Crossposted to the Deadline Dames
A friend of mine is considering moving. “I just want to live on my own,” she said to me this afternoon, while the wind made my chimes ring like rattlesnakes. “I want to be able to sit in my underwear with pizza and a beer and a book. I just need it, you know.”
“Oh, honey,” I said, squinting in the sunlight, “I know.”
Virginia Woolf said that money and a room of one’s own is a prerequisite for woman writers. I tend to agree. Certainly getting one’s career to a place where one can comfortably support oneself, or not having to worry overmuch about food and rent, is a marvelous thing.
But I didn’t start out with it.
I have learned to write in any situation imaginable. I started in school writing furiously at every moment I could steal from classes. One of my teachers let me keep a box of spiral notebooks in her classroom over the summer, since I didn’t have hiding places at home. I exercised my youthful ingenuity to hide my diaries and stories at home when I lost that opportunity, used friends’ houses and employee lockers to keep my words safe from prying and punishment. When I left, I hid my notebooks in closets and other places, just to be safe.
I stole moments to write plot outlines on notepads at several jobs. I spent my lunch hours and breaks writing furiously in spiral notebooks between bites of whatever I could afford–or just writing because I couldn’t afford a snack. I learned to write with toddlers around, one half of my brain scanning constantly to anticipate their needs or any danger to them. I learned to write in a house full of shrieking “LOOK AT ME! I DON’T EXIST UNLESS YOU LOOK AT ME! LOOKLOOKLOOK!” (Note: only two of the people screeching that were under 10. The rest…well. Whole ‘nother blog post there.)
I’ve written on trains and planes, I’ve written on buses and in parks, I’ve written in libraries, I’ve written in casino bars, other bars, in bathrooms late at night while the people I’m staying with are asleep. I’ve written in classrooms, coffee shops, head shops, cafes, community centres, all-night restaurants, even in the closed-down delis of major supermarket chains. Finding a space to sit down and whip out my notebook–or lug my laptop to–has become somewhat of an art form.
Do it where you gotta has been by mantra for a long time. Now that I have a house and a chair and a lapdesk, where I can sit cross-legged and pound out text while the whole place is silent because the kids are at school…
…well, it’s been a shock. I’m used to concentrating fiercely in the face of distraction. The silence of the house is a type of distraction I’m not insulated against. I used to keep music on to provide a thread under the other sounds I could jack into and ride while I typed. Now I play it because sometimes the empty house makes me start up in almost-terror sometimes, thinking the kids are Altogether Too Quiet and Up To Mischief.
My productive hours are in somewhat of a flux now. I used to be a champion insomniac, first because I’m built to be a night owl and second because the wee hours were the only damn time nobody needed anything from me. Now I’m finding different chunks of my “day” to be productive, because I finally have space and solitude.
Which brings me to something I consider a Rule. All applicable disclaimers, etc., etc., but here it is:
If you WANT to write, you will more than likely FIND TIME to write.
Yes, I know. “I’m too poor/busy/tired/something! I don’t have time! I can’t find a space!”
Often I hear this from people who are overscheduled or who don’t set boundaries instead of truly being unable. I am willing to concede that whoever, whatever their situation, may be too tired/busy/whatever to write. Billions of people don’t write, and they get along just fine.
I am not one of those people who gets along fine without writing.
I wrote while effectively homeless. I wrote while being a single mother working full-time and going to school. I wrote while raising two small children and cleaning up after a Very Large Child. I think one of the main reasons I’ve achieved a sort of quiet success is because writing has always been a priority to me. I felt I would go mad if I didn’t write. I put writing in with my basic needs of food and shelter, and that is a component of the psychotic persistence several writers (don’t really) joke about being necessary to get published.
It was necessary for me to continue writing. Being paid for it is where I’ve ended up, and that’s just fine by me. I like it that way. I would still be doing this if I didn’t have a room of my own and a lock on my door. In fact, for the rest of my life, putting words together is something I’m going to be doing. I can’t help it.
I say this so you will understand the advice I am about to give. This advice is free, so take it or leave it.
Finding time in a day to sneak writing in, learning to pick up a story and dive in when you only have five or fifteen minutes, getting your wordcount out rather than watching the telly or playing that video game, is essentially saying “This is important to me.” I don’t promise that you will get published if you train yourself to make writing a priority and set boundaries around your writing time. I can promise that your chances of getting good enough to have a reasonable shot at being published will go up with every minute you spend making writing your priority.
If that’s where you’re aiming, okay. Do it where you gotta. Write down the activities you participate in on a daily basis and figure out which ones are essential (like paying rent or eating), which are very desirable (like maintaining your relationship with your real friends, or what-have-you), and which are just desirable (playing a video game, watching television. Note these are just MY examples, yours will be different.). Move writing from the “just desirable” category into the “essential” category, the things you make time for because you’ve just plain got to–or even into the “very desirable” category. Find the time by cutting it elsewhere, if you’re serious. If you’re not serious, it’s OK. There are plenty of other things to do in this wide varied world of ours. Go do them and be merry.
This is why I say I “tend” to agree with Virginia. Of course, I have the benefit of being in a culture and of a socioeconomic section where I have certain advantages, and I realize that. However, I was not always in this socioeconomic or cultural slice, and many other successful writers I know weren’t (or aren’t) either. The room of your own is nice, and the money is damn nice.
But it is the will to find a way that is essential. Without it, the room is just a room.
It’s up to you to fill it.
Over and out.
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