yes, of course we will all die, but this fact will only serve to support what I want to say today.)
I don’t have time to write, and never have. There are eight million things in my ADHD head, all clamoring for attention. I suck at prioritizing because everything appears to be equally important. So other people set deadlines and I end up juggling them: tax deadlines, teaching deadlines, promotion gigs, car repair, pet and child maintenance. The family likes to be fed, bills have to be paid. And on, and on. It’s easy to feel like I have no time for anything I want to do.
If you don’t set your own priorities, other people will set them for you.
Being a writer is a choice. There are some writers who decide very early that their writing will be the primary focus in their lives, and every choice they make follows from that. What if you did that? What if you made writing your number one priority? What would that look like for you? Maybe it sounds pleasurable to you, maybe not. But many who’ve done that have found enormous success because they followed that narrow path. Those folks are people who, after a few years, don’t ever think twice about what comes first in their lives.
Or maybe that sounds a little freakish to you. Most of us have rather more prosaic needs. We like to have families or lots of friends. Quality of life is important. Or earlier choices we made preclude us from living like a Monk Servant of the Word.
Our writing choices are necessarily different:
We can cook a gourmet dinner, or we can heat up a can of chili and spend the extra forty-five minutes writing. We can binge-watch The Avengers or Stranger Things or The Great British Baking Show, or we can watch one episode and write for two hours. We can sleep eight hours, or sleep seven hours and stay up late to write in that sleepy zone in which weird, dreamlike ideas punch their way through our consciousness. We can take an actual lunch hour at the office, close our door, eat a protein bar, read for half an hour and write for half an hour. We can let the grass get a little too long and admire the words we wrote instead of worrying what the neighbors will think.
We can choose from a hundred different ways to nurture our creativity, even at random times. But if you’re hanging out here, words must be your poison.
Did I say poison? I did. Maybe that’s some kind of Freudian slip. It has occasionally felt like a kind of poison. For a long time I approached writing with a sense of dread, with a sense that I was doing something VERY SIGNIFICANT. Who in the heck is going to want to make time for something dreadful? One of my favorite synonyms for dreadful is formidable. If you’re thinking that what you will write if you take the time to sit down to write must be formidable, that’s a heck of a lot of pressure to put on both you and your work.
If you’re approaching your work this way, I encourage you to lighten up this very minute.
When we’re writing, what we’re doing is not so formidable that we can’t do it in a notebook when we’re waiting in the doctor’s office. It’s not so important that we can’t jot down the outline of a scene while there are five minutes of commercials of people wearing Ralph Lauren fancy pants while they’re dancing on a glorified party barge as it floats down the Rhine. Is our writing too formidable to be present while we wait for an oil change?
Don’t make your writing an idol. Writing is not special. Writing is telling stories. Yes, there will be times when you need a chunk out of the time stream to organize chapters or write a difficult scene. But you will never have the perfect time to write. There’s no such thing.
So plunge into the stream and swim while you can.