How do you make time to write?
I don’t like using the word “busy” to describe my life, because it implies that it’s happening to me, and out of my control. And that whole busy-as-a-status-symbol thing is so old. I don’t buy it.
I know that everything that’s in my calendar is there because I put it there.
So I make an effort to say “life is full” or just own it and say, “I over-scheduled myself this year.”
I could say that I’ve been really busy, and use that as an excuse for not writing. But I know that’s not really true.
Writing time doesn’t happen when life is calm and “not busy.”
You either put something in your calendar and do it, or you don’t.
I know that time is something I make. If I wait for time to appear, I’ll never experience it.
I thought about the time dilemma again recently, while reading an interview with Charles Baxter.
This is his advice to writers who are working on their first short story collection:
“Read everything. Find books that you love and try to learn how an author managed to create a miraculous moment. Don’t quit. Cultivate a fuck-you attitude toward the doubting bourgeoisie and the philistines, who can live without art. Be a good noticer, one of those on whom nothing is lost. Don’t worry too much about money unless you’re about to be thrown out into the street. These suggestions go back almost as far as Ovid. They’re not original with me.”
— Charles Baxter
Solid advice, all of it. But my heart hooked on this line:
Be a good noticer, one of those on whom nothing is lost.
Sometimes my friend’s two-year-old comes to visit us at the barn. Whenever I am with her, I am captivated by her ability to notice things.
She’s an excellent noticer. She notices the piece of rainbow electrical tape I have wrapped around my old computer power cord; the glitter stuck to her fingers after she touches a homemade bookmark; the sound of a baby blue jay out the window; the small sand-filled strawberry attached to my red pincushion.
She notices these things. Like, she notices them with her whole body.
In this over-scheduled summer of mine, she is my inspiration. On her, nothing is lost. I aspire to this, and so I cancelled some events and appointments this week.
I have made time for noticing.
This feels lazy and unproductive. I am not even writing during this time I make. I am simply DOING NOTHING.
I just have to go through a few days of agonizing nothingness before that anxious feeling turns into something different: tasting, seeing, feeling, sensing, hearing, smelling.
Doing nothing always turns into deep noticing, eventually. The key to this is simply to keep doing nothing for long enough!
To be a good noticer, to be someone on whom nothing is lost, one must quiet oneself enough to be present to what’s actually happening.
The initial discomfort that comes from putting distractions away is worth it, because it turns into the joy of paying attention.
After a few days of nothingness, once I have adjusted to the pace of real life (not the one happening in my mind), I realize that there is so much to write about!
This is where ideas come from: white space.
When you’re paying attention, everything is worth noticing. But you have to make the first move, because it’s hard to notice anything when you’re too full.
Cancel something today.
Skip the meeting, the coffee date, the baby shower, whatever it is you have planned. I know, you feel flaky, or unreliable, or rude. That’s okay! Because you’re none of those things. Your friends will forgive you.
You’re a writer, and your ability to prioritize writing over people-pleasing is your superpower.
Once you cancel something, you’ll have a piece of white space.
Now keep your white space white.
Something might happen that threatens to fill it up immediately. Be diligent! Do absolutely nothing with that piece of time. Do not even write.
Ugh. I know. You cancelled something in order to do nothing?
Do this once a day.
After doing nothing for about ten minutes a day, three days in a row, I usually start to feel more like myself.
Then I start noticing things again.
Then, the writing comes.
And it doesn’t feel like a fight anymore, because I’ve made the time for it!
Here’s to doing nothing and noticing everything.
Photo credit: Karsten Knöfler