I made the mistake of showing my mother my writing schedule last night.
As I mentioned, I’m practicing being full-time writer this week. I have vacation from the day job and need to get the New Novel underway. It’s a good opportunity to see how I’d set up a professional work schedule without co-workers or daily hours expectations.
One of the main things I’m trying to do is make sure I don’t dink on the internet all day. So I’m allowing myself online windows to check email, talk to people on IM, catch-up on Twitter and Facebook, read blogs and articles, etc. Which is why my mom asked, so she’d know when my online windows are. I pasted her my schedule into IM and she freaked.
Now, granted, people are often taken aback by my spreadsheets. I try to explain it’s that little wedge of Virgo peeking through all the Leo. When I was a grad student, there was a blackboard over my desk that I would draw the semester’s calendar on. I filled it in with all of my classes, office hours, and so forth. One professor, glimpsing it, said it looked like displacement activity to him. Some of it might be. But the practice helps me to get my head around what I want to do.
That’s the key to me: this is all about making sure I’m doing what’s most important to me.
One writer friend, Jeri Smith-Ready, announced on twitter recently that she created a screensaver that scrolled the message: “Is what you’re doing right now more important than writing your novel?”
My mom thought my schedule sounded sad, lacked joy and human contact. She wanted me to show it to David, so he could weigh in on whether I’m crazy. He looked at it and said, “She just doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do.”
Which she confirmed this morning, apologizing via IM during my online window.
I suspect a lot of the full-time writers out there would look at this and say I’m still spending too much time online. I wonder if I’d whittle that down over time.
But then, while I told my mom that David counts as human contact, my online time is the bulk of my social life these days. Quite deliberately so. When we moved, I decided not to join any organizations yet. Which I’m wont to do. I love to join. Then I inevitably end up volunteering to be in charge of stuff and suddenly I’m spending my non-work time on planning charity balls and not writing my novel.
When we moved, I sold my sewing machine and all the fabric I’d stored up, because when I’m quilting, I’m not writing my novel.
I can see how this sounds joyless. But for me it’s about making deliberate choices to do everything I can to get to the point of being a full-time writer. Once there, I can judiciously add back in all of those other things.
It’s difficult for people to understand, I think, the need writers have to build fences around the writing time. I suspect it’s because a person writing looks like they’re doing nothing that can’t be interrupted. Just a quick question. Can you do this one thing. The non-writers don’t know how long it takes to get the flow going and how the voice breaking in totally disrupts it. Soon to be published writer Allison Pang is facing this now. She’ll be doing revisions on her current novel, plus outlining and drafting the next two, plus working on a totally different story that she loves. All this while working her full-time job and raising two young children with a husband whose job takes him away from the house a lot. I keep telling her she’s going to have to get mean (not in her nature), carve out that writing time and fence it off. That probably sounds joyless, too.
What it comes down to is, when you want the big prize, you have to sacrifice to get it. Not a lamb or a pound of flesh. What you sacrifice is some of the other things that you decide aren’t as important as writing your novel right now. What will those things be? Individual and carefully chosen.
It’s the question wanna-be writers ask all the time: how do I find the time to write? The short answer is, you don’t. You have to scratch and claw it out of all the other things in your life that compete. You make what other people see as joyless choices.
Fortunately, in the end, the writing itself is a surpassing joy.