Finding Time to Write When Life Has Other Plans

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A couple years ago my husband and I joined our local gym. We’d hit our mid-forties and decided the time had come to trim our waistlines before someone else told us we had to do so. We started gung-ho, totally committed. An hour, three to four nights a week, both of us running on treadmills like a pair of hamsters on a foot race. We each lost a pound here, an inch there, everything going according to plan. Never felt better. In fact, that fall we took a trip to Hawaii and hiked up and down Kauai’s Waimea Canyon without so much as a muscle cramp. Believe me, that’s saying something.

Then we came home, and life happened. I left a job and started to write full-time. Our oldest daughter graduated from college and got married, while the youngest packed her bags to start the process all over again. We helped move the girls from dorm rooms to apartments to houses and sometimes back home in between. Two grandsons were born. My heart will never quite be the same.

Also during that time we renovated one bedroom into a home office—and while we were at it, decided to throw the family room into the mix as well only to discover our house had some foundation issues. Ouch. Throughout it all, my writing took off, I joined the reading staff at Spry and…well, I think you can see where this going. Our trips to the gym went from three nights a week to maybe one to zilch.

Over dinner one night my husband mentioned his co-worker, Dennis, got up at four a.m. to hit the gym before work. We sat there a bit, chewing our steak as though it was a new form of meditation. I looked over at him. He looked at me. I smiled. That “shit, I should’ve kept my mouth shut” look spread across his face.

Our gym is literally a few miles from our doorstep. A more ambitious person might even run or bike there. That night before bed we made a pact—if we got up an hour early and worked out for a half hour, five days a week, we’d easily hit the 150 minutes every nutritionist, trainer, and health junkie on the planet recommended one needed to stay fit. Done. Done.

In case you were wondering, the alarm has a nasty way of doing exactly what you tell it to do. At five a.m. sharp, we both groaned, said a few choice words, then slid ourselves out of bed like two wet noodles. I took one look in the mirror and told my husband I couldn’t go out in public looking like THIS. He pulled on some pants, grabbed the bag with our gear and went out to start the car. We drove to the gym in silence, did our thing, went home, showered, got on with the day. At about 7:30 p.m. we started a yawning contest until we called it a night so we could do it all over again the next morning.

We managed to make it through the week, then another and another—this week marks Week 6. It’s gotten easier. Our muscles are beginning to feel more toned than sore. I’ve discovered the wonders of dry shampoo. We still have mornings where we’d love nothing more than to chuck the @#%! clock against the wall, yet we know little by little what we’re doing is adding up to something good.

So how does any of this translate to the writing life? Think about the last time you sat down to start a new creative endeavor. All the possibility, the spark burning bright. Then your partner loses her job, a loved one needs care, the grass has to be mowed before the next rain. One thing, then the next and the next. Life starts pushing around the edges. Instead of getting to the desk three mornings a week, you only get there once—or maybe not at all. Suddenly, the idea begins to fade, frustration builds. You begin to ask questions like: “Am I disciplined enough to be a writer?” Maybe you even give up.

A wise man named John Lennon once said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Celebrate life. Give it a voice. There are 1,440 minutes in a single day. What if one made a pact to take at least fifteen of those minutes to sit down with pen and paper? Fifteen minutes is enough time to have a conversation with one of your characters or to write a page of dialogue. It’s also enough time to sketch out a scene or line edit a few paragraphs. Maybe you could use the time to make a list of new ideas or figure out which ones need to marinate awhile. The bottom line is a lot can be accomplished in fifteen minutes as long as one shows up with some consistency. If more time becomes available—GREAT. Either way, touching the work daily gives it room to grow. Little by little, page by page, it’ll add up to something good.

How have you dealt with the work/life balance? Feel free to weigh-in by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Also, if you have any questions and/or topics you’d like to see covered in future blog posts, drop a line here.

Photo Credit: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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