May starts the busy social time of the year. From now until August, there are graduations, first communions, confirmations, end of school banquets, anniversaries, weddings, retirement parties, birthdays, picnics, barbecues the list goes on and on. Not to mention conferences and conventions, marathons, concerts, I think I made my point.
Sometimes you have a situation like someone who recently said to me, "I volunteered to do X but my life suddenly fell apart." Life happens. Divorce, job loss, family illnesses, selling a house, moving, are we supposed to keep writing through that? Really? How does a writer stay on track when the world suddenly takes over?
"It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer." ~ Gerald Brenan, "Writing," Thoughts in a Dry Season: A Miscellany, 1978
While this is true, oh, my goodness the freaking pressure of that thought when life takes over or falls apart. Perhaps this is more true for female writers as we feel the social pressure to volunteer and contribute more. Guys, am I correct? The question for today is how do you do it? How do you stay out on the writing ledge when the whole world seems to be pushing you off?
There are tricks. No, really, there are, but they take work and commitment. So the first question to ask yourself is: How important is writing in my life right now? Is it a source of income? Am I a closet or hobby writer, working on stuff no one is allowed to see? Is writing what I cling to when everything else goes south?
If writing is not bringing you money or keeping you sane then it's lower on your list. Give yourself permission to take a sabbatical. Seriously no one is judging you here. So what if your best friend just sold and you "feel" farther behind on your goals. Trust me no one is keeping score. They are not going to put on your headstone, "here lies what could have been a famous best-selling writer if they only tried."
If writing is your business, treat it like any other job. No matter what. Give it 20 to 40 hours a week. If illness or moving or divorce take over, how would you handle them with a different job? Take a sick day. Take a vacation. But, you say, I am not as creative when I'm filled with worry. If you have a deadline, do your best. Plow through. You might surprise yourself. Some people work better under pressure. Even if it's not your best work you have editors and agents to help you. Use them.
If you aren't making money on your writing, yet, but writing keeps you sane the last thing you need in a high-pressure busy time is to give up the one thing keeping you alive. Find the time to write even if it is in the car on the way to an event, write or speak into a recorder. Squeeze out five minutes here, five minutes there. Write on envelopes, scraps of paper, your hand. Give yourself permission to daydream-that counts as writing. Take notes, create scene outlines, have conversations with your characters, allow your creativity to live in the small spaces of your life. Think of it as a life preserver in rough seas. Cling to it. Give yourself permission to not have super big goals, like hitting the NY Times List or selling to your dream agent/publisher. Instead create small goals, a scene, a sentence, a critique or contest. Be proud of what you are doing. Do it for yourself. Don't worry about what others are doing. The fastest way to madness is to compare your life to others.
Most importantly don't beat yourself up over not winning the brass ring someone you know just grabbed. They have their own obstacles to face. Life is not a race. Writing is not a contest. Trust that when things settle down you will be able to have larger goals and meet them. Or at least have fun trying.
Writing is like running a marathon with no finish line. It is a mental game with yourself based on your talent and your willingness to learn, to fall and to get back up. Give yourself permission to walk when you need to, and run when you can. Be proud of what you do no matter how you do it. Because you did it your way. The very truth of the matter is no two people's journeys are the same. So, figure out how to enjoy the journey you are living and forget the rest. It is the only true way to live the life you want.