Blogstitute Week 5: Making time for your own writing

August 8th, 2011

We can all come up with lots and lots of great excuses why we don’t have time to write. In this week’s Blogstitute entry author Carolyn Coman shares how to quiet those negative voices and get serious about your own writing. Carolyn is the author of Writing Stories: Ideas, Exercises, and Encouragement for Teachers and Writers of All Ages. She is a Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award Finalist for What Jamie Saw, and Many Stones, and the author of The Memory Bank.

Next week’s post will come from David Somoza and Peter Lourie, author of Writing to Explore: Discovering Adventure in the Research Paper, 3-8.

Don’t forget to order the Summer Blogstitute special package of five books on writing!

Making and Taking Time for Your Own Writing

A few months ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks at Hedgebrook, a remarkable writers’ colony for women located on Whidbey Island in Washington State. In a cottage all my own, with delicious meals prepared for me, I had all the time in the world to give to my work-in-progress, nourished by a community that was founded on and deeply committed to supporting writers. It was, in many ways, a dream-come-true, and my stay there was tremendously rewarding.  Early on, though, I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. I battled feelings of not being worthy, worried that I wouldn’t produce enough to justify the incredible gift of time I’d been given. (After all these years of writing, the mean voice still knows exactly how to insinuate itself into my thinking.) My time at Hedgebrook reminded me how essential, important, powerful, and complex the whole business of making and taking time for your own writing can be.

After I returned from Hedgebrook, I led a workshop in rural Pennsylvania, working with a group of eight writers who had managed to carve out an entire week from their otherwise full lives to concentrate on revising their novels. Their presence at the workshop was an act of faith in their stories and in their development as writers. I watched the participants make remarkable breakthroughs as they settled into uninterrupted time and space—despite battling daily worries about whether a husband would remember to pack a certain item in a child’s lunchbox, or about the “other” job they would be returning to after the workshop, or that they would not live up to expectations (their own or others’) of how much they would accomplish.

I see from both sides—as writer and as teacher—that the business of making and taking time for our own writing persists as an abiding challenge, wherever we are in our careers and our lives.

We all bring all sorts of stuff to the table when we sit down to write—whether it’s for twenty minutes or an hour or a day or a week, whether we do our writing at the crack of dawn before the kids wake up or have extended days and weeks to give to it. There are always competing tugs that try to pull us away—circumstantial, psychological, physical. But the simple fact remains that if we do not make and take some time in which to put those opposing forces aside and get down to writing, we will not write. If we do not write, our stories—the ones only we can tell—will not be written.

Shouldn’t writing teachers know this better than anyone, we who spend so much time and energy encouraging others to write, creating schedules that make writing possible for them, checking in to read a work-in-progress and ask questions, offering feedback and encouragement? Perhaps. Yet, at least in my experience, it doesn’t always work that way. We kid ourselves that teaching writing is the same as doing our own writing. It’s not. We feel that having put in our time teaching means we have put in our time writing. We have not. We give others the time and space and environment conducive to writing, but we withhold those very things from ourselves.

I’ve reckoned with these inconsistencies time and time again over the years, and I’m sure I will again, because the need to make and take time for writing is something that will never go away. My ways of answering the challenge have evolved and changed along with my age and life circumstances. For years I wrote early in the morning, before my family woke up. To work on my first novel, I hired a babysitter and worked on it in two-hour sessions twice a week. I wrote another novel in fifteen-minute spurts in my journal until I had finally accumulated enough material to see I had a story. These days, with kids grown and teaching intermittent, I have the luxury of many more hours to write. But I still need to pull up the calendar, look at the week ahead, and commit to which hours of what days will be for writing. And then I have to show up for them, for better or for worse.

Sometimes, when I become aware that the mean voice in my head is once again nattering at me, trying to undermine my writing, I remind myself that I would never speak that way to another writer. I ask myself to extend to myself the same compassion and kindness and encouragement that I extend—and genuinely feel—toward my students. Maybe we could try the same approach when it comes to making and taking time for writing—giving to ourselves what we give to others—because without time there will be no writing.

Are you making sure to take the time you can to write? Have you slipped into a habit of making time for everything but writing? Choose writing over something else. Make an act of faith in yourself and the stories you have to tell.

Entry Filed under: Writing

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Michelle  |  August 8th, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Your words should be a constant reminder. I need this reminder constantly to just sit and write. I’m in one of those transitional periods with twin 15 month old girls. All my energy and time is spent with them, so the little writing I do is usually about them! Thank you for the reminder to choose writing over something else. What can wait until tomorrow???

  • 2. Mrs. V  |  August 8th, 2011 at 10:36 am

    What an important post. I love that you mentioned how writing time may change depending on point in career/life. This time of year I always love Laurie Halse Anderson’s Write Fifteen Minutes a Day. Ruth Ayres’ new blog focusing on herself as a writer has also been so beneficial. I love the glimpses into her notebook, helping me grow as a writer (www.ruthayreswrites.blogspot.com).

    I live in Oregon, so I’m going to find out more about the Washington writing opportunity. It sounds like it was amazing. Being able to attend SCBWI conferences/events are also high on my dream avenues to focus on myself as a writer.

  • 3. Linda Baie  |  August 8th, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I like your inviting voice that says “I ask myself to extend to myself the same compassion and kindness and encouragement that I extend—and genuinely feel—toward my students.” It’s interesting how I can manage to accomplish so many things in a day, even now, before returning to my teaching job, except to write personally. That mean voice can be very strong. Thank you for reminding us of important things.

  • 4. Heather  |  August 8th, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    “Choose writing over something else. Make an act of faith in yourself and the stories you have to tell.” This has been what I’ve been working on this summer. With the help and nudge of the blogs of Ruth Ayres and Laurie Halse Anderson, I’ve been writing every day. Not sure where exactly this is leading me, except that I can see it impacting the teaching of writing I do with my fourth grade students.

  • 5. KimberlyGutierrez  |  August 9th, 2011 at 7:20 am

    I used to love to write. I used to write all the time. I used to fill journals and notebooks. Then one day it just stopped. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I still had so much to say, but I just could phrase it the way I wanted. I just couldn’t physically write things down. Suddenly my handwriting was terrible and my thoughts were not leading me to where I wanted to go with my writing. Now I have two children under 3 and a full time job. Some day I hope to go back and pick up my pen and start again.

    I love the last part of your blog – the part about not being so critical of ourselves since we would never be that hard on another writer. When I sit down to conference with a first grader, somedays I am overwhelmed with the amount of work I need to do with them upon reading their writing. But then I think back to a training I went to a few years ago that talked about starting with all the good. You take a piece of writing and look for all the good stuff – no matter how small. Then you point all that out (this is great to do in a group of colleagues) and through that you can see their strengths and what you can teach them next. Instead of looking at their weaknesses and what they NEED, it has you focus on what they know and where you can GO next. It’s looking at writing half full instead of half empty.

  • 6. Tracy  |  August 17th, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Wow, your words really hit home with me. Like Kimberly, I used to write almost daily in a journal; I still have all the notebooks I filled. I love to read through them periodically and see how much I’ve grown and changed as a writer and a person!

    Last year I bought myself two new journals, one for personal observations, and one for professional purposes. After a year of extremely intermittent writing, I made the committment at the beginning of this summer to write more regularly. Setting aside the time has been the most challenging. I see that I need to revise my goal of writing every day; I can build up to that. But as the mother of a young child, twice a week would be just as good. I’ll be committing to something regularly scheduled.

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