Is the writer writing or just “at work”? (*Thronechair sold separately.)
A lot of people ask me how one builds a writer’s life. There are a lot of questions wrapped up in that — how to be a good writer, how to sell your work, how to make money. But the most common question in the early days of a career seems to be: I have a full-time job, a family, travel, sickness, other interests. How do I find time to write?
The crazy part is that in the later days of a career, the question is the same: How do I find time to write? Sure, writing is now your full-time job, and you’ve given up all your other interests and become a recluse (just me? Okay, just me), but now there are other “writer-like” things fighting for your time and attention: Email. Social media. Interviews. Blog Posts (ahem). Contracts. Book blurbs. Readings and signings. Teaching. They’re all great opportunities, but they take time away from your writing. At this point in your career, everyone wants something from you, and while many of them are good things, they are still time drains. And then, of course, there are the mean people, the soul suckers, the antis, the people who accidentally or purposefully make your day hell with negative emails, stalkerish tendencies, laziness or chosen ignorance.
Finding time to actually write — you know, put words on the page, create stories, do the thing that you actually want to do and are supposed to be doing — is an ongoing struggle, and one that I still don’t have a good answer to. It’s a slippery creature, this writing time, and every time I think I have a handle on it, it slides away, laughing, just daring me to come after it again.
Our house has two full-time writers in it, which is both a joy and sometimes, head-against-the-wall frustration. Not at each other, but because we’re frustrated at not being able to find the time to make the words in the midst of all the other things we need to do to run successful writing careers.
Here’s the truth that no one says: This is only going to get harder. 1. You will become more well-known and that means more people will want things from you and you will have more non-writing work. 2. As fast as technology is moving, there will soon be more ways for people to contact us and ask for things. There will be more media outlets wanting your writerly presence (already we have social media, radio shows, blog tours, podcasts, book trailers, on and on).
What does that mean? It means that now is the time to learn successful coping tactics, before it becomes a hundred times more difficult.
As I mentioned, I don’t have good answers to this dilemma (I’m still constantly struggling with this, every day), but I do have some suggestions, based on what’s worked for me over the years.
- Create days where you don’t go on social media or email or texts or anything else of that nature until later in the day. Although there hasn’t been a lot of research on the impact of social media and email inundation, my instinct tells me that it’s unhealthy for us to constantly be bombarded by other people’s wants, needs and thoughts. Not only does it seem (at least for me) to make deep, creative thinking more difficult, it also means that I start getting stressed about all the things I’m “supposed to be” doing and can’t focus on the writing.
- Turn off your internet or go somewhere that doesn’t have access. This is always difficult for me — I spend the first half an hour without internet feeling lost and a little scared. I wander around the house, I pick up a book, I put it down, I make tea. I realize I am unused to being still, to thinking deep thoughts, because the internet allows me to skim the surface of my own brain. But then, something magical always happens: The world slows down, time settles, and my brain gets bored enough that it gives a big sigh and says, “Fine. Let’s do this writing thing.”
- Know your good writing times. Find a way to keep that time sacred, even if it means shutting out family or friends. At the same time, communicate with said friends and family — let them know that you adore them, but you need this time and that, if all possible, they should keep the guilt, whining and cajoling to a minimum. In the long run, being able to do the thing you love regularly (and without guilt) will make you a better person to be around. (And trust me on this, I’ve been on both sides of this equation — being the one who needed space, and being the one who had to learn not to say things like, “Oh, well if the writing’s going badly, let’s watch a movie instead! Fun!” Neither one of these places is easy, but it’s important).
- Hire a good, solid assistant if you’re continually feeling overwhelmed and unable to catch up. What is your most stressful bit of non-writing work? Hand that part over to someone else first. Alternatively, hire out some life stuff — if you find that emails take a lot of time, but aren’t stressful for you, hire someone to do personal stuff that you do find stressful, like running errands.
- Ignore the assholes. If at all possible. Just cut them out of your thoughts and your life. Easier said than done, of course, but why give them the luxury of your thoughts? Just throw them in a story and kill them. It’s much more fun.
- Start saying no. At some point, all of the interviews, articles and blog posts in the world aren’t going to help your writing career if you don’t have time to write new words. (As a side note, when you say no, it’s a nice thing to do to recommend someone else — “I’ve afraid I don’t have time at the moment, but have you read xx’s work? She might be perfect for this.” It’s a nice thing to do, it doesn’t hurt your own career, and now you’ve turned a “no” into a “here’s how I can still help you.”)
- Remember that writing is hard. Again: Writing is hard. Hard. Hard. It will never get easy. (Easier? Yes. Easy? Probably not). Notice how you always have time for ice cream or your favorite show or playing your favorite video game? There’s a reason for that. It’s because they’re easy, they ask nothing of you, they make you feel all good inside. Writing does that too, sometimes. But mostly it’s work and it’s hard, and that means you have to make the difficult decision to sit down to write. It’s like working out, “Man, this is going to hurt like a bitch, but when I’m done, I’m gonna’ feel soooo good.” (Yes, that is what I tell myself before I work out and before I write. Let me have my fantasies.).
I still struggle to find as much time to write as I’d like. I would say that I write less now than I did when I first started my career. But I’ve almost held steady, and sometimes it all comes together and I can still get lost in the words for hours at a time. I don’t think about emails or who needs what or whether I’ve forgotten to send out that contract asap.
I’m just writing. Like this.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.