Time, Energy and Space for a Writing Life

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Everyone’s busy. I get it. If you’re like me you probably take on too many commitments and get involved in too many activities, just to find yourself overwhelmed when projects are due, deadlines are looming, and everyone needs your attention. Although I’d like to imagine I can do everything, the reality is I can’t do everything well. I used to believe I could multi-task, but really I was only shuffling between tasks, not giving any one thing my full attention.  For a long time, writing ended up on the bottom of my list. It’s taken a few years, but I’m slowly learning how to change my priorities.

Like anything else, making a commitment to any new undertaking requires devotion and energy. I haven’t solved the issue of the number of hours in my day, but I do keep a calendar that tracks when I will write and what I’ve achieved in that period.  Making an appointment with myself makes me feel accountable. I’m also less likely to book someone else’s priorities ahead of my own. It’s not a flawless strategy, but it works much of the time. At the end of the month when I’m feeling low about not meeting my goals, the calendar reminds me that I actually accomplished more than I might have otherwise.

At a panel discussion about writing I attended at University of Toronto, I was relieved to hear one of the writers tell the audience she didn’t write every day. Daily writing was advice I’d heard and read so often before I felt guilty that I couldn’t make it work.  The writer explained that working full time with young children just didn’t allow for that kind of schedule. Finally, I thought, someone like me who needs to find those hours where she can.  Some of my guilt about not writing every day was swept away and I was inspired to see that it was possible to be productive using my own irregular schedule.

You’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule. I think it’s all about persevering until you create a routine that you simply can’t do without.  It’s like forming any other habit; like exercise, but with a pen.  If I’m out of my writing ritual, I feel psychological and physical effects, much like I feel when I’m out of my exercise routine. I’m definitely crankier, and that’s not good for anyone.

I’m fortunate enough to have a room of my own, a comfortable office with a door, but I mostly use it in the winter months when the family is home and I need to squirrel away to be undisturbed.  When the house is quiet, I prefer a corner of a coach, my feet propped on an ottoman, a view of the trees in my backyard framed by the sliding glass doors.  Even better, now that it’s warm outside I love to write on my deck.  Somehow my words seem to flow better in my outdoor office when the birds are chirping, occasional butterflies are flitting past, and the breeze is rustling my papers. Whatever the location, it needs to be a place that allows me to enter the space of my writing without distraction.

As for feeling guilty, I think I’m just prone to it.  There is always something else I think I should be doing.  My best recipe is to remind myself that writing is a valuable part of my life, one that needs to be nurtured, given time, energy and space.  It doesn’t mean it gets any easier, but it does make that chair more attractive. And, once I’m seated I wonder what took me so long to get there, because there really is no place I’d rather be.