Way back in the Before Times, when we were allowed to gather in groups, I taught a writing workshop in a library. I called it, ‘Get Your Work Done,’ and we covered all the things that get in the way of writing.
What is it that stops writers, or would-be-writers, from getting down to the work they are so drawn to?
In my last post, I talked about the importance of scheduling writing time and showing up for yourself, session after session, month after month. I encouraged you to find 20 minutes a day, or 45 minutes, two or three days a week, in order to write.
When I said this at the library workshop, hands started to shoot up.
“But — but — but…” People said.
(And maybe you said “But!” while reading my last post.)
The “Buts” were along these lines:
“But my husband…”
“But my wife…”
“But my kids…”
“But my grandkids…”
“But my parents…”
I listened to a few of the Buts, and then I put my own hand up to stave off the onslaught.
“It is okay to spend a few hours each week doing something creative that your loved ones don’t necessarily understand, approve of or think is a valid use of your time.”
There was an audible gasp from the back of the room.
It’s Okay to Put Your Writing First for Twenty Minutes
I imagine that your days are pretty full, even without writing. We’ve all got our things we need to do: work, family, exercise, household management, life admin, leisure, friends, sleep. It’s not like any of us are sitting around.
If you’re going to find a few hours each week to write, that time needs to come from somewhere. It means changing a pattern. Dropping something you’re doing already, or doing less of something else, in order to prioritize your writing instead. It means asking for help.
It might mean asking your spouse to do more around the house; to take on the bedtime routine or do the soccer drop-off a few nights a week so that you have time to write. It might mean watching less TV or giving up a weekly social night, which can involve saying no to friends and family. It might mean going to bed later, or getting up earlier (very quietly, so you don’t wake anyone else up.)
If you are a grandparent, it might mean saying no to last minute babysitting requests from your own children. (I recognize that this is doubly difficult, since you need to say no to both your kids and your grandkids. And yet, I ask you, if you are not going to do the writing that is calling you now, when exactly are you going to do it?)
You might not answer the phone at certain times. You might not be free for coffee or volunteer work when people used to always be able to count on you to say yes. You might actually need to leave work on time.
You are going to carve out two hours a week in whatever form you can, and you are going to put your writing first.
Your People Will Not Like This
When you start prioritizing your writing time, the people around you might not like it very much. (They won’t like it at all.) You’ll probably get pushback. (You definitely will.) You might have to handle hurt feelings. Someone you love dearly might get mad at you and you’ll have to navigate discomfort and conflict.
In order to start down the road of writing this thing that will not leave you alone, you are going to have to hold boundaries and advocate for yourself and your creative time. You are going to have a difficult conversation or two. You are going to need to change some patterns.
You are to going to need to plop yourself down and write for twenty minutes. You are going to need to walk out the door at the time that you have freed up for yourself, and go to your selected writing place and write, even in the face of disapproval, or annoyance. In the face of the unwashed dishes, your unwashed hair, and the thirty-two unopened emails.
I can hear your “Buts” already.
You are an adult, you say. You have responsibilities!
I am not asking you to shirk them. I’m not asking you to neglect your children or let your house go to ruin or get fired from your job. I am suggesting that, if you want to write, you will need to negotiate with your spouse or children or parents or employer to carve out a little time.
I believe that most healthy relationships can handle this level of boundary-setting. After all, you’re not setting out to do anything dangerous or immoral. You’re just writing.
If negotiating this with your spouse or parents or children feels dangerous, please do not do it unless you have reached out for crisis intervention and support. If it feels scary, because it wasn’t okay to have boundaries growing up, then it’s time to learn. (I had to do this. It was not easy (still isn’t) but it’s easier than ignoring the call to write.)
How do you set boundaries with loved ones? Google some strategies and try them, ask a friend or colleague that seems to have mastered the ability, or ask a professional counselor for help.
Do Not Ask Permission
You are not asking for permission to engage in the act of writing. You are simply arranging some uninterrupted time for yourself, on par with your partner’s floor hockey nights.
You do not need anyone’s permission to write. You’re not hurting anyone by writing. (I would argue that, if you feel called to write, you are hurting those around you by denying the call.)
You are not asking permission. You are arranging time. You don’t need anyone else to think what you are doing is important. It’s important to you. That’s enough.
It might be in your kitchen or against the steering wheel as you wait in the car outside the indoor soccer gym or in the chair in the orthodontist’s waiting room — I have written in all these places and more. More pleasant might be in the guest bedroom/home office with the door closed against interruptions, or maybe a coffee shop during Cub Scouts. It could be at the dining room table with headphones on. It does not need to be fancy.
Inner Resistance is Not Outer Resistance
It’s important not to confuse your own inner resistance to creativity with the outer resistance of families and friends. Inner resistance is something all creatives need to learn to face, over and over. (Sorry to say, it doesn’t really go away, but you can get deft and working around it. I’ll cover that in my next post.)
Inner resistance can feel insurmountable, and yet it comes from nowhere. It’s easy to want to blame the people around us, since we can see them after all. They want to keep us from our creative truth, those meanies! But while it can feel like sitting down to write for 20-30 minutes is an epic battle against an invisible enemy that is out to stop us no matter what, that enemy is not your spouse, your child or your grandchildren.
You’ve negotiated the time, now use that time to write. Don’t know how? It’s true. You may not have done this before, or at least not for a long time. Give yourself a chance. You’ll learn. Your first writing session, like the first of any new venture, will be about creating the space, going through the motions: Get to the place, open the computer or notebook, write a few things down. Write a list, write a goal, write the exact colours of the shawl the woman across from you on the bus was wearing. Write about how she tied that shawl. Where do you think she got it? Or did someone give it to her? Write that story down.
Writing will come with practice. You’ve carved out some space and time. Now commit to yourself. Keep showing up. Allow yourself to be a beginner. You’ve already started.
Write something. Anything. Write one sentence. There now, see ? You’ve already started.