Many years ago I picked up a used book, How to Be a Successful Housewife Writer, by Elaine Fantle Shimberg. At the time I was rather taken aback by the word “Housewife” right there in the title, because it was a word that was offensive to me, the idea that you were married to a house, of all things.
Excuse me while I take a few deep breaths.
All right. Moving forward…
One of the most important ideas I carried away from that book was the need to actually–hold on now–
Make time to write.
Sounds simple, I know, but at the time I was so busy with activities, being a mom and being in various organizations, and don’t forget Jazzercise! (I did say it was many years ago; don’t look at me that way.) But here in her book she not only stressed ditching those commitments, but gave a list of questions to ask yourself about them. Questions like, “Why did I join?” and “Is that still valid in my life?” Because for many of us, commitments are things that we don’t reconsider; we just add more on top of what we already have. We join a group and take on responsibilities and we form friendships and people are depending upon us, and it’s habit, and…
We have many reasons for continuing to do the things we’ve always done, but are they important reasons? Do we still feel a driving need to do this thing, or is it just something we’ve done for a long time and don’t know how to stop? Don’t know how to start saying no? Don’t know how to withdraw?
At the end of that year I refused all offices and let everybody know I wouldn’t be involved in those groups the next year. I took back my time and put a priority on being able to actually write. Not in snippets of time here and there, but in long hours without interruption.
Not only that, but I began to “write” while I was doing other things, those things I couldn’t avoid. I edited what I’d written that week at swim meets on Saturdays. I carried research materials, highlighters and post-it notes with me so that I could research when I had snippets of time. During stressful events in our lives there are times when we don’t have the emotional or physical energy to create, but could fill this fifteen minutes or that hour with research or organization or plotting or world-building. Sometimes just having a list of the various things you don’t know enough about to write, a list of characters who need names, or a blank index card to make new lists on, can not only move your writing project forward, but can ease the tension in the pit of your stomach by giving you a part to play in the process of writing, even when you aren’t actually putting words on the page.
I’m finding that today making time to write is still an issue, but a different issue. Making time to write doesn’t just mean having time to sit in front of a computer screen. It means making myself read for fun so that I can be inspired by wonderful books other people have written.
It means that sometimes I have to put the books aside, pull the earbuds out of my ears and take a shower or take a walk or drive in the car without the radio, to allow my story to talk to me instead of keeping my mind filled with distractions.
It means having time to mull, to stew, to gnash my teeth. It means having time when I’m not being talked to, pulled at, questioned.
It means being still.
It means moving.
It means being in place so that when the words suddenly spring forth or the idea materializes–I can actually go sit down and do the work. (Or at the very least, it means always having something handy so I can whip out a moleskine and dash off the ideas before they flit away.)
It’s too easy to stay too busy. We have so many things that must be done, demands that are fair and just. Spare time is hard to come by. And then when we have it, we have all these other commitments, things we’ve always done….
And that brings me back to Shimberg.
If you’re a writer, you do not put writing in a “spare time” category while you do less important things just because you always have done them. You make writing one of your core commitments, and push those other things into your “spare time.”
I did that years ago. I eliminated a lot of social and community activities. And I have never regretted it. I simply consider myself blessed that I could do so.
On the other hand, my body wishes I’d kept up with the Jazzercise…
Okay. Maybe not.