Hello, friends, and happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving! We had a splendid long weekend with just the right proportions of feasting, sunshine, leisure and work. In fact, I am eating leftovers as I type this. It doesn’t get much better than that.
I’ve noticed a pattern in my blogging about writing habits and practices: I often talk about mistakes I’ve made and how I’ve learned, slowly, to work more efficiently. In the past year or so, I’ve talked about writing incentives, feeling stuck, staying focused on work, and being my own good boss. But one thing that I’ve done for years, and never really noticed, is be highly protective of my creative time.
My fiction-writing time is very clearly delineated. It starts when I drop off my daughter at kindergarten and ends when it’s time to pick her up. This year, that’s four 3.25-hour sessions a week, and that slot includes commuting time. Recently, before school, I fell into conversation with two other parents. It was a really great discussion: friendly, constructive, thoughtful problem-solving for the greater good. But when it was time for me to go, I said so without guilt: “Time to go to work.” I declined an invitation to sit on a committee: “Sorry, I’ll be working.” I said I couldn’t attend even a single committee meeting (that occurs during writing time): “Sorry, I’ll be at work.” I did this all cheerfully and without internal debate, despite being a dutiful person who was raised to please the entire world.
As I was walking out, one of the parents said, “When you say you’re working, are you talking about writing?” I felt my defense reflexes kick in. After all, there are so many people who think that writing isn’t work; that somehow it just happens effortlessly in the twenty minutes of free time between nightly chores and falling asleep.
I prepared myself to explain that writing, like all work, requires time to perform and replied, a little warily, “Yes.”
She sighed with relief and said, “That’s great. It’s really good to hear you being firm about needing creative time.”
As it turns out, this parent is an artist who also wants to make more time for her work! She was frustrated because her work time was being nibbled away by a high volume of things that were, taken individually, only small time commitments. So as we walked swiftly from the building, I laid out the realization I had a few years ago:
If I don’t respect my creative time, nobody else will, either.
Once you’ve decided to protect your creative time, it’s so easy to do. It doesn’t require a single concerted effort that will overturn your life. Rather, it requires very modest daily vigilance, sentence by sentence:
“I can’t make that appointment; how about [a suitable time]?”
“I can’t meet for coffee then, but I’m around at [a suitable time], or maybe we could [alternative plan].”
“I’m going to work now.”
And, for friends/family who interrupt you while you’re working: “Nice to see you! I can chat for five minutes [look at watch] and then I’m going to have to kick you out, because I’m working.” And then after five minutes – you’re watching the time, right? – bounce them.
Boom. Just like that, everyone else* respects your creative time, because you showed them how.
*Almost everyone else. There seems to be a special dispensation for mothers, when you’re trying to work at their house. If I find the solution, I will definitely update!