Women Writers Who Give Me Hope

How does a woman learn to commit to safekeeping time and space to get her writing work done? Finding answers to that question is not easy. The kind of things a woman should change, commit to, and double down on to make her writerly life a success are hard to pinpoint. The theme of virtually every article I have read about how to write is straightforward: Just do it. Just find the time to write. Just write! You need a self-management goal plan, and you need to do it!

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 writers who can’t make it work for them. The failure lies at our feet.

It doesn’t make any sense. Is it not more logically that the advice we are given is just really bad advice?

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.”

Likewise, Margaret Atwood, despite her enormous output, does not write every day. She said: “You always think, ‘Oh, if only I had a little chalet in the mountains! How great that would be and I’d do all this writing . . . Except, no, I wouldn’t. I’d do the same amount of writing I do now and the rest of the time I’d go stir crazy. If you’re waiting for the perfect moment you’ll never write a thing because it will never arrive. I have no routine. I have no foolproof anything. There’s nothing foolproof.”

These woman give me hope.

I know that I often feel totally overextended, as I suppose most women who want to create do, and like bell hooks, I think “often and deeply about women and work, about what it means to have the luxury of time – time spent collecting one’s thoughts, time to work undisturbed” (p. 125).

Writing requires time, and it is difficult to try and sneak in shreds of a creative life. We can pretend it is not so, but sneaking a life because the real one is not given room enough to thrive is hard on a woman’s vitality. I know, deep inside, that it is not a scheduling issue. And I suspected for many it is not a resistance issue, even though Rosanne Bane (2012) said, “Every writer experiences some kind of resistance from time to time” (p. 5). Writing is about art and craft, but it is also about discipline. Women who know their current methods are not working need simple practices that bring them to their writing space regularly. It is too easy to be subsumed, and for people to assume that this is natural and how it should be. It is a matter of staking our ground to get and maintain a sustainable and satisfying writing habit.

We can do it. There is hope, especially if we are willing to listen to women writers who have done it, who have made it work, like Morrison and Atwood and hooks. Let’s not listen to the people who demand that we just do it! They don’t get it.

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How I get Things Done: Managing my Actions

“Your mind is for getting ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

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Creative people struggle to get things done. They just do. I’ve always felt a little bit embarrassed about the fact that I write down every freaking last thing I need to do during the day in a cheap notebook and give myself a check mark or a tiny colorful sticker when I complete the task.

But, I’m currently reading The Art of Getting Things Done, and I’m feeling a whole lot more confident about my way of reminding and encouraging myself to get things done. The book is a national best-selling book by productivity consultant David Allen. It was published in 2001 and updated in 2015, and it’s a staple of productivity enthusiasts everywhere. He believes the key to managing all your stuff (for writers, think, writing projects) is managing your actions. His Getting Things Done system, often call GTD, is based on a simple fact: The more information bouncing around inside your head, the harder it is to decide what needs attention. As a result, you spend more time thinking about your tasks than actually doing them.

Allen said, “What you do with your time, what you do with information and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities—these are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real issue is how we manage actions.”

The key to managing our writing ‘stuff’ is managing our actions

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For us writers, this is key: our success depends on how we manage actions. So, fellow writers, “How are you managing your actions?”

Allen said, “In training and coaching thousands of professionals, I have found that lack of time is not the major issue for them (though they themselves may think it is): the real problem is a clack of clarity and a definition about what the project really is, and what the associated next-action steps required are” (p. 19).

Do you know what your next-action steps are?

For something to be an action step, we have to be able to do something.
Writing is not just the writing, it’s all the associated tasks that go along with it: finding markets for our work, doing the research, maybe calling or emailing someone for an interview or for information, drafting, editing. So for writers, some examples of next actions steps might be:

1. Find three magazines that print the kind of article I want to write.
2. Call Deborah for quote for article
2. Outline article

Be clear about the things you have to do

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I’m currently writing a magazine article. I could write down in my bullet journal, “Work on article,” but, when you think about that seriously, it’s not actionable. “Write introduction,” is actionable. As noted above, email Deborah for a quote is actionable. For me, today’s note is: 15 minutes on article. That is actionable; then, the next question is “what is the next action?” If I don’t finish the draft today, tomorrow the action will remain: 15 minutes on article. Eventually the next action will be: proofreading and mail article.

When you define what the next action (it doesn’t need to be a BIG action) that you can take on a writing project, you have something to do. Jeff Goins, over at goinswriter.com calls it a “bias towards action” and says we need to develop it.

Find an Organization System that works for you

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You’ll be better equipped to undertake focused thinking about your writing when your tools for the actions you need to take are part of your daily organizational style.

There are lots of productivity systems and methods out there, and while some people worship one method or another, the best way to use a system that works best for your needs, not to strictly adhere to “rules.” If you want to get things done without compromising your creativity or productivity, you need a productivity system. And it needs to work. Just pick a system and use it. If it doesn’t work well for you, try another one.

Living in a Parallel Universe

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Some days I feel like a time traveler, traveling between two universes.

If I want to be a writer, I need to write regularly. This is true: nothing can teach me more about writing than the act of writing itself. The more I write, the better writer I’ll be.

So I have to give myself the chance, the time, the opportunity to write regularly. Some days, I set my sights small, and I write a little bit, only 15 or 30 minutes. Other days, I crawl out of bed at 5 a.m. and write for two hours.

Here’s another truth: my writing life, like my real life, is always slipping away from me. There is never enough time for writing; it is a parallel universe where every moment spent in my real life is a moment missed in my very, interesting and entertaining writing life, and vice versa. Some days, like today, when I’ve got professorly duties, plus family and life obligations, I’d like to be locked in windowed room, with food anonymously lelt for me.

But that’s not life, is it?

The best I can do is tell myself: Don’t. Forget. To. Write.

Dream the impossible dream

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We are women. We do things that are impossible, like herding cats. Every. Freaking. Day. Today is a good day to remember that nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility when it comes to your writing dreams. Go and write. And when you need a break, herd a few cats.

You are braver than you think

To write when we have so many other pressing demands takes courage.

Katherine Anne Porter said, “One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it.”

It takes courage to move beyond wanting to write, to writing. Courage to put words down on paper. Courage to tune out family and responsibilities, if even only for a short time.

But there is no other way to be a writer. The actual, genuine, true gift of writing is courage. You, dear writer, are braver than you think.