One of the excuses I make to myself for not writing is ‘I don’t have enough time’. This is an excuse I use for a lot of things I think I want to do but do not get done. Exercise. Memory keeping. Solving world peace. I say ‘to myself’ when it comes to writing because the hard truth is that whilst it might be something I care about, no one else in the world cares if I write or not. It will not affect anyone else’s life if I do NOT finish my first draft. It does matter to me but until it matters enough that I choose to spend more of my spare time on it, I will not make much progress. And I do have spare time – we recently managed to get through all nine seasons of The Office.
I have heard from several sources about ‘writing in the cracks’. Jessica Turner in her book The Fringe Hours describes how she manages to make use of all those in-between moments. Those slivers of time which present themselves during the day. Today is such a day: Austin is playing with his magnetic building toys and jigsaw puzzles; the laundry is in the washing machine; I have a cup of tea and I am sitting down on the sofa. I have a choice (one I don’t usually realise I am making). Do I grab my laptop (which is by definition portable but stays most of the time plugged into my monitor in my office)? Or do I pick up my phone and waste those thirty shining minutes that had so much potential?
Today I make a good choice.
I have just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear after hearing about it from I forget where now (Tsh Oxendreider’s podcast? Blog? Yes! It was in an article on The Art of Simple). I really got on with Gilbert’s easy style and was utterly inspired by her drive to write. She emphasised time and again that writing for her was not about the outcome, the potential income, how people responded to her work.
The rewards could not come from the external results—I knew that. The rewards had to come from the joy of puzzling out the work itself, and from the private awareness I held that I had chosen a devotional path and I was being true to it.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic (p. 113). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
It made me realise that if I really do want to write (and not just Be a Writer), I need to approach it in a much more driven way. I am not sure that writing in the cracks will work for me when it comes to writing my first draft as I find I need a stretch of uninterrupted thinking time as well as the time to get words on the page. I do think that it is possible to use those nuggets of time for other types of writing or writing work (research, making notes and when the time comes, editing) so that when I do find a longer stretch of time, I say no to mindless (or even quality, interesting) television and yes to something that is becoming more and more important to me. The great news is that writing is a very cheap pursuit. I do not need expensive materials, a large airy studio or anything else other than my laptop and a notebook and pen. The possibility of it is enticing:
The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic (p. 158). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Gilbert might have a rather quirky take on writing and inspiration but I love that she puts all her faith in it. I also love how hard she works. Instead of baulking at the thought of having to work hard, I am encouraged that to be good at writing, you have to put in the hours. So if you haven’t put in those hours, you can’t expect to be great. You also don’t have to think that your terrible first draft shows your writing is beyond hope. It just needs work.
I have found myself thinking about my novel a lot more since reading this book. I think about the characters and what they want in life. I think about where the story is going and where it might end. I take this as a very encouraging sign that I should not abandon my ambition. I just need to start taking my writing more seriously. Whilst I am almost certain I will never make a living out of writing, I remember that this is not the point. And as I start to approach a crossroads in my life, career-wise, perhaps I can put writing at the heart of my new identity. It doesn’t get more serious than that.