Do you have enough time in the day to write? I don’t. At least, I didn’t.
I fantasize about life in a mythical paradise where writers write and painters paint and musicians…well, you get the idea. Other times, I fantasize about marrying a millionaire. Since my taste in men tends toward pretty and poor, that probably won’t happen. So I need to balance my writing with the craziness of keeping a full-time day job.
This past summer, despite long hours of sunlight, I felt like the walking dead. Writing is the activity most important to me, and yet I was devoting less and less time to actually doing it. Since I couldn’t pinpoint anything in particular that had changed, I decided to take a look at my average weekday. This is how it stacked up:
1. Alarm clock buzzes. Hand fumbles for snooze button. See time. Get ready in a mad dash.
2. Drive to work. Hit traffic. Work. Drive home from work. Hit traffic. Hate all people.
3. Arrive home. Mindlessly eat. Mindlessly entertain cat. Think about writing. Fantasize about a trip to Paris, Moscow, or Beijing. Feel very tired.
4. Try to exercise (to varying levels of success).
5. Turn on the television (success).
6. Decide to prepare lunch, assemble outfit, and write in the morning. Go to bed.
Snippets of time here and there: friends, family, fussing over men, spirituality, self-care, writing.
Something about my “life” routine needed to change.
What didn’t work, in my case, was endlessly re-arranging my daily schedule to make time for writing. Go to bed early and set the alarm for 5 am! (No.) Set the alarm later and stay up until 1 am! (No.) Write for 30 minutes during lunch! (Some luck there, but I missed bonding with co-workers over lunchtime walks.) Schedules are fantastic and do wonders for many writers. But I didn’t function well creatively when every hour of my life felt mercilessly scheduled.
What did work was taking a hard and critical look at the shape of my days. I wasn’t living the life I wanted. Furthermore, my day job wasn’t the culprit. I was. My ridiculous daily “to do” lists were overwhelming me. To avoid them, I spent my free time commuting, watching television, and fretting.
First step: I stopped making schedules and to do lists. I didn’t force myself to write when dead tired. I decided to be human and take some hours of the day to rest and recuperate. The world didn’t end.
Second step: I moved to an apartment closer to my job. The rent was more expensive, but I got an hour or more of my life back every day. When I stopped facing traffic congestion, I stopped hating all people.
Third step: I still watched NetFlix DVDs, but waited several months before hooking up my basic cable. (I gave in and had it reconnected when both Downton Abbey AND Sherlock returned this January. I’m not made of steel.) The time away from television changed my routine. I don’t automatically flop on my couch the second I get home and mindlessly flip channels. Instead, I go for walks. I watch giant black birds gather ominously at the trailhead at dusk. I listen to trains roll by or NPR or new music. I (gasp) call my parents. I buy and prepare good food.
When it comes to writing, I haven’t done away with structure completely. I scribble deadlines on my calendar and figure out how much time I need to devote to writing each week to make them. Even without a firm daily writing schedule, I write more and keep my deadlines, even when they’re self-imposed. I suspect it’s because I’m no longer drained and worn out. This feels like the life I wanted.