You know those pet topics? The ones people raise over and over again, the oft-voiced misconceptions, the FAQs, the "if I had a nickel..." comments, the remarks that make you want to wax eloquent? Most any human endeavor offers them, certainly every profession, and writing is no different. This irregular column covers such topics that I find commonly raised by aspiring writers, acquaintances, those closer than acquaintances, or people who are simply fascinated by what writers do, and allows me to rant -- er, expound -- on them. Today's "if I had a nickel" comment is: "I don't have time to write," its variation, "I'll write as soon as life settles down," and its question form: "How do you find time to write?"
I got this question once in the supermarket cereal aisle. I was a little surprised at the source. She'd been a high school classmate; extra-curricular list as long as your arm; took every college-prep class offered; played two musical instruments; and went on to become a teacher, wife, mom, and volunteer. I expected somebody this savvy, and with this much energy to burn, to know better, I guess. I opened my mouth, and this is what came out: "How do you find time to work?" I was gratified by the understanding that lit her face. She got it. She made time for her profession, and all the commitment and dedication that implies, and I made time for mine.
But she's rare, plus we were comparing career time-slots in each of our lives head-to-head. The question seems more of a quandary when you already have a day job, when a crisis hits, or when you're an at-home mom wondering how to fit in even a bathroom break. It's tempting, in these cases, to feel that the only difference between you and a writer is that the writer has hours of empty time to fill and you don't. Or, in a slightly less arrogant vein, the writer lives in a book-lined study with a cup of tea, a cat, a view, the scent of lilacs wafting in on the breeze, enchanting tales spilling from her tranquil brain, and nothing but the soft clack of keys to punctuate the idyllic silence. While you live in kid-screaming, traffic-honking, clock-watching, boss-yelling, errand-running, TV-chattering, phone-ringing, head-pounding, meeting-cluttered, double-booked chaos.
Which uncovers one huge misconception: That writers live in a bubble, and until we can become Bubble Boy/Girl, we're stuck. You'll write when the kids get older, you say? What -- you think it gets easier then? When they need you to take them to the mall, help choose their high school classes, practice driving, talk late at night, apply to colleges, visit colleges, apply for financial aid, plan weddings -- and then it's "Hello Grandma" and there you are with little kids again? Now what -- do you wait for those kids to get older too? And the foregoing represents only the parental curriculum; what about the parental extra-curriculars? What if you can't say no to the barrage of requests to coach sports, chaperon field trips, teach Sunday School, direct the choir, be the team mom? What if (gasp) you homeschool? Why would the kids getting older magically uncover any writing time? Especially when your parents are now older, too? As are you.
Writers write, publish, and smile through their promo events with life in all its messy glory seething behind the scenes. They do it with cancer and other serious illnesses or conditions--their own or a family member's. They do it with crumbling marriages, wayward kids, threatened foreclosures, and ongoing legal hassles. I'll be honest: Some of them do it through situations that would knock the pegs out from under me. They do it through neutral or happy times, too: moves, weddings, births, remodeling projects, job changes. We can't predict whether or when many of these things will happen. Every time one of them occurs, will it be a roadblock that makes you say, "I'll write as soon as life settles down"? If so, you won't sustain enough forward momentum to really, in the end, be a writer.
We all find time for what we really want to do. Making time to write (or do anything else) is about choices, and it's about plugging time leaks. I've long believed in scheduling my time on a week-by-week basis, and I strongly recommend the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. She advises this: Every time you say the words "I don't have time," substitute "It's not a priority." Then examine how you feel about that. If it's not a priority, then indeed, don't make time for it. But if it is a priority, there's no sensible next step but to do just that. Yes, if you are a writer, you do have time to work, nurture a family, exercise, eat right, sleep enough -- and write.