The advice is to write every day, if you’re calling yourself a writer, that is. Every day. It’s a model of dependency because hey, writers love their stereotypes about being alcoholic. Or it’s a model about routines, the creative equivalent of tooth brushing. No, no, it’s about opening a space so the words can flow . . . into the drainage ditch of bad ideas. Okay, wait. Telling people to write every day is about injecting seriousness into what would otherwise be a simple hobby or a flirtation that never gets off the ground. Certainly there are a lot of people out there who talk about someday writing a book, but the last time they sat down to type it was on a brand new IBM Selectrix typewriter.
Stephen King, prolific author that he is, put it simply in the last millennium: writers write. Writers don’t talk about writing and not write. They write. (Apologies to Mr. King for my awful paraphrasing.)
What happens when say, the family goes on vacation? The writer finds some time to make writing happen, according to this unofficial doctrine. At some point, it begins to sound selfish. Honey, wait one more hour before you start pushing, because I’m almost done with this chapter! I know the doctor says you’re good to go, but I’ve got my own creative baby here!
Outside of my extreme and ridiculous example, it remains that there are times when one can’t make it to a solid hour of writing time. Let’s say a person goes from Sunday to the following Friday before opening his laptop, for hypothetical example. He’s not suddenly something other than writer. Maybe he got a couple of books written when he was unemployed and/or working 20 hours a week. And perhaps he’s struggling to find quality writing time between his full-time job, 7-month-old baby, and accidental but necessary naps. He’s still a writer, damn it.
Or maybe he just plays one on TV.
My point is this: yes, writers write, but sometimes life tosses some knuckle balls out and then it’s incumbent on the writer to find new ways to open up time to work on projects. It doesn’t have to be neat or fancy, since of course we’ve all long ago given up on perfect. It just has to help us produce new words. If 11PM is all we can grab in a three-day stretch, then 11PM it is.
There are a lot of articles out there on how to manage creative time when one has a 40-hour-a-week job, but I haven’t seen much about how to adjust to a changing, or fluid schedule. As I’ve written before in this blog, I’ve worked to shift my writing approach so that I hit the ground faster and get started sooner, rather than take the first half hour to get into the best head space possible. I’ve also learned to plug my ears if I’m working in a loud space; even though I like chaotic places I acknowledge that with increased time pressure comes a decrease in my ability to filter out noise.
Someday, I may need to write during a volcanic explosion, and I’ll be ready. Well, as long as I’m out of reach of the floes, and as long as nobody else needs me for anything. But I’ll still call myself a writer, darn it.
It would be terrific if I could squirrel away writing time like acorns, and scrabble at the ground when I needed a snippet of time in an otherwise time-crunched day. If that were possible, however, I’d probably wind up screwing it up, and forgetting where I put the 150 minutes I thought I needed to finish an online article or short story; most likely I’d obsess over whether my time-acorns were buried well enough against the motivations of other writers. And that would all be more time not spent working. It sounds like a vicious cycle.
I guess I better think it out again. Okay, so no time-acorns.
One functional way to handle either a sudden or steady decrease in available writing time is to work with the other members of one’s household in carving out some hours for the week ahead. I can let go of writing first thing in the morning. Writing at a certain hour may have worked well in the past, or agree with the way in which my brain is wired, but we’re all about adaptability around here these days (or until Emile is 16). If I bottle my words up for long enough, they stop giving a crap when I lay them down on the screen. Beggars, choosers, that sort of thing.
So it’s write when I can, trying to identify good times for writing, and enjoying the hell out of the rest of my life. I can’t worry about my writer label. I don’t have the time.