First, a little story about marriage:
Mark and I struggle to find time alone together. Our world revolves around our kids and their schedules and our work schedules (’tis the season of life we’re in) and getting out for dinner or drinks or a hike or whatever by ourselves can be pretty hard to arrange.
This is not unique, I know.
What we’ve discovered is that the more time that goes by between these dates, the more pressure we put on ourselves to have a ton of fun. There is an expectation of perfection (easy conversation, romance, laughter) that never existed when we used to go out whenever we used to hit the town on a whim. And if doesn’t live up to our standards for any one of a million reasons, we are disappointed in us.
I’m reminded of this when I think about the argument for writing every day hyped by every writing instructor and writing blog and writing book in the world. For years I resisted the idea. I was too busy. I believed that because I called myself a writer I would be able to put pen to paper on a whim even though I hadn’t written for ages and everything would be perfect.
But here is what happens:
I arrange for a few hours to myself on a weekend. I load up my laptop and two or three different journals – because I’m not sure which one will be the one I’ll want to use – and drive to the nearest coffee shop. I order a half-sweet vanilla latte in a mug and spread my journals out on the table. Unsure where to start, I put them back in my bag and take out my laptop instead. Then I give myself 5 minutes to check social media and email first, which of course turns into half an hour, and then I open whatever story I last worked on or, more likely, I open a blank word document and
I STARE AT IT.
It stares back at me.
I don’t know what to write.
But I came here to write, so write I must. I close my laptop and take out a journal and free write for a bit to see if I can uncover any potential topics, and then I get up and use the restroom and get some water and sit down and pick a topic and open my laptop up and check email and social media again, and finally start writing and of course it’s not focused because I’m pulling things out of thin air at this point, and after one paragraph it is time for me to head home because I need to make dinner for my family. And I feel disappointed. It will probably be at least a month before I get another such opportunity.
Because so much time is going by between writing sessions, I am putting an immense amount of pressure on myself for creativity and productivity. I want it to be perfect, in much the same way I want my dates with Mark to be perfect because it’s been so long.
I’m asking myself to run a marathon when I haven’t been training.
Now compare this to what I’ve experienced in the last year. I get out of bed before anyone else. I tiptoe around, making coffee and doing about ten minutes of yoga just to get the blood flowing to my brain. I sit down with my journal and free write a little, again just to wake up and find out what I’m thinking about (because who knows what they’re thinking about first thing in the morning??). Then I open the document I worked on the day before, and I write/revise until my son (the chronic early riser) stumbles in rubbing his eyes.
If what I wrote was good, then great. If it wasn’t, I’ll return to it tomorrow. No big deal.
I cannot tell you what will work for you. And I will be the first to admit that I loathe getting out of bed early.
But I have completed more writing projects (including a book) in the last year than in the previous 20 years combined.
That feels like evidence enough to keep setting the alarm every day.
I cannot stress enough that for years I resisted the importance of writing every day. Well, I thought, that person giving the advice is a full-time writer. Of course they have time for that. (S)he can’t possibly understand how busy I am.
Today, I want to offer you this reassurance: I do understand how busy you are. I swear on a stack of O Magazines that I do. But might you give it a try for two weeks? Thirty minutes, every day, for two weeks, just to see what happens?
My grandfather used to say you can do anything for a short time.