One of my greatest struggles – one of everyone’s greatest struggles – is the careful balancing act of making time for all of the things, all of the activities, all of the people you love the most. Not wanting to short-change any part of it. Not wanting to say no to people when they ask to see you, or ask a favor of you that will take up time.
But, as I discovered when I was in the gory depths of my second draft of ATWSOS, it is absolutely essential. I had to say no, and I had to say it often.
One of the wise mentors at the retreat last March made the brilliant analogy of treating writing like a part-time job. Scheduling time to write and sticking to it. Not viewing it as flexible, or moveable, or negotiable. If it’s scheduled, it’s required. It’s my job. I have to do it. And that simple little mind trick had a monumental impact on how quickly I completed my second draft.
Whereas I meandered my way through Draft 1, completing it in almost exactly a year, I powered through my second draft in just over three months. I blocked off evenings and portions of weekends to dedicate to writing. I set word goals for each writing session, and I stuck to them. I am the type of writer who can’t bring myself to write an ugly draft, who can’t move on until I’m happy with every word I’ve chosen, so I need time to sit and really focus. If I’m going to write, I need at least an hour, preferably two or three.
In order to stick with my schedule, though, I knew that I’d have to be reasonable. For instance, I knew that at least one evening a week, I go over to my sister’s house to spend time with her and my four nephews. I knew that I had to have a night to catch up on shows on my DVR (okay, “had to” might be a stretch, but it felt necessary). I left gaps for those things. Sometimes I had to slide a writing block over, like if my sister was available Tuesday night instead of the usual Monday night, or if I had a friend who wanted to come watch a show with me, but the writing block never got cancelled. It got moved a day earlier or a day later.
And yes, there were days when I’d come home from nine hours of work, of staring at numbers on a computer because that is my day job, and the last thing I’d want to do is spend my evening in front of a computer, as well. That is where I didn’t make it optional, though. I made it that part-time job. I made myself at least open the laptop. At least open the document. Back up a bit, read what I had written last time. And then, the story would sweep me back up, and I’d inevitably want to continue. To add a little to the story. And a little would almost always turn into a couple thousand words.
Last night, as I left my sister’s house after dinner, I said to her, “I don’t feel like writing tonight.” But my short story was late, and so when I got home, I made myself open the laptop. And when I typed that opening sentence, it was like a balm to my soul. It was a moment of shaking my head at myself for thinking that writing was a chore instead of what it actually is: a pleasure. A delight. A necessity. The next 2500 words made it onto the screen in less than two hours, and I am so proud of that story. (It’s this one, if you’re interested.)
So to summarize, I guess I don’t find time so much as I make time. Because writing fills my soul in a way I sometimes forget unless I’m actually doing it, and my dream of becoming a published author will never be realized if I don’t write, and write, and write some more. If I don’t put in the hours, and put in the practice, and open my laptop, and type one letter after another. After another, after another.
“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” – Michael Jordan