Interview: Following Your Bliss

Recently, a friend of mine put out a call to talk to people who felt their work was a calling. This has lead to a series of interviews about following your bliss, including one with me that you can read here. But do keep an eye on this blog series.

I think one of the hardest thing for writers, especially in the beginning, is realizing that they are writers.  They don’t need a degree, they don’t need publication credits, they don’t need some fairy godwriter to come down from the heavens and anoint them as writers.

To my mind, so much of this is tied to the notion of tangible success being a determining factor about whether or not something is worthwhile to do. That one cannot legitimately claim to be a writer without showing proof of their writerliness. This isn’t true.  Writing isn’t like being a doctor–you need a certain about knowledge and training and qualifications to be a doctor. To be a writer, all you need is to write. It’s so simple that sometimes it’s hard to absorb.

I think were it also gets problematic is that other people, non-writers, figure that if being a writer only requires writing, then it has no value because most people can construct words and sentences into something comprehensible. What’s so hard about that? But this is the difference between writing well and just putting words on paper.

So in some ways, the only thing to really be a writer is to care about your writing. To have it matter to you. To want it to be more than just basically functional, but for it to be good, to be beautiful, to make you think, to make you feel–whatever writing that matters looks like to you.

None of that is a promise of success. Granted, doing something well gives you better chances of success than doing something poorly. But there are no guarantees.

But you probably know that. If you’ve been writing for a little while, if you’ve tried to submit work anywhere, you probably know that just having written something you think could maybe be good is no guarantee that other people will decide to publish it, let alone pay you money for it, let alone pay you a lot of money for it.

But you still wrote. You still tried. You are still trying.

That’s why you’re a writer.

(Psst! I have a class starting next week and there are just 2 spaces left!)

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That.

The number one issue in my writing life has always been time. Scratch that. The number one issue in my life is time. There’s never time.

I have tried every trick in the book for creating time to write. I have done NaNoWriMo, twice. I have joined writing groups. I have set deadlines with friends. I have taken writing classes. I am most of the way through an MFA in writing. I have taken days off. I have made commitments to write daily. I have set schedules. I have told everyone in my life that there will be times during the day when you cannot disturb me because I will be writing, and then failed to write.

All these tricks fail eventually, at least for me, particularly the ones that require routine. I marvel at writer friends who can just sit at a desk at a time carved out for this purpose and words come out, and then do that every day. How do you find the time every day?

I have despaired at all forms of writing advice for making time.  “Let a few things go around the house,” they say, and I pick a t-shirt out of the laundry pile and give it the sniff test. There’s no more letting go. I silently cursed famous male writers like Nabakov who had a wife that just took care of everything so they could have time to write.

I kicked myself for not being more organized, because surely if I had more discipline I could get everything done and still have time to write. Did I really need to binge-watch Project Runway? Shouldn’t I have been writing?

I would read and hear things like, if this is really important to you, you would make the time. And I would say, but I want to. And then I would feel like a failure before I even began, because I couldn’t reconcile having something so important to me, and still not make time for it. I was a writer even though I showed no outward signs of it, and so I would doubt myself. Writers write; I wasn’t making time to write. Just who did I think I was? How can I even think for one second that this is important to me if I’m not making the time?

I kept at it, in fits and starts, but I also waited for the magical day when the Universe would just grant me more time.  Because as soon as I had time…. man, the things I would write.

Here’s the thing. The Universe is not going to magically grant you more time.

And even if the Universe does grant you more time, that doesn’t necessary mean that you are going to find it magically easy to sit down and write.

The hard truth is, that if you already have a busy life, you can’t do everything exactly the same as you always did and still have time to write. Something’s gotta give. At least a little bit. The reality of the writing life is that you need dedicated time, but you also need to pay your bills and eat and be nice to your friends and family. What that looks like in your life, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s getting up early to write, and so what gives is a little sleep. Maybe it’s taking a long weekend every month to yourself to binge-write. Maybe you pass on the intense career.  Maybe you have to carry on in fits and starts as best you can until you can work this out.

It isn’t easy to know what to do, since we don’t exactly live in a world that supports shirking your responsibilities (a little bit!) so that you can play with words. And realistically, we have to live in the world.

But whatever it is, you need to make peace with it. That moment before you write your first word is scary sometimes.  The Inner Critic reminds you of all of the other things you should be doing. You start thinking that if you don’t write the perfect word, you have sacrificed other things that you should be doing so this word had better be worth it. No pressure, huh?

And don’t start taking this out on yourself. A writer who isn’t writing is simply a writer who is struggling to figure out how to make it all work. You know that’s true. Don’t beat yourself up for struggling with something that isn’t easy. Struggle on.