It’s hard to justify writing time to the people around you if you’re not, in their eyes, a “professional” writer. And by that I mean you’re bringing home a paycheck for your efforts. Until then, writing takes on the visage of “hobby” instead of “actual job.” People think it’s okay to bother you as you’re clacking away at your laptop, family members will complain that you spend too much time on the computer, and pretty soon writing only happens on your “days off.” (That’s a lot of scare quotes in one paragraph; is my sarcasm being properly conveyed?)
A few weeks ago, I was at Utah’s amazing “Writing For Charity” event and went to a panel about deadlines. It started off kind of jokey, about procrastination and generally how writing makes you crazy, lots of elbow nudging and I-been-there raised eyebrows at each other. But then Shannon Hale goes, in this simple, matter-of-fact voice, “I rarely miss deadlines. I don’t mess around with my writing time.” She went on to explain, not in a bragging way, that even with four young kids, she was more productive than some of her writing friends who had no kids.
I have to say, there was a slight shift in my vision, like suddenly my struggling writer mind (which resembles a clenched fist) wrote X’s over the other writers on the panel and drew a circle around Shannon Hale as the type of writer I wanted to emulate. The kind that gets shit done, in other words (except she’s a nice person who probably never says words like shit).
This means make a ritual, create a space, carve out time, give precious hours up to writing as a humble offering, and then guard that sucker like a medieval warrior. But what if you live with five other roommates (like I do), or you’re a single parent with three kids, or don’t own your own computer, or have three of the sort of weirdly intuitive cats that lay on you keyboard just as you’re starting to write?
Here I use the advice of another writer I listened to at Writing for Charity, Maryrose Wood, who said that life ought to be a ceremony (isn’t that lovely?). She said, somewhat lightly, that perhaps you could have a special writings scarf that you donned whenever you needed to write.
This, I think, is a marvelous idea. It’s the equivalent of Clark Kent taking off his glasses to become Superman. One minute, you’re a regular person, with bills and responsibilities and insecurities, then you strap on that scarf and transform into Writer Extraordinaire.
Let me share my ritual with you, since I’m rarely able to write in the same place at the same time two days in a row, such is my hectic existence. I get my Diet Mt. Dew. Much like the Pavlov dog experiment, my brain now literally equates this drink with creative time. I pray for silence, but since that’s rare, I plug my headphones into Orson Scott Card’s Pandora channel “Writer’s Trance.” He’s carefully weeded and trimmed this channel so only classic music plays, and nothing robust or distracting, but almost like lyrical white noise.
Then I put on my purple scarf (which I also spray with lavender occasionally, so my brain further is triggered by this smell, knowing that it’s about to be put to use by writing). The scarf was given to me by a dear friend in Hungary, her favorite, so I’d remember her. Then I plug Anti-Social into my computer. Since I write a lot of historical fiction, I find myself using Google a lot while writing, otherwise, I’d use Freedom. But the list of sites Anti-Social blocks for me is very long. Basically I’m allowed Google and Wikipedia, and that’s it.
Then I write.
And it works. For me, it works really well. So do whatever you have to do, but at least take your writing time seriously. Take your need to tell a story seriously.