Friday, April 13, 2012

Stealing sand from the hourglass

It's one of the things I hear most often from people who think they want to be writers. They say some variation on, "Oh, I could write a book, too. I have this great idea. I just don't have the time." Or the version that makes me regret the fact that my parents raised me to have manners, and behave like a civilized human, and so I do not punch people: "You're a writer? Wow, it must be great to have so much free time to do that."

Free time, yes. That's what it is.

Here is the thing about writing: if you wait until you have free time to do it, you will write very few words. If you want to write, you must steal time from other places of your life, and protect those stolen moments vigorously, because otherwise, things will encroach on them, the time will disappear, and you will still never have written.

How do you steal time? You make sacrifices, you give things up. You get up an hour before the rest of the house, or go to bed after everyone else is asleep. You write on your lunch hour. You don't watch television. You lock yourself out of the internet. 

Those aren't the only ways, of course, and nothing says that you need to do all of those things all of the time and make no compromises and have no fun, but if you look at that list, and think that you could never do any of that, if you look at your life and there's nothing you're willing to give up in order to find time to write, well, I hate to break it to you, but you're probably not a writer. Not a serious one, anyway. Not right now.

Sometimes, though, stealing time isn't enough. Sometimes, it's finding the energy, as this post from writer Theodora Goss discusses. Which again leads to difficult choices, because most of us, and especially writers at the beginning of our careers or writers of primarily short fiction, cannot afford to not have a day job. Because at professional rates of $0.05/ word, you sell your 3000 word story for $150.00. Even novelists, unless they have multiple-book deals, have to write the entire novel before they get paid for it. And the freedom of going freelance can be wonderful, but that comes with its own set of risks. So there is the tendency to work as hard as is physically and mentally possible, and then to try to push beyond that. And not just for financial reasons, but because you love that thing that you are writing, and those characters, and this is your story and you need to tell it, regardless of the cost or consequences. Which can work, if poorly, for a certain amount of time, such as when you're under deadline, but is not a sustainable way of having a life.

These are things I've been thinking a lot lately, as I come to the end of the semester, and the chaos of work that goes with it, as I'm preparing to move, and to restart my life, as I am in revisions on one manuscript, and in progress on another, and have freelance work besides. How can I plan my life to balance time, and energy, and the need for food and shelter, and pug treats for Sam I Am? It's a lot to think about. I'll let you know how it goes.

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