Sunday, June 1, 2014

“Writing” When You’ve Got No Time to Write

Every now and then, I picture myself at one of those writers’ retreats that always seem to show up in the Acknowledgments section of critically-acclaimed literary fiction books. What must it be like to write in peace from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed? To be given space for quiet contemplation, with no other distractions? To stay in a place where the fridge is always stocked and dinner is prepared by someone else, so that you—the artist—can focus solely on your creative vision?


The reason I indulge in this wishful thinking is that it is SO not my life. I’ve got three kids who always seem to be hungry, a husband who works full-time (and also comes home hungry), and a house that is always on the verge of being trashed. After years of working as a magazine editor and freelance journalist, I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be able to focus on fiction as my primary job. But as anyone with a home-based business knows, it’s very easy for other responsibilities to bleed into what’s supposed to be a work day. Especially if one of your kids is home sick from school, or you realize tomorrow’s the day you’re supposed to send in a special snack. If you have a family (and/or a full-time, non-writing job), it’s sometimes impossible to find that precious, uninterrupted time to simply write.

But what I’ve learned from several years of juggling is that “writing” doesn’t necessarily mean hours in front of the computer, typing away in blissful peace. (Although I treasure such hours when I get them.) Thinking is a huge—and often overlooked—element of writing a book. Whether you’re a “plotter” who depends on detailed outlines or a “pantser” who likes to see where each sentence takes you, no-one can write a book without thinking about it first. You have to envision your characters, figure out their speech patterns, follow possible plotlines forward and back to see what works best.

And here’s the great news: thinking can be done anywhere! All those hours spent on monotonous, boring chores—buying groceries, folding laundry, washing dishes—can be the very moments when inspiration strikes. Some of my best ideas for solving tricky plot points have come when I was hanging out at the park with my kids or cleaning the bathroom, not sitting at my desk. Times when I allowed my mind to wander and hit on solutions that I might never have found if I was in full-on “writing” mode.

In many ways, writing is a selfish pursuit. You have to be ruthless about claiming time and space for yourself, and it’s easy to get aggravated when family responsibilities interfere. I’ve found it liberating to know that I can always be “writing,” as long my characters are alive in my head, living out various scenarios. Sure, I get complaints from my kids that I’m spacing out, and I’ve been known to scribble ideas on my hand that I later have trouble deciphering. But on those rare, wonderful days when I’m feeling inspired, it’s good to know that I can still channel that feeling of satisfaction, even if I don’t end up typing one word.

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