Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
December 2008

How Do I Find Time to Write?

At almost every event that I go to, some aspiring writer will raise a hand and ask how I do it, how I manage my time so that I can raise five kids, do Ironman triathlons on the side, take piano lessons and practice four hours a week, read 300 books a year, and write so prolifically. There are a lot of answers to this question, and depending on my sense of humor that day, I may try out several of them. The funny one (and not so funny) is that I don't sleep. I actually have a serious insomnia problem, and when I can't sleep at night, I will get up and read. Or if I am feeling especially punitive, I will run for a couple of hours. And yes, I write in the middle of the night, too. (I do not practice the piano at night.)

A better answer is the simple truth that there are twenty-four hours in every day and I don't have any more hours than any one else. If you want to be a writer, there is a very simple mathematical equation that will get you the time you need to be a writer. You must give up something that you are doing right now, and use that time to write. If you are lucky, you can give up TV watching time and that will do it.

But the reality is that you are going to have to give up something that matters to you. If you are going to be a writer, it will have to be something that matters to you less than writing. What will it be? I can't know that. I can't know what matters less to you than writing. But I can tell you a whole list of things that I have decided matter less to me than writing.

1. Shopping. I shop on-line, if I have to. Also, I shop about twice a month for groceries. I don't waste time going to the store to buy that last thing I need in the recipe to make dinner. My husband and son laugh about this all the time (they are recipe-followers). I look at a recipe and try to figure out what I can substitute in that recipe for what I have right now. It calls for a fresh lime. I have reconstituted lemon juice in the fridge. It calls for roasted yellow peppers. I have corn. It calls for lettuce. I have cabbage. This makes for some interesting dinners and my guests and family occasionally lament if they like it because they know they will never see it again. I don't know how I made it, but it sure wasn't by following the recipe.

2. Cleaning my house. I once told a story about a vacuum cleaner salesman who promised to clean a room for me for free if I listened to his spiel. Three hours later, he was still cleaning the carpet which I had never in the whole time I lived in that house (which was about a year by then -- we had the carpet installed at the time) vacuumed. This is a true story.

3. Decorating. Although I consider myself to be a fairly artistic person, I do not do decorating. I like white paint on my walls, no wallpaper, no curtains -- just blinds.

4. Browsing the internet. Okay, this one isn't completely true. I do let myself browse the internet, so long as I am looking at writing related sites (and this definition can be a broad one). But only while I am writing. Write a little, get stuck, go look at one or two sites, then get back to writing.

5. Vacations. I don't like vacations. I like my house and I like my routines, and I am notorious in my family for never taking a single day off writing in my life. Christmas, New Years, my birthday -- I write. I'm having a baby -- I write.

The way I met Orson Scott Card? I signed up for the Boot Camp he was doing in Orem in 2002, despite the fact that I was due to give birth on that Friday. I figured, if I had the baby early, I'd find a babysitter. If I had the baby late, I'd have something to do while I waited.

On Tuesday evening, Scott said something (I don't remember what), and I made a face. He looked at me and asked if he'd misspoken. Oh, no, I said. I'm just timing contractions. He stepped back, looked at my enormous stomach and realized how pregnant I was. He asked when the baby was due and I told him. He said he hoped I delivered late. I spent the next day frantically writing the story I was supposed to share with the rest of the group (it was about a woman who dies giving birth to twins). Wednesday night, I went into labor. The baby was born on Thursday morning. My husband sent an email to Scott telling him why I wasn't there, and Scott offered a refund. Nothing doing, I showed up on Friday, baby in tow, and he was startled to see me there (to say the least). I continued on with the workshop and this was certainly one way to make myself memorable.

6. Saying yes to other people's projects. Look, writing is a job. You must treat it as such first, before you can get other people to do it. If you let other people take up your precious free time with their projects, you will not get to your writing. I'm not saying your time is more important than theirs. But their project isn't more important than yours, either.

7. Knitting, sewing, and quilting. These are hobbies that I enjoy very much. I used to do them a lot more than I do them now. Occasionally, I will still get a hankering for a knitting project that I can fit in, but not very often. I tend not to sew very often, or even to mend. Once something has been worn out that far, it's not worth it to sew it up. You might as well buy it new.

8. Thinking up reasons why I can't write right now. Writers are anxious about their writing. They want to get it down right the first time, I think, so they never have to deal with revisions. It rarely works this way. If you want to write something, sit down and write it. Or if that one isn't ready, work on something else. Work on a project that needs to be revised. Write about why you're not writing, even, and save it to be used in a book sometime.

9. Answering the phone. There are a very few exceptions to this, but generally I let the machine get it and call back later, when it's not in the middle of my writing time.

10. Doing things for my children that they can do for themselves. My kids do a good deal of the cooking at my house. They clean most of the house to their own standards. I don't have a second job and my kids know that if they want to go to college, they'd better be earning scholarships. I don't drive them to school, even in the snow. I don't bring them their lunch at school. I don't bring them homework if they forgot it.

One thing I suggest you never give up: reading. There may be times when you only have a few minutes a day to read. Read short stories. Or picture books. Or something. But reading is what refuels you for writing, and it's dangerous to try to write when you might go empty.

It may take a while for you to figure out what things you are willing to give up to write. Your list may also change as you change. But complaining that you never have time to write will just not hold any water with me. I have a daughter with piano, cello, and voice lessons, who is on the swim team and in NAL and in the county youth orchestra and in the youth group and on and on. I have another daughter who is in Science Olympiad, swim team, violin lessons, Scrabble Club, Programming Club, and on and on. When my kids get home from school, my life is crazy. One thing after another. I barely have time to breathe in between doing their things, my practicing the piano, getting dinner ready, and getting homework done. I don't think I shortchange my kids when they're home. That's another thing I don't give up for writing: family. Everything else is debatable.

But hey, if you look at your life and you find you are unwilling to give up anything for writing, that's fine. I don't think you're a bad person. I don't even think you'll never be a writer. You're just not a writer right now. You can be a writer when your kids are grown, if you think you will have more time then. I respect that choice. The only problem is that most people don't actually ever have more time in the future than they have right now. Life is always as busy as you make it.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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