Making the Time

So much of writing is just showing up. I hear that again and again from authors, and it’s true. If you don’t make the time to write, then nothing will ever happen. If you do make the time, even if you what comes out isn’t worth a hill of beans to you (ahem…oh, hi there), in the end, something did come out that hadn’t existed before you plunked yourself in front of the keyboard and started tapping away.

Yesterday I finished the audiobook of Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, and was surprised to find an interview with her at the end of it. Her somewhat abrasive New York accent was a shock after listening to the smooth stylings of Bernadette Dunne, but the informal way she answered the questions was a nice change after the surety of the book’s content. You could hear her thinking on the fly, feel the present-ness of the interview; the book was great, but writing can feel very self-confident once the words have been penned, struggled over (edited), and finally published.

The interviewer asked her how she found time to write, and her answer was pretty simple. She wakes up at 5:30 in the morning, stumbles over to the keyboard half-asleep and writes. Even if nothing happens for thirty minutes and she just thinks, “I should be back in bed,” eventually something comes out and by 7:00 something transformative has happened as she sat in front of that computer. Words fell onto the page, she herself fell into flow, and writing happened. Was it good writing? Well, that’s another issue entirely. I don’t think any writer, not even the prolific Joyce Carol Oateses of the world (here’s a list of her works), come out with a bang-up first draft each time and legitimately think, “Yeah, that’s the ticket.” It’s all the sweat, toil, and grimacing that come from shaping it into something actually worthwhile—they’re what make the writing sparkle.

For example, I’ve been working on my Quebec posts (yep, that trip is a multi-poster) for weeks now: writing, tweaking, polishing, cutting, rearranging. They still don’t feel quite right, but I know they’re better than what I started out with. Eventually, they’ll reach a point where they’re ready to leave the comfort of the blog draft nest, or else I’ll get so tired of nagging at them I’ll kick them out into the world. Just like any parent does with irritating teens.

This morning I set my alarm for 5:00, then re-set the alarm for 5:30, then re-set it again for 6:30. Then I laid in bed for 8 minutes debating whether to actually go back to sleep, get up and write, or get up and go to the gym. It was a tough battle. Eventually, getting up and writing won, so I cancelled the alarm and now here I am. I had no idea what I was going to write about, but something came out anyway. Would this post have happened without me making the time for it this morning? I doubt it. But the idea had floated around me last night and it turned into a concept worth exploring, but only because I made the time for it. I cleared the head space for it and gave it the decency of a few paragraphs to wrap around it. And lo, the essay was born.

So make time for the things that are important to you. If you don’t, there is never an ideal time that pops up over the course of the day, though we never quite stop believing that’ll happen naturally—I’ll get to that later, now’s not a good time but I’ll have time tonight, I’ll do it this weekend, and so on. Whatever you’ve been meaning to do, whether it’s writing, organizing, exercising, finding a small slice of time for yourself, don’t put it off. Strap yourself in to be present for whatever goal you want to accomplish; commit to 5 minutes or 10 or an hour if you want. And even if all that comes out is dribbling garbage or failure, you will at least have gotten a tiny bit closer to your goals, and tasted the sweet ambrosia of hope. The only difference between those who do and those who want to is that simple, active verb: do. So get out there and do do—even if the result is doodoo.

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