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