The Not Writer, Part 3: No Time to Write

“I have this cool idea for a story, but I won’t have time to write it until after finals.”

This is a perfectly legitimate thing to say if finals are next week, but not if they’re in five months. Stress, health problems, uncertainty at work or at home, children — all of these are legitimate distractions that require careful, prolonged attention and consequently prevent long, solid, intense investments in writing, that’s absolutely true.

But there’s more to writing than just those intense, satisfying, all-else-by-the-wayside engagements that make us feel like consummate creative titans.

A working adult has very few opportunities to spend four hours at a time doing anything without distractions. There’s chores and shopping, there’s a day job or study, there’s social activities and an endless, structural cycle of little distractions. And there’s a predictable incidence of conjunctural distractions as well. Illness, accidents to one’s person or property, unexpected changes in employment or home situation — and anything that can happen to you can happen to your friends or relatives, which may also impact the stability of your daily life substantially.

The Not Writer doesn’t feel that he or she can perform under those conditions, and believes it best to wait till they’re resolved. In fact, though they’d never articulate this even to themselves, it’s almost as if Not Writers feel that writing a little bit under those conditions will actually inhibit their ability to do the inspired binge-writing they see as an ideal.

Like writer’s block, many of these excuses are indeed legitimate. Again, serious, unexpected life changes or tragedy near to the heart have tremendous effect on our emotional state and our ability to function, and we’re all responsible for making our own priorities.

But rare is the circumstance that prohibits us from feeding ourselves, or bathing, or dressing. We take walks, drive, read, watch TV, play games, hang out with friends — often in short intervals, true, but those are things we rarely neglect no matter what else is going on in our lives.

To the Writer, writing is like bathing or cooking. The Writer doesn’t often put it off entirely; when times are hard and stress is high, the Writer writes a little less per day or week, but rarely nothing.

The surest way to realize whether you’re being a Not Writer is hearing yourself say “I don’t have time to write.” If you have time to say that, you have time to write.

Doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, doesn’t have to be part of the Epic Ten-Novel Saga you’re ‘working on’. A quick domestic scene, a little joke, a tragic monologue… there’s always something in your mind that you can write and there’s always a moment to do it in.

Institutionalize the habit of writing, ingrain it in your daily activities as you do eating, bathing, and masturbating. As little as a hundred words a day nets you a novella in a year — and when the stars align and the spirit moves you, you can still binge-write a couple grand of brilliant prose.

– Alex F. Vance