I know folks who lament about not having time to write. They’d do it if they just had time. If they could quit work. If they didn’t have so much care-giving they needed to do. If they didn’t have kids in sports. There’s an endless list of things that get in the way of writing. The list is as long as life. The truth is that any creative pursuit tends to get pushed aside in our society that puts so little value on arts and creativity. Time simply won’t open up for us. The world won’t make us a place. But the key to writing is to do it anyway.
If I could quit my job
For me, writing is my day job, and sometimes people tell me how lucky I am. Their voices are wistful. They’re sure that if they could quit their jobs and write, they would produce so much more work. You want to know a secret? Most people who quit their jobs to write discover they either don’t get any more writing done than they did before they quit or they get even less writing done than they did before. That’s because life is happy to crowd into any void you make in your schedule. You quit your job? Now all the folks who ever wanted you to do something for them now see no reason why you can’t. After all, you’re at home all the time, right? And then there’s housework and yard work and parenting and being a loving spouse. Just quitting your job won’t solve the problem of time.
Most professional writers who work full-time on their writing didn’t start off by just quitting and devoting themselves to their writing. Most did just what you’re doing now. They juggled and squirmed and felt guilty and crammed writing into a schedule that was already bulging. They crammed the writing in anyway. And getting the books done was slow going, but they decided to be in it for the long haul. It was hard to get the time, but they did it anyway. In fact, trying to write into the small spaces left from a full-time job taught them important skills. Surprisingly these skills tend to have to be relearned after quitting to write full time. Ultimately, the lesson full-time writers remember is that there is no time, so the key to writing is to do it anyway.
If I could just have quiet
My absolute perfect writing environment is brightly lit and very quiet. And there’s a cup of tea. And I get that perfect writing environment about once a week, for about thirty minutes. I write ten books a year, sometimes more. If I could only write when I have that perfect writing environment, I wouldn’t be writing ten books a year. I might be writing one. And my family would starve. Right this moment, I’m sitting a few feet from my dear husband who is playing bluegrass music on his computer. And I know that I probably have ten minutes before someone is going to need me to do something for them. See, it’s after dinnertime, and this is the time of day when I flatly do not have many minutes to myself and none of them quiet. So you know what I do? I write anyway. I write in the little bursts of time. I write with someone wailing and picking a banjo. I write knowing full well that I might have to walk away in the middle of a sentence to meet a need. But by taking advantage of this tiny bit of time and not waiting until I get the perfect quiet, I get this small bite of work done. It’s not a big piece. But it’s a piece. And when I do this over and over and over again, I end up with a career. It doesn’t happen because I have the perfect writing environment. It happens because I have chaos, and I write anyway.
Don’t try to do it all
If I had to write a book today, I wouldn’t manage it. It’s the weekend. It’s noisy and everyone is home and they want my attention. If I had to write a book Monday, I wouldn’t manage it. It takes too long. I have a head cold. I need to prep for a workshop I’m doing. But, you see, I can write a few pages today. I can write a few more on Monday. I can keep doing it. And not give up. And the books get written. Ten a year. Thousands and thousands of words. All because I don’t have time, but I do it anyway.
Neil Gaiman says to remember that if you write one page a day, you can have a full-length fantasy novel (which is one of the wordiest sorts of novels) done in a year. One page a day. About 250 words. Anyone could do that, right? So what’s the project you wish you could accomplish? The one you’ve been putting off until you have more time or more quiet or more support. What’s the smallest bite you can take out of that project today? Don’t worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. I know you’re busy. I know it’s tough. Trust me, I know. But, for today, look at your project and take a nibble out of it. Do that. And then do it again. And again. And before you know it, you’ll have found the secret of the professional writer:
There’s never enough time.
Do it anyway.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.