Am I a writer?

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This is a story for and a message to my Girl Group, which is winding down after four years. All six of us need a break from our weekly and, for most of the past year, every-other-weekly meetings. I need more time for finishing my novel, writing this blog, giving proper attention to my private clients, and dealing with my elderly parents.

The GGs need something quite different: independence from the group, to find out if they will keep writing on their own. Each of them has to answer the question, Am I a writer? 

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I’m sitting in the aisle seat of a 737 flying east from Salt Lake City to New York. Two very nice Oregon ladies occupy the middle and window seats. The three of us start to chat: they’d love to stay in New York for a few days, but they’re on their way to Egypt and the Holy Land.

Uh-oh, religion. Don’t go there. What to talk about? Books. Mrs. Window Seat turns out to be a retired librarian, Mrs. Middle Seat’s husband is writing his memoirs. What, they ask me, do you do?

I’m a writer.

Their eyes widen, they smile, they’re…avid. What do you write? they ask.

Now I’m in the same soup I always land in when that question comes up. I write fiction, but aside from a few short stories, it’s unpublished. I write a blog, but not everyone takes blogs all that seriously even when the content is serious. So what do I tell these very conventional, very sweet airplane ladies who are excited about meeting a Real Writer?

I tell them the truth: I’ve written more than thirty books—cookbooks, craft books, list books, books about food—and dozens of short articles for my brother’s imprint (though I don’t name Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader; I don’t know how shockable these women are). But now, I continue to explain, I write only fiction and my blog.

The airplane ladies are on the receiving end of a technique I use: establishing my nonfiction credentials so that my choice to abandon the world of pop books makes a credible story that leads into the present. That is, I left the world of nonfiction books in order to write novels and more short stories, to teach writers, to invent a thoughtful and wide-ranging blog for writers and readers. Voila! I’ve presented the facts with the spin I insist on.

I am a writer, whether my current work is being published or not. I am a writer, because I write. A lot. Most days. Sometimes it’s my novel or a short story; often it’s a blog post. Or a talk I’m giving, notes for new work, the occasional poem—it’s all writing.

So the question is, are you a writer? It’s an important question to answer for yourself because if you define yourself as a writer, you must write. You can’t say you’re a writer if you don’t write, unless you’re Alice Munro or Philip Roth and you’ve already written a huge body of brilliant work and you’re taking a well-deserved breather.

Excluding periods of so-called “writer’s block,” periods of incapacitation, and periods of rest (to let the well fill up again), writers write. If you write steadily—even if you’re Mrs. Middle Seat’s husband attempting his memoir—you are a writer.

But you’re not a writer if you…

  • can’t find or make time to write
  • let too many other people’s needs override your own needs, too often
  • find ten thousand reasons not to write
  • can’t be alone, or alone in your own head even with people around you (as in a writers’ room or a café)
  • let your partner/mother/father/friend bully you into believing you aren’t allowed to be the writer you want to be, which is another way of saying “if you let someone else define you”
  • aren’t having any fun with (or at least satisfaction from) your writing
  • have nothing to say
  • would mostly prefer to be doing something else

You could spend a lot of time explaining to yourself why you’re not writing…when you could be writing. Or you could stop hitting your head against the wall, stop writing, and go do something you like better.

But here’s what I’ve been soft-shoeing around: you know whether or not you want to be a writer. If you do, then write. If you don’t, then don’t write.

I once had a private client who finally completed the mystery novel she’d been trying to conquer for years. It wasn’t very good, and I had to tell her so; that was my job. I do these critiques as kindly as I can, because every writer is vulnerable. But the facts were the facts: this novel wasn’t going to fly. The writer responded:

You are absolutely right. I wish I’d met you years ago. It’s not pleasant to realize that I wasted so much energy on a poorly conceived project. But I’m giving up the literary life and buying a racing boat.

I sincerely hope she did, and had a wonderful time with it.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, NY

Destinations Booksellers, New Albany, IN

Copperfield’s Books, Sebastopol, CA

Writers’ retreats/day 2: d-i-y how-to’s & d-i-y mini-retreats

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How to Create a D-I-Y Full-scale Retreat

The how-to part is a lot like planning a vacation, without the complications of factoring in everyone else’s needs and wishes. YOU are the only one you have to accommodate. What will you need? A big worktable? A plain desk? A reading chair? An Internet connection? Stores within walking distance? Cell phone coverage? Make a list of your requirements. 

Now find a place to go: If you want to do this retreat on the cheap, think about who might be willing to lend you a place for the amount of time you think you need. Possibilities:

  • Someone with a second home she doesn’t use all the time
  • Someone who needs a house-sitter
  • Someone with an empty apartment over the garage
  • Someone with an apartment in your city, who’s taking a trip and would love to have you stay there to pick up the mail and feed the cat

Once I did that in Manhattan: my uptown friends were going away for a week, and even though I lived just a couple of miles downtown, I moved into their apartment for that week—and it worked just as well as being farther away. New neighborhood, new workspace, no interruptions.

If you’re single you might also ask around or go online to find someone who wants to exchange homes for a week or two. (Be cautious about this approach when you’re getting involved with folks you don’t actually know.)

Look for off-season rentals advertised online or in a local newspaper. Try off-season B-and-B’s. And don’t discount the possibility of checking into an inexpensive hotel for a week—the Hilton’s Homewood Suites, for instance, or another low-budget chain. Set-ups like that can be really reasonable, especially if you qualify for a discount of some sort (like AARP members!).

There’s usually a complimentary breakfast, and since the suites have kitchens, you can save on meals. If there’s no airfare involved, the cost of a week in a place like that could be less than it would cost to go to an official writers’ retreat.  Maybe not as pretty, but hey, you’re supposed to be writing, not sightseeing.

Try not to take more work materials than you need, maybe just your laptop (and possibly a printer), plus whatever files, notebooks, books are important. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish in the time you’ve allotted.

Take some comfort with you too, because you’re likely to have a few tough moments—when the work isn’t going well, when you miss your partner or friends, when you feel isolated. Those feelings will dissipate, but it’s nice to have your [teddybear; music; poetry; M&Ms] with you until they do.

What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll hate it and you’ll go home. But what’s the best that could happen? You’ll love it and you’ll start planning regular writing retreats, one way or another.

Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreats

Never underestimate the value of a two-, three-, or four-day mini-retreat. What’s most important, though, is this: Even if you can only snatch a few days, get away from home. That’s the trick. I’ve tried mini-retreats at home, and I doubt they’ll work for you any better than they’ve worked for me. Working at home can be productive, but it’s not the same as getting away to a less familiar venue. The unfamiliar pushes you to think differently. And no one asks you to make dinner or do the laundry.

Mini-retreats are especially good for:

  1. Reconnecting to work you’ve been torn away from by the daily grind of your life, even if that means you simply reread your manuscript from start to finish
  2. Focusing on the problems you’ve encountered in the work, to get them into some sort of order that will relieve your anxiety
  3. Working on one specific section of your manuscript
  4. Rewriting—one of a writer’s greatest pleasures

There’s sometimes a certain desperation hovering around a mini-retreat, a sort of “how can I get anything done in such a short time?” panic. You may feel like you’re gasping for air—but you’ll probably find that by the end of the first twenty-four hours you’ve begun to breathe again. Then you can think straight and accomplish a day or two of serious work. Which will send you home in a much better frame of mind to keep working.

Consider doing your mini-retreat with a writer friend—that can be a good way to ward off nighttime nerves. Be sure, though, that the two of you set ground rules for the workdays, so you both do get work done. Do not go on a mini-retreat with a high-maintenance pal.

Once you’ve tried a full-scale retreat or mini-retreat that suits you and makes you feel like a writer again, you’ll repeat the experience over and over. You’ll learn to give yourself the time and place you need for your work.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Ugly Dog Books, Attleboro, MA

Square Books, Oxford, MS

Rakestraw Books, Danville, CA

Writers’ retreats/day 1: the readymade & the do-it-yourself

This two-day post is about writers’ retreats: why we need them, what your options are, how to find retreats, and how to create them for yourself.
Today, Day 1: Readymade Writers’ Retreats & Colonies  AND  Do-It-Yourself Full-scale Retreats
Thursday, Day 2: How to Create a D-I-Y Full-scale Writer’s Retreat  AND  Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreats

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Writers need retreats. We need to get away from interruptions, demands, social engagements, responsibilities, families, friends, and all the other distractions that come between us and our work.

Even if you live alone, as I do, phone calls, e-mails, chores, and a hundred other things can yank you away from what you intended to be doing. Learning to say no (see posts “No is YES” and “The No-is-YES multiple choice quiz“) is a positive way of going about getting more time for your writing, but it’s not the only way. Sometimes you simply have to get out of Dodge.

Readymade Writers’ Retreats & Colonies

There are dozens and dozens of writers’ retreats and colonies scattered across the country (and abroad too). Some residencies are competitive and require applications and acceptance (like MacDowell and VCCA ); others are independently-run retreats for which you pay a fee to stay in a beautiful setting where you have both a bedroom and some common space to use for writing, and no one will bother you.

The Writers’ Retreat website, for example, lists eighteen retreats from New York State to Oregon, from Costa Rica to New Zealand. Doing a little research will yield a lot of information. So will this article in Huffington Post: “Why You Need a Writing Retreat and How to Make the Most of It.”  And this one from Writer’s Digest: “6 Insider Tips for Finding and Applying to Writers’ Colonies.”

The only drawback about many of these places is that they require long-range planning—you have to know when you’ll be able to go. That may not be an issue for writers who are very organized and very sure about their schedules, but it could be a serious problem if you can’t plan too far ahead.

And here’s something else to consider: In some retreats there will be a lot of other artists and writers around while you’re there; in others there might be two or three—or none. How will you feel about having a little or a lot of social contact during your stay? Can you tolerate small talk after a hard day’s work? Do you want pleasant company? Or do you want complete solitude? Factor these questions into your choice.

Do-It-Yourself Full-scale Retreats

I’d like to make a pitch for one alternative to the readymade retreats: planning and carrying out your own custom-made retreat. There are lots of ways to do this, once you identify a time frame and make a few stylistic decisions.

But before we get to the how-to discussion (on Thursday), you’ll want to read about a few examples of made-to-order writers’ retreats:

  • One of my friends spends a week every late spring with a small group of other women writers, in a rental house in New England. Each writer has a bedroom of her own; group dinners are cooked on a rotation plan; no one intrudes on anyone else unless specifically planned. My friend always gets work done, including the thinking kind.
  • Several times artist friends in Putney, VT have invited me to use the small house behind their big main house as a writing retreat.  It was like living in a delightful doll house for a week at a time. We all worked separately during the day, and then convened for dinner in their kitchen, where we cooked, talked, relaxed.
  • My closest guy-friends have a weekend home on Shelter Island, NY, and twice I’ve been invited to use it for a two-week stretch of writing. The day I arrive they drive me to the supermarket for a big food-shop, and then they leave me at the house and return to the city. It’s the most blissful solitude because the house is so comfortable and well-appointed—and since I don’t really know anyone on the island, no one bothers me.
  • When the Girl Group was only a year old, the members decided to have a writing retreat at the upstate home of one of the members. They invited me to come, but I declined: I wanted them to be on their own with their work, to help each other and not look to me for guidance. Varying amounts of work got done, including one major breakthrough—and they had a wonderful time together.
  • Another writer I know holes up in his country cottage several times a year, when his wife takes week-long business trips. He informs colleagues only on a need-to-know basis, and he turns off his cell phone for most of each day.

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To be continued on Thursday, Day 2: How to Create a D-I-Y Full-Scale Retreat  AND Do-It-Yourself Mini-Retreats. Don’t miss. 

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

G.J. Ford Bookshop, Saint Simons Island, GA

RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH

Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA

drowning in a sea of modesty

This morning I said to myself, Are you really feeling that mean? Do you really want to post a snotty comment AND an excerpt? What will your readers think?

It was a hard decision, so I cut it in half: the comment is out, the excerpt is in.

Normally The Book Under Her Bed is completely one-sided about the Amazon/Hachette mess, but today I offer a link to an article on BuzzFeed, a convo between Edan Lepucki and Stephan Eirik Clark. Yes, you do too know who they are. Think Colbert.

The article doesn’t change TBUHB‘s political position, but it does make me wonder about Stephen Colbert’s…impulsiveness.

Below, a sample of Ms. Lepucki in conversation with Mr. Clark:

I still can’t believe that I went on The Colbert Report myself; for the appearance I wore a lot of makeup, my hair was curled like a poodle’s, and I could barely breathe in my Spanx undergarments. But, hey — an authoress has to lean in, right? (By the way, Stephen Colbert is very nice.) The whole thing makes me giggle. One of the greatest parts about this whole surreal turn of events is that I had the chance to read your book, Stephan, and recommend it on national television! I got to be a reader again. And we got to email, and share our joys and insecurities, and just, you know, be writers together…

Now that my book is a best-seller… what do I feel? Of course I am delighted and grateful and flummoxed. I mean — seriously? That just doesn’t happen for unknown writers of literary fiction! 

(And not to be all cheesy, there’s also this: No matter what happened to my book, I felt like a success long before my publication date, back when my family read California. Their excitement magnified my own, and allowed me to be proud and satisfied with what I’d worked hard for. I did it! I am a novelist!)

 

Nuggets in a heap of stones

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There’s a website called “Blogs Just In” that tracks blogs in sixteen categories: art, books, divination (!), gadget reviews, gardening, and so on, including Writing & Publishing. Twelve blogs are listed in Writing & Publishing, mine among them, though I don’t recall how TBUHB got there. TBUHB has some excellent company—Jungle Red Writers, Jane Friedman, a couple of others—as well as some less-good company.

However, even in the less-good company (the stones) there are useful bits to be found (the nuggets). Two valuable sentences resided in a strictly…hmm, what’s the right way to say this?…nonprofessional blog called The Write Practice. (That’s the link, but if you like The Book Under Her Bed, I suspect TWP won’t be for you.)

The sentences I found in The Write Practice were these: You need to ask this question every time you sit down to write. How can you make your writing more you? 

This reminded me of a conversation I had with Girl Group member Barbara Ginsberg, who is writing a riveting memoir. In this Age of Memoirs, no memoirist can help but ask, Why am I writing a memoir when there are so many memoirs already? Why would anyone want to read another memoir?

This is like asking, Why would you want to write a novel when so many novels already exist?

If you’re a serious writer, you write what you need to write. It’s not your job to scour the market, find an underserved category, and write for that category. It is your job to find your originality and write it, whether it’s memoir, fiction, personal essay, or anything else. It’s also your job to be responsible for and to your talent, to foster your thinking, to improve your skills constantly, and to do your work.

How can you make your writing more you? is an important question. It suggests its opposite: Why is your writing not you enough?, an even more important question. Are you trying to sound like some other writer? Are you imitating Hemingway, Mailer, Krakauer, Lethem, Grisham, King? Meyer, Rowling, Smiley, Erdrich, Lamott, Flynn?

These are writers who invested in their own visions and voices, who brought themselves to their work. They had no guarantee of success; no one does. But each had (or has) the understanding that what s/he had to say and the way s/he had to say it was the only possible way for her or him to write.

This is not to imply that you don’t learn from reading other writers. You learn a great deal from reading other writers; some of it goes into your toolbox and some of it goes into the garbage. All of it is used in the service of finding your own voice: “more you.” 

There’s another danger you risk if you don’t make your writing “more you“: you can find yourself writing in a generic manner that is uninteresting to a serious reader.

“Too generic” is a critique I’ve often invoked with clients and students—and one I’ve leveled at my own work at times too. Generic writing reflects a spectrum of writers’ flaws: laziness, shortage of ideas, reliance on other people’s work, imitation, obviousness, watching too much television and too many movies. Writing generically will people your fiction with stock characters—the Good Mom, the Bad Kid, the Nosy Neighbor, the Nasty Boss—and chewed-over situations, flavorless and boring. It will make your memoir just a history of what happened and to whom it happened.

What lifts any writing above the generic, the imitative, the clichéd is “more you,” if you have talent and originality. If you have talent and originality, they belong in your writing. More you.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Petunia’s Place, Fresno, CA

Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, NC

Galápagos Books, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY

When you read this I’ll be on a train from NYC to Richmond, VA to visit my oldest nephew Gideon Javna  and his new fiancée Alexandra Arsura for the weekend. They are the lure, of course, but the seven-hour train trip (each way!) is not the least of the enticement. Hours and hours to write, think, write, make notes, mull new blog posts. In the Quiet Car, with any luck.

I’m hardly alone in my love of trains as venues for working…Read “The Little Writing Prize That Could,” from the NYT of September 25. This idea, initiated by Amtrak, though suggested by writer Alexander Chee, is pure genius. Don’t expect to win the train-travel prize any too soon, though: Amtrak received over 16,000 applications for twenty-four spots.

 

 

The last lines say it all: if it hadn’t been Hachette, it would have been another publisher. Amazon is being Amazon. Have a look at this, from the NYT.

IMG_0299Last May, online magazine The Critical Flame: A Journal of Literature & Culture began a year during which it has been and will be dedicated to the work of “women writers and writers of color.”

Editor Daniel Evans Pritchard says, “…while The Critical Flame may not be a powerhouse of the literary world, we have yet decided to embark on a project that will help our readers, at the very least, perceive and evaluate the literary landscape differently. If there is a cycle of criticism / reviews, book sales, and publishing trends that perpetuates the unjust inequalities we’re seeing today, then CF will act in some small measure to break it.”

That sounds like a very good idea. This is the article that caught my eye: “A Reluctance to Cede Ground: Age and the Writing Life,” by Rosemary Booth. It begins as a review of A Story Larger Than My Own: Women Writers Look Back onTheir Lives and Careers, edited by Janet Burroway (University of Chicago Press), and slides interestingly into a discussion of Maxine Kumin’s work.

You might want to subscribe to the CF e-mail newsletter. And if you want to buy Ms. Burroway’s book, the University of Chicago will be happy to oblige here.

 

 

The NO-is-YES multiple choice quiz

This is the second of the “No is YES” posts. In the first part we established—I hope—some guidelines for thinking about the issue and perhaps even for taking action to grab more writing time.

Melissa Miles, another GG member, wrote this when I asked for the GG’s thoughts: Oh, I wish I had good advice about saying no. The truth is, I’m still figuring out how to do it. I’m a pleaser by nature, so I don’t always realize I want (or need) to say no when I’m asked to do something. I take such genuine pleasure in giving the asker what he/she wants that I don’t realize I should have said no until after the conversation is over. And then I find myself feeling as though I’ve been bamboozled into doing this thing. 

She’s definitely nailed a syndrome: automatically saying yes to whatever’s on offer, followed by one minute of feeling pleased for having pleased someone else, followed by an hour (day, week, month) of buyer’s remorse. Take the quiz below; it might help.

1. Your Aunt Naggy phones to insist that she needs your help moving the furniture around. You: A) Cave in and rush over to her house, even though you’re in the middle of a chapter. B) Plead a bad back (sciatica; flu; food poisoning) and suggest she find someone else to help her. C) Say you’re getting a beep and you have to take the call. D) Explain that this week you’re very busy, but you’ll let her know if you have time to help her next week. E) Tell her you’re not a furniture mover, you’re a writer.

2. Your partner complains that you’re always sneaking away to write and you never spend any time with her/him. You: A) Apologize profusely and swear you’ll mend your ways. B) Claim that s/he’s exaggerating—the two of you went out for dinner about, um, two weeks ago. C) Point out that s/he stays late at the office three times a week and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. D) Promise to work out a plan that accommodates both of you. E) Shrug your shoulders and say this is just how it has to be.

3. Your kids whine that no one else’s mom/dad spends so much time writing. You: A) Cry, and hope you’ll get their sympathy. B) Point out that you’re not everyone else’s mom/dad. C) Argue that you don’t spend all your time writing. D) Offer them a bribe: you’ll dedicate the book to them. E) Work on your book at the library from now on.

4. Your best friend accuses you of being thoughtless and uncaring because you never see each other anymore. You: A) Remind her that you saw each other a few weeks ago. B) Ask her how often she sees her other friends. C) Deny her accusation and refuse to discuss it—take it or leave it. D) Apologize and make a plan for your next date. E) Tell her that a truly good friend would want you to keep writing and fulfill your promise.

5. Your shrink muses aloud that you might be a little overcommitted to your work and perhaps you could consider dialing it back a little in order to fulfill your obligations to your friends and family. You: A) Feel like a bad person. B) Defend the importance of the memoir you’re writing.  C) Ask what “overcommitted” actually means. D) Point out that your therapist works five days a week at her job. E) Look for a new therapist.

Maybe your particular situation isn’t covered here, but you get the idea. Solve the problem of finding enough time for your work by deciding how important your work is to you—and then delivering some variation of no to whatever or whomever prevents you from doing it.

There really isn’t any other way to go about it: saying yes to your work means saying no to something else. Except in emergencies (defined by you), say no as much as possible to the time-thieves prowling around your life. It’s either that or kick yourself around the block for failing to take care of yourself and your work. You do not want to have regrets.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO

The River’s End Bookstore, Oswego, NY

Third Place Books, Seattle, WA

 

 

 

No is YES

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Today’s post is about saying no, but not in a mood of negativity: quite the opposite. Saying no to people, pets, events, dates, activities, and other distractions when you need time for yourself is positive

I asked the Girl Group to think about this business of saying no, and got interesting responses. Geralyn Lucas, author of the forthcoming (in October) Then Came Life, said this: “My therapist helped a lot. She said, ‘Saying yes to something means saying no to others.’ I always feel guilty saying no, but she made me realize I was really saying YES.”

The context of my question to the GGs was writing, naturally. How do you learn to say no in order to make (or take) the time you need for your own work? What are the things you must do versus the things you think you must do? What comes first, when you have to choose among demands—the demands of your writing or the demands of your family, friends, job, and all the other tugs-on-your-sleeve?

These decisions aren’t easy, and nobody can make them for you; only you can judge the importance of your need to write, relative to those tugs. What you want to watch out for, though, is saying an unconsidered yes to a demand that may not—when you think about it carefully—be as important as it seems at first.

Time out for a laugh: Here’s another answer to my question about saying no, from GG member Lynda Myles.

The ONLY reasons why I would say no to a friend’s invite:

  1. I’m hiking in the Andes and I can’t get home in time.
  2. I’m unconscious in the I.C.U.
  3. I have to produce the script/story/article by tomorrow morning at 9 am and I’ve only got half of it done!!! Well, maybe for just a quick drink.​

And these are the excuses I give myself for accepting invitations ​when I should be writing:

  1. I may not have another chance to spend time with this person again.
  2. It’d be a crime to turn down a free ticket to a Broadway show.
  3. There’s NEVER a time when I shouldn’t be writing, damn it! I have a life to live!
  4. I’ll do it another day, when I feel like writing.

So how important is it to you to write? How important is it to you to write today? How important is it to you to write tomorrow?

I’m not always too terrific with this issue myself. I have been known to insist on cleaning up my apartment before sitting down to write—even though I face a wall when I’m writing. It can be hard to differentiate between a) avoidance of (or resistance to) my work, and b) everything else. I can say yes to a movie and regret it later (why did I waste my precious time on that dumb film?)—but I can also struggle at my computer when I know I should be giving myself a rest.

Anxiety plays a big part in this discussion. If you’re anxious about your writing, almost any distraction can be turned into an escape, a “must-do.” But if you’re anxious about whether the kids are strangling each other in the back yard, even the writing you love most can be impossible to focus on.

Often the biggest obstacle to commandeering time for your writing is the fear of making changes.  Let’s say your mom is accustomed to getting a phone call from you every day at four p.m. One day you start writing at 2:30 p.m., and when 4:00 p.m. arrives you don’t want to stop because you’re on a roll. Conflict! You can stop writing and be pissed off at yourself and your mom, or you can keep writing and risk having your mother angry at you.

Or imagine that you’re writing well at eight a.m. on a Saturday and suddenly the entire family piles into your little writing room yelling for pancakes. Or your spouse or partner is making sounds of discontent just loud enough for you to hear when you’re in the middle of a hot chapter. Or a client calls you at home during the two evening hours you’ve managed to eke out for writing, and wants to discuss that morning’s meeting.

There’s also: let’s have sex; the dog is throwing up; we’re out of milk; my boss is coming for dinner tomorrow; Aunt Fussy’s garden party is next week; they need an usher for Tiffany’s ballet recital; my teacher wants you to bake cookies for the class party; someone has to balance the checkbook pronto; and did you remember to buy a birthday present for Cousin Crabby?

Need I go on? I could, and you could too, with your own unique list of interruptions, some of which may be important—and some, not so much.

The time to make changes is before you find yourself flipping pancakes.  And the trick to making the kind of changes that will result in more time for your writing is actually five tricks. Tough ones, and they apply to everyone—married or single, kids or no kids, home job or office job, younger or older.

  1. Explain carefully and resolutely to the people who are going to get less of your time why they’re going to get less of it and how much less.
  2. Accept that those people are probably not going to be happy about it. They might even get mean.
  3. Be prepared to hang in while they get used to the changes. They will, eventually.
  4. Stick to your guns. No backsliding—well, only rarely and only on special occasions.
  5. Remind yourself firmly and frequently that you may be saying no to other people’s needs, but you’re saying yes to your own needs. Yes, yes, yes.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Bluestockings, New York, NY

Hyde Brothers, Booksellers, Fort Wayne, IN

King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT