Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 1

When I first tell people that my research is about women who had difficulty finding time to write, I am usually met with reactions that range from making me feel that I don’t measure up (the unspoken “What’s the matter with you?” side-eye one of my professors gave me when I broached this as a dissertation topic) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).

The general assumption is that it’s a time management problem. And that if I wanted it badly enough, I’d find the time to do it. Unlike food, shelter and clothing, writing is not a basic human need, although to a frustrated woman writer it may feel like it is. So, in most societies, a woman’s desire to write is superseded by her life circumstances.

The standard advice touted by writing magazines, and the internet is, “Make writing a priority.” And the two most common recommendations seem to be: You have to make time to write and you have to give up something to write. One oft-touted quote is: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” (H. Jackson Brown Jr.)

The implication is that if you take your writing seriously, you’ll give it the time and consideration it deserves. I had read so many articles on finding time to write that I assumed it was true.

But there was one problem that seemed unsolvable. No matter how much I created calendars, not matter how often I said I was going to write early in the morning or late at night, it wasn’t long before I wasn’t writing again.
Some days I write nothing, because I have no time, and I feel that pressure. I have had a special need to learn all I could to help myself and other women like me who have had let writing be stopped, interrupted, put aside, or left to die over and over again, and are tormented by the unwritten.

The idea that women can “just make writing a priority” is simply airbrushing reality. It is time to talk.

More tomorrow . . .

Why do You Write?

Today’s post is presented in a form called Lyric Essay that I was introduced to a creative writing teacher.

A Friday Q & A

Q: I return again and again to what I consider the most basic of personal questions, yet at the same time perhaps the toughest to answer. The question is, Why do you write? You could have done anything else—paint, do brain surgery, grow gardens, whatever—but you chose to write. Why?

A. That question haunts me. But, it also reminds me that all writers write from the same place—a wound. Kathryn Harrison says, “I write because it’s the only thing I know that offers the hope of proving myself worthy of live” (p. 71). Life goes on, but our shattering wounds are there. Everywhere we go. Everywhere we went.

Q. How does the process of writing help you?

A. I write to find my voice. I write to make sense of the world. I write to figure out the crazy things people do. I write as a way to process my disasters, sort out the messiness of life. Creatives, and I’m using that as a noun, see their world slightly skewed. We’ve been exposed to things that have pained our souls.

Q. Why do you write?

A Writerly Life: Robin McKinley

“One of the biggest, and possibly the biggest, obstacle to becoming a writer… is learning to live with the fact that the wonderful story in your head is infinitely better, truer, more moving, more fascinating, more perceptive, than anything you’re going to manage to get down on paper. (And if you ever think otherwise, then you’ve turned into an arrogant self-satisfied prat, and should look for another job or another avocation or another weekend activity.) So you have to learn to live with the fact that you’re never going to write well enough. Of course that’s what keeps you trying — trying as hard as you can — which is a good thing.”

—Robin McKinley (author of fantasy and children’s books; winner of the Newbery Medal)

Our True Priorities Dictate Our Time

We get told this over and over: We all have the same 24 hours a day and how we use them is up to us.

As if, somehow, we’re focusing on things that aren’t important to us. And that’s what hinders our writing.

But, let’s be honest, there are always competing priorities for a woman writer’s time:

Our job – because we all have bills
Our relationships – dealing with kids, partner, parents
Our health – exercise, leisure, sleep

For women, our true priorities – our relationships, our children, our work – dictate how we spend our hours each day.

We can’t, as so many advice-givers advocate, just make time to write. We have to schedule our writing time around our priorities. We focus on things that ARE important to us.

In addition to being a wife, mother, and writer, I am a college professor. Today is graduation. I MUST be at graduation, right. It’s a school requirement, I can’t skip it and write.

Should I feel bad about that? I think not.

Like me, you have challenges in your life that are personal to you. Your job is to determine your true priorities and manage your time around those priorities so that your challenges do not create barriers.

The solution is not to in time management, it is in priority management.

A Writerly Life: Mary Oliver

“Believe me, if anybody has a job and starts at 9, there’s no reason why they can’t get up at 4:30 or five and write for a couple of hours, and give their employers their second-best effort of the day – which is what I did.”
— Mary Oliver

It’s Not Easy to be a Woman and to be a Writer

When it comes to help with finding time to write, a review of the articles and blog posts that talk about it is actually somewhat disturbing. A google search of the key words “time to write” results in over 1 billion hits!, and an examination of these articles and blog posts reveals a certain distain for people who have trouble finding time to write. The attitude of many authors is illustrated in this comment from one I’m here-to-set-you-straight-writer: “If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write”.

Telling someone to take the time to write, doesn’t teach them how to get there.

One reason I study the conditions that affect women’s writing is that the sheer complexity of it guarantees that many diverse factors will come into play. All of which are important, and none of which should be dismissed as simply individual differences. I believe the problem is a complicated weave of our social-cultural conditioning, the state of the publishing industry, and our own personal beliefs about our writer-selves.

This is why my blog is a combination of an examination of my own writing process, methodology to make writing a habit that is hard to quit, and academic information on how social and cultural mores affect women writers.

How has being a woman and a writer impacted you? Let me know in the comments below.