A common “crowdsourcing” question in the writing world is: how do you find time to write? Responses usually fall into the following categories:
- I wake up early/stay up late/forego sleep.
- I ignore other adult responsibilities, like cleaning.
- I give up any other hobbies.
- I have a commute or breaks in my regular work day that allow me to write.
- I have support from my spouse.
There is typically an undertone of “if it is important to you, you will make it a priority. You will shove off any other demands on your time and you will WRITE.”
The end of the year brought a lot of unease into my writing life, as I looked at how much I have slowed over the past few months. I had been writing every few days into a blog since my oldest son was 3 weeks old and he is now 9. But out of respect for his privacy as he began 3rd grade this year, I made the blog private, only sharing with family. Taking away at 360-view into my daily life also removed the obligation I felt to keep up for “readers” — however few.
I write about grief in my other blog. This too, slowed. Not because I do not have anything to say, but household demands took priority. See #2 in the list above and that is something I simply cannot do. My husband was diagnosed with anxiety earlier this year and while he is managing it with medication and therapy, there are still ups and downs. A “down” time usually means increased reliance on me to handle the day-to-day logistics of our house. On top of that, our house was plagued with illness throughout the month of December.
Sleep? I cannot give that up, nor do I want to. I learned long ago that I do not function well without sleep. I couldn’t write when tired even if I tried, at least not in a way that is productive.
My job doesn’t lend itself well to writing breaks during the day. Or — it could — I have the flexibility in working from home that I could stop, and write, if I wanted. I would certainly be at my most alert. But the nature of my job means that if I stop to write, I will need to still finish my work later. An hour borrowed for writing means that an hour’s worth of work will likely be waiting for me later. I already work efficiently so that I can complete everything I need to do in the confines of a traditional “workday” (most of the time) leaving my evenings and weekends as protected time to be with my family.
Our days are fairly regimented. Wake up, get kids ready for school. Work. Kids come home from school. Dinner, pick up the house, laundry, etc. Kids go to bed early. And by that time I have hit a wall of exhaustion. I may read a chapter of a book before watching an hour of tv and going to bed. The end.
Sunday mornings are always “my time” to myself. From the time I wake up until about 9:30 or so. My husband does breakfast and keeps the kids occupied. It has been this way for a long time, though the holidays threw off this routine a bit. I was looking forward to the quiet today(“quiet” being a relative term, since I can still hear some yelling in the background as the kids play or something). Then my husband suggested that we go out to breakfast at our favorite restaurant as a family — something we haven’t done for months. I hesitated. Wanting to spend the time with the family, versus guarding the time that I knew was earmarked for myself. I finally said, almost apologetically: “I’m sorry, I don’t want to go. I was really looking forward to the time to write this morning….”
I began to work this into the dialogue with my husband back in December, when I was having a lot of angst about seeing my writing time diminish. We both have passions. His is computers and programming. He is lucky that his job pays him to code and he has been working on a project that allowed him to create something entirely from scratch. He told me how much time he had spent researching and learning, and also done a few online courses to find new techniques. All in the name of his regular employment. While I shared in his excitement, I was also envious. I finally told him that: You are lucky that your job allows you to pursue your passion in that way. I don’t have that. I have to find other ways to make room for my passion in my life.
Time that feels like it has to be stolen away from either sleep, or family responsibilities, work, or asking for increased support from my spouse when I know that he also has his own struggles.
Then I tripped across some quip on Twitter that was a far different mentality than all of the “how do you find time to write” shaming above (because, let’s face it, implying that writing isn’t a priority if you don’t shirk other responsibilities or healthy lifestyle choices is a form of shaming). This comment was along the lines of: Don’t feel that because you haven’t finished something by a certain date that it can never be done. There are many artists, writers, and other creatives who produce their best work later in their lives.
And so perhaps it is setting a more realistic expectation for myself. What can I accomplish, in the time and energy that I have, in a way that will fulfill me, but also not make me feel like what I am doing is “not good enough?” There are other writers out there. Their lives are not my life. What works for them, and what they are able to produce, is not an exacting standard by which I should measure myself.
It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to carve out some more time for myself, because I feel like I have a lack of balance right now in devoting time to everyone else’s needs and not my own. But when I find that time and make it my own, I can be happy with that and guard it.
Like choosing the time to write this, with a cup of cold coffee at my side, instead of choosing pancakes with blackberry and brie at my favorite breakfast spot.