It’s a cliche among writers that the moment we actually have to write something, even when we have the space to write, we will find literally any other thing to do but write.
Clean the house. Do laundry. Reorganize sock drawers. Answer emails.
And the thing I have found about cliches is that they are cliches for a reason. They are often true.
Time is always a big deal. For writers, for creatives, for most people I would imagine. Time management is something we’re all trying to get better at, and, simultaneously, something we’re all just a little frightened of. Which is probably why we’re trying to get better at it.
For me, I know, it’s always been a thorn in my side. The cliche creative procrastination has been a companion since before I ever knew I wanted to be a serious writer. Excuses can come easy, and energy can go just as easily. And, just like that, I can find whole weekends wasted in stuff I can’t even recall later because it was really that important.
It’s something I want to get better at, of course, but, in the end, I don’t think a guilt trip is going to make me better at this.
The thing is, I’m not bad at this. Not universally. When I want to, I can find all kinds of time. NaNoWriMo always stands as a reminder of exactly what I’m capable of. I sometimes think that’s half the reason I do it, so that I have something that tells me I am actually capable of the things I often don’t think I’m capable of. Every November, I find time to write, every day. I sneak it in. I steal minutes. I sit down, face my computer and hours can pass.
Nano reminds me that it’s not about making time or even finding it, it’s about using the time we have. A friend reminded me recently, as well, that we often have more time than we think we do.
So what is it then? Why is this so hard, when, at times, it seems so easy?
In the end, I think it’s not really about time. Like I said, we have more than we think we do, but even what we have is naturally limited. So, whatever we do with our time is less about the time itself and more about our motivation. Which is to say: Us.
Our choices shape how our time is spent. This is obvious but still something I need to write down. Because I often find myself letting time slip through my fingers with no regard, sometimes without even noticing until afterwards. It’s not that I don’t have time. It’s that when I do have time, I don’t have something else: the motivation to use it. It’s like the cliche. It’s not an issue of not having the time. It’s an issue of our priorities, for whatever reason, not lining up when that time is at hand.
So, that begs the question: what is it about having the time that seems to make our motivation scurry away to anything else?
Why do we feel the need to clean the entire house when we should be working?
Why does that one odd job that we’ve already been putting off seem like the thing we have to be doing RIGHT NOW?
Why does everything else not just look enticing but feel like an absolute imperative when we have something else that we’re supposed to be doing?
And, like so much in my life, the moment I ask the question, I already know the answer.
Somewhere, deep down, we fear our creativity, in the same way that we fear anything that really matters in our life. Not because they’re bad, certainly, but because we know they matter. And things that matter have a way of hurting us. It’s vulnerability. Whenever we put something of ourselves into the world, we are exposing ourselves. We are creating places where we can be hurt.
And the fear that comes with our vulnerability works backwards. It knows that the best thing is to not even start. So when we sit down, when we make the determination to do the thing we know we need to do, that we want to do, the fear rises up and looks for any way out. It throws up the excuses. It makes us think anything is more important, but most of all that we can get away with putting off the thing we’re supposed to be doing.
And so it goes. On and on and on. Minutes and hours and days, and we look up and wonder where the time went.
So, what do we do?
And here, again, Nano reminds me.
The Holy Grail for me has always been how to take what I can do in Nano and apply it for the other 11 months of the year, make it happen every day or at least most of them. The thing is, I know November isn’t a magical month wherein I don’t have the same doubts and fears that I have the rest of the year. On the contrary, as I remind myself every year, the fear is still there. The same fear that tells me I can’t, that tries to distract me, is there. It is my constant companion, but I have learned how to set it aside and do it anyway.
So how do I do that every other day?
I know most of the reason I can find the motivation during Nano is the goal, is the fact that I have a goal. And I can set goals for the rest of the year, but I know it’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take me getting over another fear.
Scheduling has always felt to me like something that is both A. unrealistic given the nature of my life, and B. like I’m daring the universe to do the exact opposite. I certainly like having a schedule, knowing what to expect and when to expect it. But it’s for precisely that reason that I’ve always been frustrated by it, because life has rarely afforded me predictability.
Still, I know people get away with it. More to the point, I know I have to try anyway. Because, like I have said so many times, the key is showing up. And to really show up, you have to say you’re going to show up. You have to write it down and make it a priority, and then deal with whatever difficulties arise to try and block you.
And that’s how you do it. You show up. Every day. Every chance you get. And, just like Nano, you will have the voice that says you can put it off, that tells you your socks need to be color-coordinated right now. And, just like Nano, you listen to that voice…
And then you write anyway.