Recently a friend asked me for some advice. He had been thinking about writing a book and wanted to know if I thought his ideas were viable. Really, he didn’t want advice so much as he wanted affirmation that his subject was book-worthy, which I enthusiastically gave him, because it was.
And then came the familiar refrain: “Now if I could just find time to write. The problem is I have so many things on my plate.” And I knew then that his book will probably never see the light of day.
It’s not that I don’t get it. There was a time when I was full of ideas and aspirations and spent more time reading books about writing than actually writing, when I was convinced that I required a minimum of two uninterrupted hours in order to write a measly paragraph. This, I told myself and anyone who asked, was how long it took me to get into the right “head space” so that my writing could “flow.” Any less than that and I couldn’t possibly write anything worth reading.
And then came the familiar refrain: “Now if I could just find time to write.” …I knew then that his book will probably never see the light of day.
I thoroughly believed this, and I clung to this belief, even though it was utter malarkey. The truth was that I was too scared to start, and this gave me an excuse not to. Because who has two uninterrupted hours in their day? Back then I didn’t even have to contend with all of the distractions of social media or having a family.
I’m not sure when exactly I got over this or what it was that gave me the push I needed to get started. But at some point I came to understand a fundamental truth: we make time for the things that actually matter to us. If I wasn’t making time to write, then writing clearly didn’t matter to me as much as I believed it did.
But at some point I came to understand a fundamental truth: we make time for the things that actually matter to us.
I had to decide that writing mattered more to me than surfing the Internet, chatting with friends or watching TV (and I really loved TV). But that was only half of the equation.
I also had to learn that writing is not some precious, ethereal experience that involves sitting and staring at the page or screen for an hour and a half as you wait for the muse to descend and grace you with the perfect flow of words. Being a writer — especially a professional writer — is, more than anything else, about showing up.
You don’t have to show up for two hours, or ten, or even one. You can just show up for fifteen minutes. Or five. But you have to show up. If you don’t, the words will never come.
Being a writer — especially a professional writer — is, more than anything else, about showing up.
My first novel (not the first to be published, mind; the first I actually managed to complete, which now sits in a large three-ring binder on a bottom bookshelf in my office) got written primarily during lunch breaks when I worked full-time as a secretary. Subsequent novels were also written that way.
You would think that becoming a full-time freelance writer would make it easier to make time for my fiction, but actually the opposite is true. These days, while those two-or-more-hour long writing sessions do occasionally happen (though never without interruption), it’s more usual for my novels and short stories to get squeezed into the cracks of my day, in between article assignments and loads of laundry and meal prep and actually talking to my husband and walking the dog and picking up the house and the million-and-one marketing activities that today’s authors are required to engage in instead of actually writing.
It’s more usual for my novels and short stories to get squeezed into the cracks of my day.
And here’s the thing: what separates the professional writer from the hobbyist or wannabe is not that pros get paid or that writing is their job. It’s that professionals show up. Granted, there are times, even for the staunchest pros, where life gets in the way and breaks need to happen. But as a rule, the pros show up. Even if just for five minutes.
And what’s almost magical is that when you cultivate a habit of showing up, eventually, the words are already there when you sit down. You don’t have to sit there willing and praying for them to come. When you show up to write regularly, your subconscious keeps working on your story even when you’re cooking dinner or mowing the lawn or folding laundry or feeding the baby or doing whatever it is you get paid to do. And when next you sit down, your muse is ready to go.
When you cultivate a habit of showing up, eventually, the words are already there when you sit down.
This won’t happen at first. It take practice to get there. But practice also requires — you guessed it — showing up. If you make a habit of showing up to write, you will get to that place where the words come quickly, like turning on a tap. Probably sooner than you think.
So if you’ve been putting off writing, believing you just don’t have time, I hereby challenge you to commit to just five minutes a day of showing up a the keyboard, or with your pen and notepad or your voice recorder, whichever method happens to be your jam. You might only write ten words. You might write a hundred. You might not write any at all, at first. But stick with it. It’s not about producing words right now. It’s about cultivating the habit. It’s about showing up.
And before you scoff at only five minutes, think about this: in his book On Writing (which every writer, would-be or otherwise, should read), Stephen King points out that if you simply write one page a day, you’ll have written a novel in a year. One page is about 250 words. With practice, you may be able to write 250 words in five minutes. Or ten or 15, tops. And once you’ve managed sitting down for that first five minutes, it’s not unusual to find yourself staying longer.
So what are you waiting for? If you had time to read this article, you have time to write. Here’s a timer. Get started.