You’ll get the most out of this post if you read part 1 first.
Girl Group member Barbara wrote this in an e-mail to the GG:
Tomorrow was supposed to be a writing day and now it will be a bris day up in the farthest reaches of Westchester. I could go on about what this week is turning into. Oh man could I go on. Not that I haven’t had more than enough time to work on my current submission–I most certainly have. I’ve been writing but with a great deal of life getting in the way. It takes such fierce discipline and vigilance to maintain boundaries between writing-life and other-life! And even then it sometimes feels like I’m trying to hold back a flood with my thumb.
What an accurate description of the push and pull every writer experiences at some time, trying to reconcile writing-life and other-life. Unless you live in a perfectly-functioning bubble-house with no family, no friends, no Internet, no distractions, you’re going to be coping with the same boundary issues Barbara writes about.
And those issues aren’t the only issues. Before you can learn to say no to some of the intrusions (pleasant or otherwise) in your life, you have to accept that you value your writing and you want to be doing it. And you have to value it and want to be doing it even when it’s not going well. You may not love every page you write, but the act of writing is of absolute value. TO YOU.
Therefore it’s your responsibility to defend and nurture it. It’s certainly not anyone else’s responsibility, is it? It is not. You may have the support and encouragement of other writers, but net net you have to make this stand alone. Alone is where you are when you’re writing.
So how much do you want it? Enough to make changes in your life and the lives of your family members? Enough to tell the whiners and complainers, No, sorry, this is my time? Because it is guaranteed that some of your children, partners, relatives, even friends will try to sabotage you–not (necessarily) because they want you to fail at your writing, but because they’d rather have you paying attention to them.
Think about this: Who’d tell Joyce Carol Oates that she should stop writing and do the laundry? Who’d tell Jane Smiley she should turn off the computer and shovel snow? Okay, I’m being hyperbolic; you don’t teach at Princeton and you haven’t won the Pulitzer Prize, but your impulse is the same as theirs: you need to write because you need to write.
Are you going to have to relinquish your self-image as the perfect parent because you can’t do perfect parenting and still have time to write? Maybe.
Is it important for your children and partner to see you working with dedication on something you love that isn’t them? Maybe.
Is good for your friends to know that you have limits and that when your answering machine says “I can’t come to the phone right now because I’m working,” you mean it? Maybe.
In all likelihood no one is going to give you the time you need. You’re going to have to take it. Of course it’s worth the effort to explain to the angry [insulted; hurt; uncooperative; selfish; demanding; outraged] parties that you still love them and you haven’t deserted them, but then you have to shut them out temporarily while you take time for writing.
A FEW TIPS FOR SAYING YES TO YOURSELF
- Try doing some of your writing away from your home: if you’re absent (and you turn off your cell phone) you can’t be intruded upon. Think library, coffee shop, cafe, bookstore, a friend’s empty apartment.
- Write at odd hours–but not only at odd hours, lest you and others begin to regard your writing as an activity that deserves only the leftovers.
- Start writing after dinner instead of watching TV with (or without) your family. Kiss them goodnight at bedtime, and then go back to your writing for one more hour.
- Get up even earlier so you have a little time and quiet for writing.
- Don’t make lunch dates if midday is the time you’ve chosen for writing. Stopping for a lunch date destroys concentration, flow, and good intentions. Just say, “No, thanks, I don’t do lunch because that’s when I write.”
- Stop and think about each invitation you get. Consider whether you’d rather be writing. You might.
- Insist on your right to take time for your work, but expect a period of adjustment–also known as tantrums, wailing, bad behavior, meanness, and a lot of “Honey, I can’t find my [fill in the blank]!” He (or she) will find it without your help. How hard is it to find a [fill in the blank]?
- YES to writing means NO to crossword puzzles, Internet shopping, organizing your e-mails, making phone calls. You’ll do that stuff later. When you’re writing, keep writing until you seriously need a little break or walkabout.
The best YES you can say to yourself is to create a workspace of your own with a door you can shut. A notch down from that: create a corner you can work in and enclose it with a screen or a curtain, and make a rule: when you’re behind the screen or curtain, you’re invisible. You’re not there to visitors, callers, demands, or fake emergencies. You’re AWOL.
Last thought: Maybe you’re actually scared of being alone with your work. It does take some getting used to. Privacy and isolation can rattle you. Perhaps you’re afraid that you’ll go down so deep into your story or memoir or novel that you’ll upset yourself. Maybe you’re afraid that you’ll stare at the wall and won’t do a lick of work. (If you do get stuck, read this post.) Anything is possible. Possible, yes, but you need to take time to find out. The absolute opposite just might happen: you take time for yourself and…you write and you love it.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA
Mystery to Me, Madison, WI