WFMAD Day 30 – your time is your currency

My friend Susan Campbell Bartoletti has a new book out: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.

You should buy it and read it. Five reviewing publications have given it stars (so far). Sue has written a fascinating account of her research trip to Arkansas to attend a KKK Congress. (They don’t call them rallies anymore.) She wrote four blog entries from 8/23 – 26 with details of the trip.

Thank you all for the questions you’ve been sending in. I will keep answering them in the coming weeks.

I’m impressed by all you accomplish: your writing, gardening, running, and family time. Could you discuss what you give up to make this happen -or- perhaps share your typical schedule?

This is an awesome question. And it has a partial connection to Sue.

Sue Bartoletti is one of the friends with whom I’ve had ongoing conversations (for years) about how to balance writing with life. And how to balance life with life.

If I do – occasionally – have my life in balance, it is because of friends like Susan, and Betsy Partridge, and Deb Heiligman, fellows writers and travelers on the creative journey who share my values. Lesson One: Seeking out kindred spirits is one of the most important things you can do for your own spirit and for your writing.

The second piece of my balancing act happened on September 21, 1981. That was the day that Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed as the first female Supreme Court Justice in the history of the United States. If you are younger than 40, this probably does not seem like a big deal. It was HUGE.

I heard the news when I was driving home from my community college classes. I was 18 years old. The news was so shocking and amazing and world-changing, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and cried. In an interview later, Justice O’Connor said (paraphrasing here) that women can do everything, they just can’t do it all at the same time. I think that applies to both men and women and I think it is advice that applies throughout our adult lives. Lesson Two: Most of the time you can’t do everything that you want. So you have to be really clear on what your true priorities are.

The third piece of my balance started on a very scary night in a hospital about 12 years ago. My life was completely out of balance at that point and (not surprisingly) I was sick. A lot. One lung infection got out of hand and landed me in the hospital, jacked up on meds that made breathing easier and sleeping impossible.

The old woman in the bed next to me couldn’t sleep either. She spent the entire night talking to the very patient nurse’s assistant who held her hand. The old woman talked about how she regretted all the mistakes she made in her life that had brought her to that point. She was dying and none of her children or grandchildren would visit her.

I kept watching the second hand whirring around the clock on the wall. By dawn, I decided to change the way I’d been living. Because, Lesson Three: You’re going to die. So you might as well take charge of your life while you can.

It did not happen overnight. I was very good at taking one step backwards for every two steps I took forward. But I started to write more. To read more. To vent in my journal. To think about the kind of life I really wanted to live. I exercised. I explored art. I made peace with some broken relationships.

What did I give up? I gave up the bullshit. I stopped volunteering for causes I did not truly believe in. I stopped watching most television. I stopped trying to mold my life into the plastic suburban dream that I had deluded myself into believing would fit me.

And somehow I wound up here.

How you spend your time tells you as much (if not more) about your life than how you spend your money. If you have to dedicate 40 or 50 hours a week to a job that pays the bills, or to the care of people who depend on you, or to your education… or a combination of those three things, then I hope you have the integrity to pour the right amount of energy into those tasks.

Most of us squeeze our writing into the cracks of time that appear around the edges of our major responsibilities. Your time for your writing is precious and rare. How can you protect it?

I promise I’ll post about my daily schedule soon. Right now, you need to get to work.

Ready… “I’m a rewriter. That’s the part I like best…once I have a pile of paper to work with, it’s like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture.” Judy Blume

Set… find a quiet place. If you keep a calendar, pull it out. Just for the month of August. After you read the prompt, turn off the Internet so you can ponder in peace.

Today’s prompt: Answer the following questions:

In the last month:

1. How much time, on average, did you write every day? Every week?

2. What did you have to give up to do that writing?

3. Do you wish you wrote more? What could you have done to make that happen?

Looking forward…

4. Who are your kindred spirits? How often can you get together with them?

5. What are the essential priorities in your life?

6. What habits steal time from your priorities?

7. In anther ten years, which of those habits will have brought you a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life?

8. What do you need to change to create time and space for writing (and other art) in your life?

9. What is holding you back from making those changes?

10. How do you feel about that?

Scribble…Scribble…Scribble!!!

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21 Comments

  1. Posted August 30, 2010 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    I am always nonplussed by folks who say, “I’m going to write as soon as I can find the time.” Honestly, no one leaves little pieces of time around for a writer to find. We have to grab/stash/beg/or borrow time because writing is more important than the wait.

    Laurie is correct: don’t other things steal your writing time. You must steal it for yourself and your writing.

    BIC, friends. Butt In Chair. It’s the only mantra that counts.

    Thanks, Laurie, for your smart advice.

    xxxJane

  2. Posted August 30, 2010 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this post. For the last 12-13 months I have been frustrated and often depressed that I have not taken control of MY daily life — from spending too much time and energy at my J-O-B which only expects more and more from me, to letting bad television suck me into a comatose stupor, depleting creativity and time. TODAY I too will stop the bullshit.

  3. Posted August 30, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    Thank you so, so much for this post. I needed it so badly. I *do* feel like I have to squeeze writing around the edges of everything else and it’s become increasingly frustrating. This weekend one of my kindred spirits and I made a pact to write and check in with each other every day, to make our goals a priority, to resist the time suck of inconsequential things. This posy could not have come at a better time ~ thank you for the inspiration and motivation.

  4. Posted August 30, 2010 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    I feel like this summer marked the tipping point for me. Writing has been a part of my life for about 15 years now, but this summer I had a project that drove me, to the point I was even writing during a conference I was chairing, because the story would not let me go. Your first WFMAD challenge helped me bring my life to the point where this could happen. So thank you!

  5. Posted August 30, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Laurie,
    Even though we have talked about this forever, and still do, this post brought tears to my eyes. It really does make such a difference to have kindred spirits out there in the world plowing their fields while you plow yours.
    I had just read this poem by Marge Piercy that Jane Yolen had posted on Facebook. I’m going to link to it here, I hope.

    http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-be-of-use/

    Love you, girlfriend. Now back to work for me.

    Deb

  6. Posted August 30, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you SO much for choosing my question for your column!

    The most difficult thing for me was giving up the things that didn’t matter to me without feeling the guilt. It had been handed down through generations. :-) After I chose family, career, and writing and let the other stuff go, I was able to write.

    What did I give up? Causes that weren’t my own, people with negative energy, and TV. Granted I can’t talk about the latest person kicked off the island other reality shows, but I have written so much in these past two years.

    My regret is I did not start sooner. My father knew I had it in me and encouraged me to write. My first novel, when it is published someday, will have to be dedicated to his memory.

    Don’t wait for tomorrow.

    Now to log off the internet and ponder those WONDERFUL questions you posed to see if I can hone my writing life further.

  7. Posted August 30, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    What an inspiring and moving post. THANK YOU for sharing this. Every writer needs to read this. Heck, everyone (writer or not) needs to read this.

  8. Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Such a wonderful, inspiring post. I think the absolute best thing we can do to put our lives into balance is look long and hard at what we put in it, make choices on what’s important and live without regret. Too many people try to do it all and feel guilt over what they cannot do or what they can’t do well.

    Trim the fat off your life just like a manuscript, enjoy what you have and feel the satisfaction that you’re following your heart, owning each moment and doing what’s right for you.

    All the best with many thanks for this,

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  9. Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Great post! I can’t help but wonder: are some of us more in love with the IDEA of being a writer instead of being in love with writing?

  10. Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Beautifully said, Laurie.

  11. Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    THANK YOU so much for this wonderful post and a reminder that our lives are truly our own to decide what to do with. Sure, I would love to spend my days writing and painting instead of toiling at a job that pays the bills but until that dream becomes a reality I just try and remind myself of my priorities in life and focus on things that matter to me. Just like you I now watch almost no television and have relaxed my standards on things like housework and the accumulation & maintenance of stuff. Life is better than things!

    Also, I use that saying all the time “women can have it all just not all at the same time” it was great to see how that impacted you.

    Amazing post!
    Stacey

  12. Posted August 30, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I’ve found that I’m more patient when dealing with the stresses of parenting this month (I have a 14 year old, an almost-3 year old, and a 1 1/2 year old) because I’ve taken the time this month to write regularly, and to exercise more often, too. Making time for one’s passion is as important to being a mother and a wife as making time for your kids and your husband one-on-one.

  13. Posted August 30, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s very inspiring!

  14. Posted August 30, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    LOVE your posts, Laurie BIC is my mantra, and now I’m off to write 2000 a day before anything else!
    Thanks for your inspiration :-)

  15. Posted August 30, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    It’s funny how just yesterday I came to the conclusion that I need to work on saying NO. No, I can’t work 45 hours at the toy store when I typically work around twenty. No, I can’t stop what I am in the middle of writing because you want to talk, talk, talk. No, I can’t go shopping with you.
    When I read your prompt this morning, I found myself weeping. Weeping because your words struck a nerve with my recent struggles, as well as with my own past.
    Ten years ago, I lay in a hospital bed, unable to walk. This changed my life, and through the experience, I found my way to writing.
    But lately, life has gotten in the way and it doesn’t matter how this happened or how long it has gone on. What matters is that I need to change the course now, because . . .
    I deserve the time to write.
    I need to write in order to breath.
    If I do not follow my heart and write the stories that only I can write, they will never get written.
    You came into my life this August for a reason, Laurie.
    I can never thank you enough.
    And now, I am signing off, and (as Jane likes to say), putting my butt in the chair, where I will remain. Writing.
    And when someone comes along, the answer will be NO.

    I am a writer.

    • Posted August 30, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I couldn’t steal time to write until I noted an error on my part, as it nagged at me.

      I meant to type: “I need to write in order to breathe.” (not breath)

  16. Barbara G
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    That giant HUM you hear is all of us resonating with your advice. You are a blessing.

  17. Posted August 30, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Your post reminds me of a saying I heard over the years that goes like this: “If you keep on doing what you have always done, you will keep on getting what you have always got.”

    If things are not working for us, it is up to us to make the changes. Sometimes the required change is a bigger sacrifice than our desire for what we want and sometimes it requires balancing things out or accepting our fifteen minutes a day will have to do until other things are not a priority. At the end of the day I strive for no regrets.

  18. Lauren :)
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    This made my suckish Monday so much better. Thank you for inspiring me, yet again, Laurie.
    I answered the questions and honestly the truth hurt in some of them. I need to dedicate my life more to writing and the arts than I have been, yet I couldn’t figure out how to spread the time any thinner. So I wrote a poem about all the things I do in the day and realize…
    I spend a lot of time wasted on things I won’t use ten years down the road.
    I stress over every little thing that goes wrong.
    I’m trying to hard to be a perfectionist, but nobody’s perfect. And even when I try super hard on something, its not going to be acceptable for some people.
    I need to just LET. IT. GO.

  19. Posted August 30, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Phew! Closing out the month with a bang. Thank you for your words.

  20. Posted August 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi Laurie,
    These points are so dead on. Two years ago, I went in search of kindred spirits by joining the local SCWBI and found a writing critique group. They have become an important part of my writing life. This year I joined the national organization and attende my first writer’s conference. I had to take a serious look at balancing the visit to see my almost 91 YO aunt in NJ, going to a blogging conference, and attending the Oregon fall Writing Retreat. The aunt and the writing retreat won out.
    I have discovered such support from SCWBI at the local level and with people in blog land like you willing to guide newbies, it’s a treasure. I think one of my next steps is to ditch tv which is becoming easier to do.
    The book about the KKK sounds so fascinating. Apparently, they had quite a stronghold in the Pacific NW. Off to right
    Cheers,
    Jone

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