I have been invited to give another talk at the New York Society Library, in November. This will be my third. The first, in 2011, was about giving and receiving critiques; you can read the substance of that talk here, in a three-part post (part 1, part 2, part 3). The second talk, in 2013, was about preparing a book proposal; you’ll get to read a lot of that in an upcoming post.
This fall I thought I’d like to talk about the problem of finding time to write. That’s a recurring issue for many writers, including the members of the Girl Group: Geralyn, Barbara, Ali, Lynda, Melissa, and Jennifer, all of whom you’ve met in previous posts. These are women with lives just as full and complicated as yours, with jobs, families, partners, homes, workouts, volunteering.
In the end, Carolyn Waters, who organizes the “Writing Life” talks for the NYSL, suggested a different topic that I liked just as much. But the making-time theme kept bouncing around in my head.
If we’d decided on the Making Time talk, I wanted to call it “Making Time for Work: Learning to Say Yes to Yourself and No to Others.” I knew what I meant, but the title gives the wrong impression. For one thing, it sounds a little scary: can you simply learn to say NO to others in the service of saying YES to yourself? How comfortable are we–most of us–with saying a polite “no” when other people insist on having our attention?
For another thing, I didn’t really mean “work.” I meant “writing.” Work isn’t the issue; writing is the issue. Work, even when it’s fun, may be many kinds of activities, most of them non writing, from the money-earning kind to the other kind–like child care, cooking, making repairs, doing laundry, cleaning closets, mowing the lawn, helping parents and friends, shopping for groceries, and on and on. The list is endless, difficult to curtail, yet the items on the work list usually seem essential, required, unavoidable.
Writing, on the other hand, doesn’t usually present as essential, required, or unavoidable–unless we’re talking about essays for school or assignments for a magazine, which we’re not. We’re talking about elective writing, the writing you do because you’re a writer and you want to be writing. That kind of writing often seems to fall to the bottom of the To-Do list.
Even when you say to yourself, I love doing this, I want to be doing this, it’s my life’s work, I’m a writer—even when you have all that mental ammunition, it’s still difficult to MAKE TIME and to TAKE TIME.
Because that is what “making time” amounts to: taking time. We have to wrest time away from all the people and things that need us so much–need us more than we think we need our own lives.
It’s tempting to imagine that this is a women’s problem, and frequently it is. However, it’s not only a women’s problem. Men suffer from the same No-Time Syndrome, though the difference is that historically more men have felt entitled (and been allowed) to forgo housekeeping and child care when they want to write (or paint or compose or play poker).
The reason I’m so interested in the making-time topic should be obvious: I have trouble with this issue myself. And what I know is this: If I really want to write, I can say no to a lot of demands on my time. If. If. If. Today, in fact, I had finally finished all the chores that had to be done, and I’d settled in with my MacBook Pro and was bounding along–when friends called and asked if I wanted to go out for a drink.
I love Annie and Brodie, but I said, “Thanks so much, I’d like to, but I just got into my writing and I don’t want to leave it yet.” And then I realized what I was writing: a post on learning to say yes to me and no to them. Bingo. “Well, you said no very nicely,” Annie laughed, “so now you should go back to work.”
The sky did not fall in; my friends still cherish me; there will be another opportunity to go out for a drink. Nothing bad happened. Something good happened: I made a choice to keep writing.
PLEASE READ Make/take time to write, part 2
THURSDAY, JULY 3, 2014
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
Prairie Pages Bookseller, Pierre, SD
Book Nook, Ludlow, VT