Sacrifice Something & Write

If you’ve been reading my blog, by now you’ve figured out that I think many of the secrets to writing are, frankly, annoying: don’t watch TV, get up at 3 a.m. and write, give up housework, or shop online. While none of these are inherently bad, they don’t really address the reasons why some women can’t be Super-Woman-Writer. Ie: be a wife and mother, work full time, attend graduate school, exercise 45 minutes a day, and still find time to write a novel a year.

After much reading and thinking, I think that the bottom line is that to make time to write, you must sacrifice something from your day. The sacrifice can be sleep, it can that you order take-out once a week instead of making supper , or you giving up Netflix, or parties, or hobbies. But even that sounds much simpler than it is. In the end, I think it might be easier to ask yourself if you are willing NOT to do one thing and then use that time to write. I think that not doing one thing changes the dance we have with our culture and society just a little bit. It lets us stand up for writing dreams. Try it for a week. See if it helps. I think you’ll be surprised.

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Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 5

This is the fifth in a several-part post.

The theme of virtually every article about how to write is straightforward: Just do it. Just find the time to write. Just write! So why don’t we? How can so many women be so morally bankrupt that they can’t take this simple advice?

Here’s what I think: we try to pretend that the advice we are given is really good and the failure lies with all the women who can’t make it work for them. That’s wrong. It doesn’t make any sense. Is it not more logically that the advice we are given is just really bad advice for women writers? In a Paris Review Interview Toni Morrison admits that she has no routine. She says, “I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that—mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job. I had to write either in between those hours, hurriedly, or spend a lot of weekend and predawn time” (p. 3). This woman gives me hope.

Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 4

This is the fourth in a several-part post.

Since starting my PhD program, I have thought often and deeply about women and writing, what it means to have a voice and to use language, what it means to fashion a time and space where a woman’s writing work can be done. For most of my adult life there has never been a moment where I was undisturbed, free to do my artistic work away from the interruption of work or children. Rather my life as a creative woman is represented on two registers: society-making and soul-making. In place of single-minded devotion to my creative/artistic work (soul-making), my attention is required by family relationships and work (society-making).

The first thing I noticed about being accepted into the Creative Dissertation track (I’m writing romantic-mystery novel and a contextualizing essay), is that it gave me “permission” to work on my writing. Why do I need to be “allowed” to take the time to write/create?

Because every time I think about writing, I am creating dangerously. To create dangerously for me really means saying, “No, this is my writing time/space and I won’t __________ during this time.” Why is that dangerous? I’m not going to be placed in prison or sentenced to death for creating, but the kids could go hungry, the laundry unwashed, the students papers ungraded, a committee request turned down, and all of the other things that a woman’s life is the center of could go undone or become untied. The world could fall apart and I would be the cause of the destruction of the smooth running life of my loved ones.

Edwidge Danticat says, “All artists, writers among them, have several stories – one might call them creation myths – that haunt and obsess them” (Create Dangerously, p. 5). This is mine: everyone else must be taken care of before I can think about writing the article, the book, the novel. I am my world’s peacemaker. I want everyone to be content, happy, not upset. You can see how that attitude requires much investment in others. When I write, the act is — to quote Danticat — a “disobeyed directive from a higher authority” (p. 5) and that higher authority is our culture that says for women to engage in creative work is an indulgence, an abandonment in fact, of her other duties.

To use a fiction writer’s term, most days I find myself sitting in a “crucible”. “James N. Frey says, “Think of the crucible as the container that holds the characters together as things heat up. The crucible is the bond that keeps them in conflict with one another” (p. 33). My crucible is filled with my need to write and all of those relational, social and cultural tensions that are in conflict with that need.

I know what to do. I need to write. A writer learns to write by writing. Sure that’s a truism, but if is so self-evident as to be hardly worth mention, why do writers/writing teachers/writing books/writing articles keep mentioning it? Because it’s damn hard! To be a published writer, you have to write. How does one write? You show up, sit down, and write. I know what to do, but I don’t do it nearly often enough, because Very Important Tasks (many for which I receive pay) stand between me and my writing time.

But I promise you dear reader that as I work on my novel, I will image the crucible as an old, wooden rowboat. Every day I shall try to poke a few more holes in the rowboat so that it will sink, and I can swim to freedom.

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A Writerly Life: Germaine Greer

“… if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk, or how fast she could run?”
― Germaine Greer, The Change.

A Writerly Life: Joanna Russ

“If you are a woman and wish to become pre-eminent in a field, it’s a good idea to (a) invent it and (b) locate it in an area either so badly paid or of such low status that men don’t want it.”
― Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

A Writerly Life: bell hooks

“Like many writers, I am protective of the time I spend writing. Even though women write more today than ever before, most women writers still grapple with the issue of time. Often writing is the task saved for the end of the day. Not just because it is hard to value writing time, to place it above other demands, but because writing is hard . . . Now I accept that facing the difficult is part of the heroic journey of writing, a preparation, a ritual of sanctification—that it is through this arduous process of grappling with words that writing becomes my true home, a place of solace and comfort.” (p.22)
― bell hooks, remembered rapture: the writer at work

Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 3

This is the third in a several-part post.

The stories we tell ourselves matter.

Do you think about the stories you tell yourself?

Thomas King, in his book The Truth About Stories, says, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” Furthermore, he says, “We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives” (p. 153).

What are the stories you tell yourself?

I know from my PhD work that circumstances – slow to change cultural traditions, critical attitudes, limited spheres of publishing opportunity, even subject matter constraints – make writing success more difficult for women than it is for men, because each of these circumstances has a story attached to it.

We need to explore the stories we live by.

Instead of asking, Why Can’t I Write? The two questions we need to be asking ourselves are:

What stories am I telling myself that prevent me from writing?

What stories are other people telling me that prevent me from writing?