Words to describe me: mom, wife, friend, counselor, household manager, volunteer, health nut, writer. Notice where writer falls on the list. As something that brings me joy but also a fair amount of heartache, it easily slips to the bottom of who I decide to be each day. And when I do carve out time for writing, it’s often in small, interrupted patches, and the muse doesn’t always show up. (Translation: one hour dedicated to writing = 45 minutes on the web/social media/my phone/not writing + 15 minutes staring at a blinking cursor/not writing.)
I know what they say. Get your butt in the chair and put the time in if you want to make something of yourself as a creative person. So I convinced the family to turn our guest room into a writing office. Bought a new desk. Surrounded myself with inspirational things and books and lots of sticky notes. My job is only three days a week, which means I have two whole days to write while the kids are at school. All of the ingredients needed to crank out some amazing stuff.
Reality: See that list above? I volunteer at my son’s school several times a month and serve as committee chair for our local scout pack. I use one of the free days to grocery shop/meal prep/clean. I procrastinate under the guise of keeping up my social media presence. (Translation: waste time worrying whether or not people I’ll never meet will like my mildly witty tweet.)
When I do get my butt in the chair at my beautiful desk that is often covered with all things not related to writing, I worry. Worry about my stories and whether or not they will ever sell. Worry about the words coming out of my brain, especially when they seem stuck somewhere between there and my fingertips. Worry about all of the other things I should be doing, like cleaning out the basement or snuggling with the cat.
I recently read that you should carve out the same place/time each day and your muse will show up because he/she/they will know where to find you. Makes sense. John Cleese has a great video about how we need to allow ourselves time to get into the creative space in our mind, which for the modern writer may mean browse social media, search for the perfect playlist, make/purchase a comforting mug of your favorite warm beverage. The thing is, life doesn’t always allow for the same place/time for writing, and we use distractions as an excuse of settling in instead of truly settling in.
Take last Wednesday for example: It is my day off from work. Writing day. YAY! But the previous Friday was a snow day, so I had to go into work to make up the missing hours. It’s also usually the night I meet up with my writing group, but my older son has started indoor soccer practice at an elementary school on Wednesday nights with no place to sit and work. I decide to bring my laptop and find someplace nearby to write.
6:55 Drop son off at practice. Drive to nearby store with café.
7:00 Scope out the space and wait for barista to finish previous person’s order.
7:05: Order a cup of tea, decide on a small dessert, chat with barista.
7:10 Fire up computer, log into wifi, check twitter, tweet about how warm it is.
7:20 Log into library site, look for music to stream.
7:25 Open document, read last few pages, stare into space trying to decide what to write next.
7:35 Start writing.
7:50 Realize we need milk at home and if I want to buy some and get back to pick up son by 8:00 I need to wrap things up.
Fifteen minutes of writing. I wrote about 300 words. That’s the problem. Sometimes it takes so long to get all the other crap out of the way that when I actually start to feel the muse show up, it’s time to stop. At home, this may mean someone/thing requires my attention, or I wasted five and a half hours doing other things and now it’s almost time to get my son from school. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve managed to make it work at other times, like when the boys practice at the athletic center that not only has no wifi, but there’s a dead zone so even data on my phone doesn’t work. Just one hour of no distractions—buckle down and get some words on the page already—writing time.
Every writer I know has a list of other things that require their attention and responsibility. And often making the choice to write means you are sacrificing something else. Made worse by the fact that you may sit there, missing whatever it is you’ve chosen not to do, and stare at the screen. Waiting.
Don’t give up on your muse. Do what you need to do to get into the zone, even if that leaves only a handful of minutes for writing. I beat myself up the other night about only getting 300 words down, but hey, that’s 300 more than I had when the night started. And now I know the routine of that particular place and can change my approach next time.
I daydream about the possibility of giant chunks of uninterrupted writing time, just me and my muse, hanging out, telling stories. But reality can be cruel, and it forces me to figure out how to make it work when I can if I want to bump writer up the list. I do. Because, heartaches aside, it feels good to be in the zone. There’s really nothing else quite like it.