At the workshop I led at the Main Library last month, I shared with a room full of aspiring writers the top ten writing lessons I’ve learned from interviewing bestselling authors for Writer’s Digest.
More than one of those tips relate to finding more time and space in our lives to write—because this is the number one thing I’m asked about as the Library’s Writer-in-Residence. In my inbox, at my office hours, and on Twitter. It was also the most persistent question we got from our readership during my nearly ten years as Chief Editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. And, it’s the most familiar comment I hear from friends who think they might give the whole writing thing a try...later. Everyone wants a magical, secret way to find an hour hidden in every day.
At a recent book club meeting I attended, I was explaining to a group of neighborhood women how I’d written my first two published novels (not to mention the previous, never-published writings) at night, while my two young children slept, and while working a full-time job at the magazine.
“Wow,” one of them said. “You must have really wanted this.”
It sounds a little harsh to deliver this advice sometimes, but the “secret” is this:
You have to want it enough to make the time.
You will not find the time otherwise; it will not present itself to you. Whether you dream of writing a book, or improving your golf game, or mastering French cooking, or starting your own business, you have to find a way to put the hours in.
Which means you’ll need to make the sacrifices necessary to make it a priority.
Nobody really wants to hear this advice—which is understandable. But writing for publication is rarely, if ever, a quick or easy path, so we might as well be honest.
If the reason you don’t want to hear this is… perhaps… an inkling that you’re not willing to sacrifice sleep or social time or peace of mind in pursuit of this particular goal? At least, not right now, at this point in your life? No problem! No one is pressuring you to. There is no reason to beat yourself up for things you’re not doing. Life is filled with enough guilt trips as it is.
But if you do, you really do, want to make some changes? Read on:
My favorite tip on this subject came from an interview I did with New York Times bestselling suspense author Lisa Scottoline, opens a new window:
“The world is really tough on people who want to be writers, and there’s precious little support for it. And if you’re a good person, and most people are, you have a lot of responsibilities. We’re so good that we put them first, and lose ourselves.
I think it’s a bit about being an adult who has a dream. Like, little kids, when you ask, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' You think that when you’re 30, you should have answered that and you should be it already. But that’s really not fair. In my case, it didn’t work out. I was a lawyer, and when I got divorced and my daughter was born, I wanted to be something else. You have to nurture this dream.
I visualize it as a candle. You’re the person in the movie walking around in the dark scary house, and you have the candle in the little dish, and you have to protect it with your hand. It can blow out very easily. And the world is not going to help you hold the candle. You’ve got to protect the candle. You’ve got to go, 'No, I can’t come into work on the weekends—that’s when I work on my novel.'
People deserve those dreams, and they have to fight for them. You don’t want to be at the end of your life and go, 'Oh, I met all the obligations people had for me.' You have to believe that it actually can happen, and nobody tells you that. It can happen! But, you have to give yourself permission, say to yourself: 'I’m not foolish for wanting this.' "
I love seeing the way this resonates with writers when I relay this at workshops because it so resonated with me—then and now. What’s so brilliant about Lisa’s metaphor is that it allows for all the many reasons we aren’t writing. It’s not that we’re lazy. It’s that we’re busy, with worthwhile things! It’s that we’re wrestling with very real self-doubt. It’s that we’re alone in wanting this as much as we do. And yet. We have to protect the candle.
Because of this quote, I have this candle on my writing desk at home. (Real picture above! Not a stock photo!) It reminds me, even now, that this beautiful flame is worth it—and that it’s up to me to keep it lit.
Until next time,
2019 Writer-in-Residence: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County
Editor-at-Large: Writer's Digest
Novelist: Almost Missed You • Not That I Could Tell • Forget You Know Me • St. Martin's Press
jessicastrawser.com, opens a new window / t @jessicastrawser, opens a new window / f @jessicastrawserauthor, opens a new window