My wife and I have been married for about three and a half years now. It has never been easy. Someone reading this might be smiling and nodding their heads, thinking “Yep, that’s how those early years are.” I sure hope you didn’t experience what we did and do. We’ve been pushed to the edge, sometimes of survival, sometimes of sanity, sometimes of our relationship. So yeah, not easy.
I’ve been writing seriously and building a writing career for a little over a year now. Some of the life challenges along the way have made it impossible for me to do anything useful for anywhere from a day to weeks at a time. I simply couldn’t, even if I had the time, because I couldn’t summon the will or peace of mind. Other times I was so busy taking care of others that I wasn’t getting enough food and sleep. Writing was not on my list of priorities. Shouldn’t have been. I do have a passion for writing, but it wasn’t enough. Real, serious, sometimes disturbingly messed-up things demanded my energy.
But not always! (Cue sunshine and butterflies and double rainbow.) There were days I woke up kissed my wife and daughter and got amazing things done. That’s right, in the absence of disaster, wonderful things were possible. Those were the days when I could feel my wife and family and everyone behind me, I had my health, and by golly, I was going to do something with it!
When writers talk about finding time to write, one of the most common pieces of advice they give is to examine what you are sacrificing in order to write. That’s not wrong, but frankly it only applies to the petty things like TV or Facebook. If Facebook is what you would rather do on your sunshine-butterflies-double-rainbow days, then buddy, you have no passion for writing. If you do care, and you do want it, the most important thing you can do is to build yourself some life support: build your life so that it supports your writing.
1. Build good health. This leads to having good energy, minimizing sick days and costs, and feeling good about yourself. Health can either be empowering or a weight dragging you down. Control what you can, manage what you can’t.
2. Build a team. If you’re married, I hope your marriage is awesome and perfect. If not, spend a few minutes every day trying to make it better. Your spouse has the ability to support you emotionally and logistically like no one else. If they don’t get the whole writing thing, tell them openly and honestly about your passion for writing. Beg. Cry. If they love you, they’ll get it.
Other than your spouse, find professional teammates. I spend time over at Mary’s blog partly for the social contact. (It’s also a fine blog.) Mary’s on my team, whether she means to be or not, just because she’s serious about her writing and the industry.
I have work to do in this area. I’m building professional relationships, but slowly. My wife and I could probably have some better talks about what kind of support I need. Figure out what you need.
3. Build a writing schedule. This means a schedule that lets you do what you must, then write. Don’t tell yourself that writing is your top priority. Sleep is. Then water, then food, and so on. Schedule your week based on these things, and then decide what’s next in importance and schedule it. Once you reach writing, see what time is left. Be honest, or it won’t matter. Print out your schedule and put it where you can see it. Show it to your spouse/roommates and get them on board. Set yourself goals, reach them, and then do as you like.
4. Build a writing space. This is my biggest challenge. I can’t write at home most of the time because people won’t give me peace. The places I find best for writing are a simple, plain, uncluttered space (community college library) or a place filled with uninteresting activity (coffee shop, fast food place). Whatever works for you is what you should build.
5. Build an understanding of yourself. When you spend writing time doing something else, why?
A. I’m too tired/don’t have the energy to work.
B. I’ve been thinking about the other activity for a while, and it arrests my focus.
C. I’m in a bad mood or feeling troubled and can’t focus.
D. It feels boring right now.
E. I’m stressed and don’t want to think about my problems. I escape.
Don’t just feel guilty about not writing. Guilt is a self-message that you need to improve. Ask yourself why you spent two hours on Facebook. Avoiding writer’s block? Too stressed out? Headache? Find the problem so you can plan around it or fix it. Guilt will destroy your happiness if you don’t address it, and you definitely don’t want to start associating writing with guilt.
Understand your problems as well as what works for you. Ask yourself why it’s that way.
There are other things you will build, like people and worlds and a throng of fans, but start with your life and build forward.
It’s late and I’m writing this post from a phone, so I bet there are other facets of life that need building. What can you think of in your own life?