The other day I sat down for a cup of tea and conversation with a fellow writer. She asked the question we all struggle with: How do you make time for writing in the midst of all life throws at us?
I was tempted to answer with another question, “How can you not make time for writing?” Writing is so essential to me–it’s how I process the events, emotions, learnings, complications, and interactions that come at me each day–that if I don’t do it most every day, I loose my balance. I become cranky and impatient, jittery, tired and easily unhinged. I can’t see my way in the fog.
But that wasn’t what she was looking for. So I gave her the suggestion I give the writers I coach and teach: “Make a date with your writing.” Perhaps just once a week at first. That’s enough to set an intention, and to affirm to yourself that your writing is important.
Then keep that date. When the appointed day and hour come, don’t make excuses. Get your butt into your writing chair and write. Whatever. If you can’t think of anything to write, then write that: “I can’t think of anything to write.” Or, “I can’t find the words.” “I don’t know what to say.” Just keep writing what you feel until something happens.
As Mary Stewart puts it in The Stormy Petrel, when her novelist heroine is blocked,
From experience, I knew what to do. Write. Write anything. Bad sentences, meaningless sentences, anything to get the mind fixed again on the sheet of paper and oblivious to the “real” world. Write until the words begin to make sense, the cogs mesh, the wheels start to turn, the creaking movement quickens and becomes a smooth, oiled run, and then, with luck, exhaustion will be forgotten and the real writing will begin. But look up once from that paper, get up to make coffee or stir the fire, even just raise your head to look at the view outside the window, and you may as well give up until tomorrow. Or for ever.
And after you write, the real writing? When the creative flow dwindles to a trickle, the next phase of the work begins: revising. You set that work aside to “season,” to give yourself time to forget its particulars, and go back when you can look at it afresh. You read it over and see what contributes to the whole and prune out what doesn’t.
Then set it aside to season some more, and come back to it again when you’ve got a fresh ear for the work. Read it aloud and listen to how it sounds, to the cadence and rhythm of it, to the flow of narrative and word, to the swelling of its themes and choruses, the growing pains of its characters. Be ruthless: cut out every sentence, every word, every scene or chapter that doesn’t add something important.
And then you set it aside again, and pick it up again. Repeat until the work is as tight and compelling as you can make it. Repeat until what you have written honors the impulse that set you to this crazy solitary business of writing in the first place, the need to say something in a way that moves readers, that touches hearts and souls, that makes them laugh, cry, wail, think.
Then make a new writing date and start on the next piece.
How do you make time for writing in the midst of life in all its frenzy? Sit down and do it. Be there. Show up. As a wise meditation teacher liked to say, “You put your ass-piration on the cushion.” And above all, write. And write some more…