Time to Write… (or not!)

Finding time to write can be challenging in the best of times, but what is a writer to do in the worst of times? How can we ever hope to find even the smallest writing window when we are busy or traveling or in the middle of a stressful life change? How can we carve out even a whisper of creative space while raising kids, or running a business, or taking care of aging parents… (or doing all three!?)  In other words, how do we ever find time to write!?

For me, it’s helpful to change my attitude toward writing when times get tough. I try my best to spin this work to my advantage: writing isn’t another thing I have to do, but instead the thing I get to do. In the middle of life’s most chaotic moments, it’s helpful to turn my relationship to writing into a respite rather than a duty…

When I was trying to finish a draft of Outside the Ordinary World, I learned to use those small but inescapable windows of ‘waiting time’ that parents expect and dread… I carried my notebook or laptop with everywhere so that I could drop into my story while waiting in the dentist’s office or at the ballet studio or at the piano lesson… I tried to view these periods as small opportunities to escape into my extra-ordinary world…

It also helps me to remember that a lot can happen in a very short period of time!  In my morning Jumpstart workshops, for instance, we always start with an eight-minute warm up… Just eight minutes, timed, to jot down associations or respond off-the-cuff to a particular riff-word or prompt. The idea in these tiny timed exercises is not to write beautifully–it’s just to get stuff down, to break through resistance and just bla bla bla on the page, sort of like a musician doing scales or a dancer stretching… Interestingly, many of my writers do their most authentic and poetic writing during these bursts, and the group is often shocked to discover just how much writing can happen in less than ten minutes!  I try to keep this in mind, too, when my perfectionist-critic brain is telling me that I don’t have enough time to start.

When life is especially crazy, I do my best to not put too much pressure on myself or my writing. Rather than setting the goal of finishing a chapter or perfecting a scene, I just give myself that little window—whatever time there is—and scribble for the quiet love of it.  I keep my pen moving for ten minutes, or go for a teeny word count: 200 words, maybe, of sheer anything: it doesn’t have to be good! When I am feeling the most stressed out, tapping back into that simple joy of the process—the joy I felt when I was twelve and putting pen to paper for the first time—helps me not only manage the chaos, but to rediscover why I write in the first place: because it’s cathartic and fun…

So, try just a few minutes here or there. A journal page, a blog post, a letter, a list… Ten minutes of venting, recording a micro-memory, or remembering that dream… It will help you to keep the writing close, even in the midst of life’s chaos.

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