Writing time

January 16th, 2008

“How did you find time to write a book when your daughter was little?” This is the question I’m asked most frequently. The answer is: I didn’t. First, I never found any time. Second, I didn’t think I was writing a book. And so third, the writing took me a very long while. If I’d had any expectations, I would have failed them all.

That sounds dismissive, but it contains truths that we have a terrible time seeing. The time is always now. There is no hidden time someplace else; no extra time we can uncover or clear. No way to push or pry it free. Time is never apart from us. Time is just us. Time management is self-management. Now, how do you manage yourself? I hope you’re kind, patient and forgiving, because how you manage yourself is how you manage to write.

Shawn, who is busy enough as a working writer but also busy enough as a mother of two-year-old twins, asks how I blend my life with blogging, writing-for-hire and writing for myself. I don’t have to do any blending. It blends itself. What appears before me is the thing that I take care of. It’s just not always what I wish it to be.

Although I write all kinds of things, I do not distinguish between them, just as Shawn does not distinguish between the love she feels for one daughter and the love she feels for another. I do not have a particular voice for one thing and a particular voice for another thing, I just have my voice. With practice, writers develop a virtuoso range. With practice, I glide through my range with relative ease. What I never do is contrive or falsify my voice. I practice writing anything and everything. The more I write the more I write, so I welcome any opportunity to write.

What I also try to avoid is judging one type of writing as more elevated than another, as in writing a Book. Or a Novel. Or an Article. Or just a Journal or a Blog. When I do that, in the very labeling, I set my writing apart from me and my life as it is. Besides, sometimes I lift the words from one place and I find they fit perfectly in another. It’s all one place.

Now, which one do I pick up and work on? The one that needs doing, according to the circumstance. To determine the need, I use circumstances as they are, not my preferences, which are by nature ego-driven and therefore highly suspect. If I have a deadline, I meet it. If someone calls or emails and asks, “When do you think you’ll have that done?” I finish it up. If it’s time to cook, clean, drive, play, shop, rake, I do that first. Not always happily, but always. To do otherwise, to set up my writing up as a priority output and my life as the obstacle, is to do what a friend observed recently as being “at war with me wherever I go.”

I don’t want to be at war with myself or my family or my home or my work; that’s why I don’t go for arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines or sign up for 30-day writing marathons. Yes, by all means, practice your writing, but don’t brutalize yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself unless you know that you need a kick in the ass. Pain comes from that kind of pressure and punishment – pain too easily spread. Few of us need more bruises. Let your writing be fluid and joyful, let it be spontaneous and useful, and then your life will be too. Or at least a little more bearable.

Practically speaking, there are times when I need to hire help or get away to write. But they are few, and only when the circumstances require. I went away for the weekend when I started writing what ended up as a book. I spent two days and wrote 1,200 words. I went away for the weekend when my manuscript was due. I spent two days and wrote 12,000 words. Four years came between them. The funny thing is, both times I thought that I was finished!

I understand a writer’s romance with writing. I understand a mother’s romance with a life beyond. When Georgia was little, I wanted desperately to break free into another life for myself – a life of merit, worth and recognition. I didn’t then and I haven’t yet. I still have troublesome ambition but what I no longer have is a troublesome baby. So where does the trouble come from?

There’s time now and time yet for writing. One day soon you’ll have more of it. In the meantime, write when you can, whatever you can. Don’t judge, don’t weigh, don’t measure. Write now, and let the outcome arrive on its own. It always does. Imagine your surprise when you find out it’s all yours.


  1. Well, looky there … a little link love.

    The more I write, the more I write … I’m still loving that line more than anything else. It is so true.

    I’m passing this great piece along to your readers … because I think it is brilliant and relevant.

    “Best be yourself, imperial, plain, and true!”
    ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

    Writer mama, you needn’t be anything but who you are. Embrace your life’s stories, your regrets, your evolving dreams. Honor your messy kitchen, your card-table office, your high-school poems, your food-stained yoga pants. Write from what you know, see and imagine. No more education, time or possessions are needed. No one else is better or worse. So just do it. Be a mother. Be a writer. Be you, and that is enough.
    Megan Pincus Kajitani is a California-based writer mama and recovering overachiever who blogs at Having Enough (In a “Have-It-All” World).

    Comment by Shawn — January 16, 2008 @ 7:34 pm

  2. I have a difficult time not labeling my writing or judging one piece to be “better” than another based upon external validation. I’m working on being less performance driven, but it’s like trying to tap in to an alien nature!

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 16, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  3. I’ve been asked the “where do you find the time?” question. I’m never sure how to answer it, but I don’t find the time. I don’t have the time. I just sit down and write and don’t do something else. ANybody can wash the dishes; only I can write what I’m writing.

    Comment by marta — January 16, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

  4. I love this post. I agree with it completely. Thanks.

    Comment by Shelli — January 17, 2008 @ 1:13 am

  5. But what if writing is never what is before you–what if it is always working one of your jobs, or taking care of your child, or cooking the supper?

    Comment by Anonymous — January 17, 2008 @ 11:40 am

  6. Dear Anonymous,
    I feel it too! Do you know how little time appears for my writing? Not nearly enough but much more than before (my daughter is now 8). Interestingly enough, even with more “time” I don’t seem to write as “much.” I can only console you with the observation that it might not be time right now for you to spend writing. At least not at a keyboard. Although you found the minute you wrote this, and as your voice becomes stronger, you might find yourself “writing” in the shower, the laundry room and the kitchen, as I do, the words appearing as I go. My advice is not to struggle either with or against it. Not to struggle, or you might suffocate yourself.

    Thank you for writing.

    Comment by Karen — January 17, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  7. This post has been a gentle reminder. I am an artist,wife, and mom to three children…in addition to caring for other people’s little ones during the day, so I am busy!

    Still, I find that I am nagging myself…I need to paint…I need to get the laundry done…I need to make dinner…take the library books back…just like most everyone else,my ‘to do’ list goes on and on.

    I have found though, that if I stay centered and calm that my path leads me to right where I should be. Somehow the opportunity to do the things I never seem to have ‘time’ for come about.

    Why do you suppose this is?

    Thanks for this great blog. Can’t wait to get your book.

    Comment by enchantedartist — January 17, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  8. I know this is a back post, but I just need to say how much I needed to hear it write now.

    I’m on a journey to live creatively with my two toddlers, partner, a new part time job, a house hold… and sometimes it gets overwhelming.

    Sometimes I have a handle on it, and that handle is something like what you are saying, but then I lose that balance and I get all wrapped up in what is NOT being done and what I am NOT.

    Thank you for helping me breathe in and breathe out.

    Comment by Rowena — May 17, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

  9. Thank you, Karen. Because of you (and many other wonderfuls like you) I am going for my first Zen Workshop this weekend. Finally doing something about this “itch” deep within to experience the practice more…thank you.

    Comment by Kat — May 29, 2008 @ 2:56 am

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