The Truth About Time

What is it about writers and time? The number one complaint that I hear from other writers, and also inside my own head, is there is never enough time for writing. It seems, as a species, writers lack time more than any other commodity–maybe even more than self-confidence.

But is it really true? I remember a few years ago, in preparation for speaking on a panel about time management, I talked to a dozen writer friends and students, and discovered some good and bad news about time… The bad news was that we will probably never have more time than we do now.  During my informal interviews, I found out that pretty much everyone is over-scheduled, regardless of numbers of offspring, levels of employment or income.  Even my 75-year-old retired friends had filled their schedules with volunteer commitments, activities and obligations.

There seems, in fact, to be an osmotic pressure ruling our hours: got a free space in your week? Something will inevitably flow in to fill it up.

The good news that I discovered through my interviews, though, was that we don’t actually need scads of ‘free time’ in order to write. 

I knew this already, truthfully, because in 1999, I won a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant.  I was a part-time working mom then, and the grant allowed me a 6-month leave—time enough, or so I thought, to finally dust off my poor, neglected manuscript and finish it. But somehow, the pressure to perform put me off my game.  Terrified of failing, I ran lots of errands during my ‘grant hours,’ de-cluttered my house, planted a garden, sorted through stacks of baby clothes, and stared at my blank computer screen, a lot…  In my defense, I did write a chapter or two, but I found that having extra time didn’t really solve my writing/time dilemma.

When I turned 40, though, and realized I no longer had unlimited swaths of time before me, I got determined—or maybe I got desperate.  I now had two kids and was teaching and running Writers in Progress—my time more scarce than ever!  But I knew if I didn’t finish a book soon, I’d have to admit that writing one was only a pipe dream.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Right to Write, says, “The trick to finding writing time is to make time in the life you’ve already got.  Stop imagining some other life as a ‘real’ writer’s life.”  Once we learn to write from the sheer love of it, she says, there’s always enough time, but it must sometimes be stolen, like a kiss between lovers on the run. While finishing Outside the Ordinary World, I found the will to rise at 5 am, four days a week, though I’m allergic to mornings.  I also learned to utilize that “waiting mother” time—during dance lessons, dentist’s appointment, soccer games—perhaps the most abundant untapped resource moms have access to. 

And when these stolen moments didn’t add up to a publishable book, I swiped weekends: every month or so I’d spirit off to a writer’s retreat in Ashfield and shut myself in for 3 days straight—I was that hungry for silence and solitude.  Did I feel guilty leaving my family?  Yes.  So I channeled the angst into my novel; I created a fictional affair.  I figured that was a better deal for my husband, anyways.

Speaking of affairs, Cameron also likes to point out that the busiest, most important woman in the world can still find time for someone she’s in love with. If something is important enough, we do somehow find a way.

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