Early in 2020, I spent two weekends at a writing workshop with twenty writers at all career stages (published, award winners, struggling first-timers like me, and a woman who wrote under a pen name). As we went around the room describing our day-to-day lives, our writing influences, and sharing writing tips, a number of my workshop-mates suggested we find a designated time to write. The workshop facilitator suggested that it’s best to allocate the same time each day as it’s important to create a habit.
“11am!” a woman blurted out. “Ah, yes, 11am. Perfect!” agreed another, then another, then another, and then the workshop facilitator who is a full-time writer.
I wanted to raise my hand, but being in a room full of mostly white women I decided to give into my racial stereotype as the quiet Asian (not really, I just didn’t want to ruin the moment). What I would have said was that it’s great that we can all find a chunk of time (e.g. 11am) where we can clear our minds and “light a candle” as a tribute to the writing gods that our journey will be kind to us – I couldn’t help but think if all these participants were either retired, housewives to CEOs or pro-athletes, or trust fund babies.
As much as I would love to be a trust-fund writer (and pray to the writing gods each day that day will come), by 11am I’m usually in my second or third meeting of the day or elbow deep in some poorly constructed grant application on some obscure climate-change causing particle engineers found in cement from thirty years ago that will only turn us all into three-headed monsters. So an 11am writing time was out of the question for me because, sadly, I’m a working-writer — I spend M-F, 9-5 at a sometimes-demanding job that robs me of my creativity and soul.
Truth is, I’m sure most aspiring writers have side-gigs that bring home the bacon because we all need a “room of our own” (as Virginia Woolf once wrote) to quietly tap words out on our shiny keyboards. And some of us have careers of sorts with unreasonable bosses, toxic co-workers, and needy clients that drain the living daylights out of us. For me, an 11am designated writing time was a no-go, but I knew these workshop attendees were right. If I’m to be serious about writing, I need to find a regular time to devote myself to the craft.
For several weeks before the pandemic sent us home, I started going into the office before anyone else showed up and I would pull out my notebook, breathe in the office dusty-toner smell, and put in 20-30 minutes of writing before I started my day. During this time, I didn’t turn my office computer on, check my email, or even wander into the lunchroom to make a cup of coffee because I wanted to give myself this time. Some mornings were hard to find that headspace after a busy commute, or the dreary weather was doing a number on my mood, or I’ll find an excuse to wander into the lunchroom where I’ll chat with the office eager-beaver who always got there before the boss did, or I’ll turn my computer on and get sucked into the email void. But when this happened, I’ll get this nagging feeling in me, like an upset stomach, that was likely my body telling me that “you’ll never be a writer if you don’t put in the work!”
When the pandemic hit and work life became home life, I initially found it hard to find time to write. First of all, there was too much going on in the world and even if I sat down at my computer, it was easier to just check my work email than it was to get creative. Creativity requires mental and emotional energy, something non-creatives don’t understand. So, work became as much of a distraction as an annoyance as everything just bled into one big-messy-I’m-working-eating-sleeping-writing-bingingNetflix in the same 700sq feet space. But slowly, as the months went by, I noticed how much more time I had because I didn’t have the commute or the awkward chats in the lunchroom or someone interrupting me to tell me about how they spent $200 on a dinner with a woman they just met online.
I tallied up my time. I normally work 35 hours a week, 7 hours a day. Part of that time is spent socializing, listening to the dating lives of others, running to meetings, being social, commuting to the restroom, driving to and from work.
What if I added that time — let’s say it’s about 2 hours in a day — and I spent that writing? That’s 2×5 = 10 hours extra a day that I used to spend at work that I could spend writing.
Another trick I learned was drawing boundaries. It’s hard when work and home is one (work-eat-sleep-write-binge). But I still clock in at 830 and clock out at 430 because those important non-work hours are for me. So I’ll try to find some time before work (7-8) and after work (430-530 or 630-830) to find the mindspace to write.
Balancing work and a creative writing career isn’t an easy task and often competing priorities get jumbled in day-to-day life, family obligations, responsibilities, binging on Netflix series or just getting sucked into Instagram.
So until the day when I become a trust fund writer, I’ll keep experimenting with when and where I can be the most creative.