TAKE A TIME-OUT
I believe in signs. That’s why, when my ten-month-old son pulled the book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller off the shelf for the third time, I decided it was time to read it.
Guilty of preaching something akin to Sabbath in my book Writing the Life Poetic, but infrequently practicing it, this book gave me a good kick in the pants which landed me squarely on the couch with my feet up.
Lo and behold, on that fateful Saturday, I took a day off from my computer. When my son Theo napped, I napped. Our family took a leisurely trip to the pool. My husband and I cooked a meal together. I felt like a human being instead of a human doing.
Muller credits Brother David Steindl-Rast for reminding us that the Chinese pictograph for busy is composed of two characters: heart and killing. This stopped me in my tracks. I, like almost everyone I know, am chronically, overwhelmingly busy. Muller proposes that a day of rest gives us the replenishment we need to live our lives well. To solve our problems creatively. To nourish our hearts—and in our case, dear reader, our writing.
That day of Sabbath was such a success that my husband and I committed to a family Sabbath every Saturday in which all work comes to a halt and the family simply relaxes, enjoys each other, and follows the threads of curiosity and delight wherever they might lead us.
The paradoxical good news for all of us overachievers is that slowing down actually produces more: work, joy, equilibrium, love. I wonder if rest may be all we need to replenish our creative wells when they run dry. Sometimes moving toward a desired goal begins with first moving away from it.
HONOR YOUR TIME, SO THAT OTHERS CAN
Let’s do some expectation setting here: No one in your family or community of friends is likely to have any idea what your writing life is all about. It’s not that they won’t want to support you; it’s just that they won’t know how.
Years ago, when I was employed as a writer on a marketing team for a company, the woman whose job it was to track and ship inventory reported me to my boss. According to her, I was “just sitting at my desk, staring out the window and doing nothing all day.” The reality was that I was producing newsletters, articles, and brochures at an unprecedented rate and speed. And the other reality is that people who don’t write don’t necessarily understand that there is often reading, thinking, and rumination involved in the writing process—and this may not look like much to the casual observer.
People who don’t write may not be able to imagine that you really and truly want to be in the closet with the door shut for three hours without talking to anyone. When you leave for that desperately anticipated writing retreat, don’t take it personally when everyone you know wants to “come on vacation” with you.
The good news is that everyone who loves you can and will learn about your writing life if you are willing to teach them—and hold the line for yourself. All you need to worry about is being clear about the time you need and asking the people close to you for support in respecting that time. Like any limit setting, you are likely to be tested for a while.
I’d suggest adding to your arsenal this phrase, delivered with a smile: “Sure, I’d be happy to do [whatever has been requested] at [time] when I’m finished my writing. I’ll see you then!” They might protest, but you can simply close the door and emerge at the time you have promised. I know you can. And the more practice you have with this, the easier it will get for you and everyone around you.
WE ARE NOT GIVEN TIME TO WRITE; WE TAKE IT
I remember as a young person reading somewhere that parents don’t give you independence; you have to take it. I think that same premise holds true for establishing oneself as a writer. When you decide to write, the universe does not say, “How wonderful that you fancy yourself a writer, I’ll give you three hours off of your job every day so you can fulfill your destiny.” The reality is that it’s up to you to create your writing time, to claim it, as if your blustery, teenage know-it-all self’s future depends on it.
This is the last in the series of six posts about making the most of your writing time. You can check out the rest of the series by choosing the productive writing category.