I was teaching at a conference the other weekend when a student asked me familiar question: How do I write this book I want to write when I don’t have enough time? As usual, when I asked the class how many other people felt this way, half the students raised their hand. The answer I gave that day did not help the one who asked the question, and I have thought about it a lot since. The answer I eventually received to all my thinking was surprisingly simple. If you feel you do not have enough time to write, ask yourself this: Is writing a waste of time? You only have so much of it in a day, in a year, in a life. Are you wasting it by retiring to your little writing cave to tell some story? It is easy to know why that job you might or might not like isn’t a waste of time: it provides you with an income, and a sort of social life, and an identity – but mostly an income. And you know why talking to your spouse or partner isn’t a waste of time: you enjoy it, and it nurtures this relationship you value. And you know why you do the laundry and clean the kids’ rooms and take the kids to ballet and soccer. You’re a parent. It’s what you do.
And you also know why you watch TV and play video games and go to movies and draft your fantasy football team and talk on the phone with old friends and knit: these things are pleasing and relaxing, and you must relax, you must have fun. Life can’t be all work. These things may not bring you money or maintain the ship of state that is your domestic life, but you need to occasionally simply enjoy yourself for no other reason than it feels good to do so.
But then there’s writing. You don’t know when or if you will make any money from it. It takes you away from your friends and family. And it’s not always fun. Some days, it’s harder than anything else you have ever done. And so why are you doing it? You know why you spend your time on all your other activities, why are you bothering with this?
I never wondered whether I should spend two hours a day writing; to choose not to do so felt like committing suicide. But I often wondered if all this writing would ever produce anything in the world other than a pile of pages in my desk drawer. There were many dark nights it seemed little else would come of it. It took me years of writing and midnight agony to understand what the word faith actually meant, what it was to believe in something I could not see or touch or measure.
The question is not whether writing is a waste of time, but whether you believe in something only you can perceive. Your writing hours are spent making real what lives only in your imagination. Do you also believe in how much you love those stories? Or that that love will travel beyond your workroom? In the end, the only thing we know for sure is that we love our stories. Is that enough? If it is, you will always find the time.
"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com