These days, with dozens of digital distractions, writers have to physically block out time to write. It hasn’t always been this way, of course.
When I first started writing, we didn’t even have VCR’s, and the only “Mario and Luigi” we knew owned competing pizza shops. I was four years old. I had made a list of random letter combinations and asked my mom (my family’s literary expert) if any of them were words. One was: “Tom.”
Hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?
My point is that the only real distractions we had ‘way back then’ were the television and the great outdoors. We only had three channels and the weather sucked six months out of twelve, so there was plenty of time for writing — or reading, or playing board games, or backyard tackle football (no protective gear at all; were we crazy or what?).
“I’m pretty sure most of what we wrote was crap”
When I was in high school, two friends and I had so much time on our hands we actually founded a student newspaper. In fact, it was a surprising success. We “formatted” our articles on a cheap electric typewriter and used rub-to-transfer sheets to compose headlines. I’m pretty sure most of what we wrote was crap, but the other students seemed to like it.
In college, when I wasn’t dating and drinking, I found time for a daily radio show and a staff level position on the student news-magazine. I even attended some classes now and then. The only video games I’d ever seen were built into cool tabletops at the pub where we gathered. “Walka-walka-walka”!
Then came the Mario Brothers from Nintendo. That was the beginning of the end.
If I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent playing that game and all the ones that followed after, I could go to Aruba and do some serious gambling while I was there.
I still found time to write, though. Plenty of it. In between building my own house and designing a board game (which our family still plays today), I joined various writers’ groups and filled a couple of notebooks with short fiction. (I should look for those, maybe.)
Along came the Internet, and everything changed again.
I didn’t get online until about 1999, and it was dial-up. So much for watching videos or playing MMORPG’s (giant group games). I did, however, find the coolest little forum-based writing group ever, sponsored by my ISP, CompuServe (now defunct.)
We posted stories in plain text, downloaded them to read them, and then discussed our reactions in the group’s forum. Some of what I wrote for that group wasn’t crap. In fact, I still treasure several of those short stories.
When I finally arrived at Helium in 2007, I still had plenty of time to write stuff, all kinds of stuff. I wrote writing tips, some short stories, a bunch of assorted non-fiction — and even sold quite a few articles directly to publishers. [Note: I still write paid articles for Helium's Content Source group.]
And then Helium told us all to join Facebook.
Damn you Facebook.
I swear, that was the worst decision — and the best decision. I’ve met the nicest and coolest people on Facebook, and even reconnected with old friends. But that led to LinkedIn and BranchOut and Twitter and StumbleUpon, and… Well, the list seems to grow every day. “You should be there!” But wait, I’m not really Pinterested, am I? Don’t even ask me about FarmVille.
Did I mention I have a family, too?
I have a wonderful wife, two amazing kids of my own, and a daughter we share. Sure, all three of the kids are adults now, but they’re all close-by and they still like us. In fact, my whole extended family lives about a half-hour away. We hold monthly “game nights” that have nothing to do with the Mario Brothers.
We also have another “daughter” — Layla the dog. Yup, she needs attention, too. Since we don’t have a fenced-in yard, she needs regular walks. Every day would be nice. In bad weather she has to settle for twice a week or so. Sometimes I feed her, too. And let her sleep on my lap.
Not only that, I have a full-time day job.
OK. So I don’t have any time to write. I find time to write. I write stuff in my head while I’m driving around. I make notes before dinner, after walking the dog. I think about writing dialogue while my wife and I watch one of our favorite shows, like Big Bang Theory (only the funniest show since Seinfeld!). I write posts about writing while my wife is asleep beside me on the couch (right now).
Some of you travel.
Others of you still have time and money for golf or skiing or other happy hobbies.
Plenty of you go to church on the weekend, or look after aging family members, or volunteer at the library. You go running in the dark before work. You tend to glorious gardens. You work wonders with wood and fix old trucks. Lots of you have jobs and spouses and kids and pets.
Yet you still find time to write.
At least two of the writers I know have managed to publish a novel in their “spare time.”
How do you do it? What do you give up to make room for writing? Maybe you stay up later than you should, lights dimmed, fingers flying across the keyboard. Or you’ve given up going to the movies (they have gotten rather expensive, haven’t they?).
Do you turn off the TV? Perhaps your kids have grown up and moved far away, leaving unexpected free time for writing. One of the things I “gave up” was mowing the lawn. I pay a guy to mow mine, and don’t miss doing it one bit. So there’s two extra hours a week for half the year. I’d pay a kid to shovel the driveway if I could find one willing.
Not many of us get rich from our writing.
Some of us are freelance writers who’ve actually made some decent money from our words. Others are devoted poets or capable editors. SoWrite’s first sponsor hosts a website for writers. Several of you devote hours each week to author personal or business blogs. Despite our efforts, none of the writers I know personally are making five-figures a year (much less, six!).
So it’s probably not the lure of riches that drives us to write. Or boredom, or lack of alternatives. Not once in a million posts have I seen anyone on Facebook volunteer, “I have SO much free time I just don’t know what to do with it.”
“…because the words inside us need to come out”
Something else gets sacrificed to make room for writing. That’s a given. It might be family time, or leisure time, or a hobby left behind. To find more time to write, I could read less, for instance. I’d miss my favorite authors, though.
Comes down to it, we write whether we have time to write or not. We write for fun or profit, fiction or non-fiction, because the words inside us need to come out. Because we have something to share.
We write because we must.
»photo credit: Alex E. Proimos
What have you given up in order to make time for writing? Or have you given up some of your writing time to make room for other pursuits?