More time is not always the answer

Sure, working as a penguin can be tiring. But think of the material! Photo by Toshihiro Oimatsu

Many years ago, before I had Henry, I decided I was done with working in an office. All I wanted to do was write, and there I was, wasting my time, working…for money! Oh, the folly of it! I told myself that the reason I wasn’t getting any writing done is that I didn’t have enough time. Time for loafing, and letting my mind drift. Time to imagine. To allow the muse to descend and grant me her magical powers. I was unclear on what a muse was but I was pretty sure things got magical. Sure, I had time after work, and before work, but I was tired out from my draining day job, and I liked to sleep in, and never mind all that–my future as a novelist could never happen as long as I was working. I need to immerse myself in the writing life!

You maybe can see how this went.

As amazing as this is to me now, I quit my job, because Scott had a well-paying job with benefits, and I had some savings from my own gig. (This was during the initial heady days of the Internet as Money-Making Venture, when we were all working for websites that paid relatively obscene salaries and gave you perks like ping pong tables in the conference room.) So why not? I had just finished getting an MFA (a period of time where I managed to hold down a job AND go to grad school AND get a lot of writing done, but I conveniently forgot about this when I left my job), so now was the time for me to write my novel and become a celebrity.

So what did I do, with all my freedom? Well, first, I freaked out. I hyperventilated. I went for long walks and wondered what I had done. I called Scott at work and told him I had made a horrible mistake. Then, I would sit down to write, and promptly fall into the deepest sleeps I have ever enjoyed in my life. I’d wake up with the sun setting and my cheek mashed into the keyboard. Then I tried to think of Ideas and the only Idea I could come up with is, “Young idiot quits job, turns out to have zero creative promise.” Eventually, I fell into a schedule: each morning I stared at the yawning abyss of time and I felt waves of panic wash over me. Then I’d run out for coffee and scones. Then back to the panic and eventual quasi-narcoleptic episode, then out for more coffee and maybe a cookie. I may have gained a bit of weight.

Fortunately I came to my senses soon enough and found another job, which I decided to keep until I had myself  figured out. Although it stung in the subsequent years when my fellow MFA graduates began churning out books, I knew I wasn’t ready. Sometimes time is simply not the problem. The problem is nerve. It’s hard to work, and to trust yourself. It’s easy to blame your fear on external factors. When you take away the things that supposedly tire you, the underlying problem will still be there, and then what?

If you’re me, you’ll convince yourself you’re dying of a rare sleeping disease.

The more time I had to write, the more time I had to engage in self-doubt. Without the option of all that time, I worked in fits and starts, and pages were written. Not having the luxury of uninterrupted hours can also mean not having the luxury of indulging your neuroses. Yes, it’s hard to switch gears between a job and family life and creative work, but once it becomes a part of your schedule, you’ll get the hang of it.

Got fifteen minutes? Use it to write, not to wish you had more time. You’ll be amazed at what you can do.


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