Keep writing. Your words matter. My words matter. Life gets in the way – everyday, every freakin’ day! – but we can’t stop, won’t stop writing. Don’t. Stop. Writing.
“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
I’m just going to lay this out there: The rigors of life itself still chip and distance women from their inner lives.
Expecting that women can just take/make the time needed to write ignores the gender socialization that continues to affect the choices that creative women make. In my own experience, I have found that talented and creative women, myself included, still struggle against both societal and personal pressures.
Two decades ago, researcher Livia Pohlman pointed out, that for women, “The conflict between the demands of family life and the tensions inherent in producing creative work may affect adult creativity in numerous and as yet unexplored ways” (p. 3). The women she interviewed found that “their identities were often divided three ways – as a wife, a mother, and a writer – with their sense of self as a writer being in conflict with the gender expectations of being a good wife and mother” (p. 10).
Even though one would anticipate that much would have changed in twenty years, more currently, this same position is supported by Sarah White Bender (and co-writers) who in a research article published in 2013, said, “In place of single-minded devotion to creative work, women’s attention is commonly diverted from creative pursuits to competing interpersonal priorities” (p. 40).
No matter what we’re told, many women who would like to write (or to write more) succumb to a potent brew of upbringing and social expectations, which makes splitting time between the people we love and the creative work we wish to do a wrenching choice.
In her book Art, bell hooks noted, “Most women I encounter (with the exception of a privileged few) feel that we are still struggling against enormous odds to transform both this culture and our everyday lives so that our creativity can be nurtured in a sustained manner” (p. 128).
Our desire to do creative work, in the experience of many women, is treated as an indulgence, and hooks warned us that we cannot wait for ideal circumstances to be in place. She said, “Each of us must invent alternative strategies that enable us to move against and beyond the barriers that stand in our way” (p. 130).
Before you go, ask yourself what alternative strategies can you invent that allow to you nudge things aside to open a space for writing?
When you finish a piece, celebrate.
When you are working on a long piece, put small celebrations in place along the way.
When you achieve a step toward completing a difficult piece, celebrate.
Why is celebrating important? Celebrating your writing triumphs big and small is a way of honoring your work and yourself. It is a strategy that give you a resting place. We need resting places. In Minding The Muse, Priscilla Long says, “Once we experience the feeling of deep rest after completing a work, it’s natural to strive to get there again” (p. 10). If you never rest, you may give up writing.
It is about the attitude that we as women writers take toward our own work.
Celebrating is about our relation with our own work. Celebration brings joy into our writing life. Choosing to celebrate honors our work.
Today’s Challenge: Come up with a list of celebrations, big and small, that make you feel special. When you finish a piece, a step, a draft, reward yourself with something on your list.
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Pick the hours that work best for you to write. Keep a writing schedule and be as disciplined as you can about keeping your writing appointments with yourself, but pick the hours that work best for you.
1. Writing goals should be expressed as products to be created.
Make goals that are specific and reachable by your own efforts. You want to set goals in which you are entirely in control of the outcome.
I will write for 15 minutes is not a goal. It is part of the process of working towards a goal.
I will write two paragraphs is a goal. I will write a draft of a poem is a goal. I will outline a scene for my novel is a goal.
Also, don’t make goals that depend on other people.
A goal to publish depends on editors. When you choose a goal where the outcome is dependent on the actions of somebody else, through no fault of your own, you may not reach that goal.
For example, last summer I got stung by wasps, went to analytic shock and almost died. Writing an article about it is a terrific goal. And, in fact, I’ve written two. Selling an article about it to a magazine is dependent on the action of an editor. Luckily for me, I’ve sold one and the other one has been submitted for consideration. But my goal was to write the articles.
2. After coming up with your writing goal, break it down into the steps needed to complete it.
What do you need to do to reach your goal? Once I decided to write a magazine article about getting stung, I broke it down into the steps required to reach the goal:
come up with idea for article
research possible markets
write the article
Most days reaching my writing goal was simple. When it was time to write, I worked on my wasp sting article for 15 or 20 minutes. No hesitation. I knew what the writing plan for the day was. Other days I spent time looking at possible markets or did other research and counted that for my writing time.
So here’s a reminder: set writing goals that are specific and reachable by your own efforts, and you will be entirely in control of the outcome.
If you found this post helpful, be sure to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.
Learning to work is about learning to write every day, even if it is for a short time. It’s about returning to the work day after day.
There’s such a thing as making a decision to be productive. Being productive in your writing, as opposed to having a sporadic work habit, gives a lot back to the writer. Work begets work, and when it does, it begins to add up.
In her little book Minding the Muse, Priscilla Long says, “You get, piece by piece, a lot more experience. You develop more skill to bring to the next piece. Also each piece is asked to carry less weight in the artist’s lifetime body of work, and this in turn affords an easier, more fluid working process” (p. 7).
When my boys were toddlers, I worked full time, and had to give up the dream of having long stretches of time to write. So, I wrote during 20 minute coffee breaks at work. What I figured out was that if I wanted to write a 1,500 word article and I roughed up 300 words a day, I would have a rough draft written in five days.
This taught me two things about learning to work:
1. Work in short stretches of time. Push out distractions. Try fifteen minutes. Try twenty or thirty minutes. Whatever you have time for, try that.
2. Have a writing goal. My goal was specific and reachable: 300 words. Just a couple of paragraphs.