By Jennie Jarvis
For this month’s topic, the five of us decided on the topic of “when” we write. At first this seemed like a pretty straightforward idea. I write when… but then I really thought about it. When do I write? With my busy schedule, trying to balance life, a romantic relationship and my friendships, as well as with the almost non-stop task of helping my students, I almost never find time to write. At least, not in any kind of regularly scheduled way.
In a previous post, I mentioned how, once upon a time, while living in a faraway land called Los Angeles, I had my own office that my dog and I would jaunt into each afternoon so that I could get some “serious” writing done. This was in the days when I was married to a man with a six-figure salary, which allowed me to stay at home and pursue my “art.” I thought that I was spoiled at the time, but I think that the truth is that the experience of having such artistic freedom spoiled me for life.
Because I had those extra long periods of time to sit and allow the world in which my characters lived to permeate into my mind and drip out of my fingers and onto the page, for a long time I felt like that was the only way to write – in long, drawn out chunks of time. I felt like I needed those four or five hour blocks in order to create or recreate my characters and their world.
When I first moved back to Florida, those long blocks of time no longer existed. I found that I only had one hour or worse, a half hour, at a time to myself. I was convinced that, since a half hour wasn’t enough time to write an entire scene or chapter, it wasn’t worth writing at all. Sure, maybe a journal entry or an outline for an idea, but nothing more. I mean, nothing suitable could be written with any less than a four-hour chunk of writing bliss, could it?
And so I began allotting my writing to certain days of the week. If I had a free Saturday, then I would dedicate that day to my art. If I had a free Wednesday afternoon, then this would wind up being the day that I would work. I pulled out my calendar, and I began to plan my writing sessions.
But then Life (capital L) showed up, and I’m disturbed to say that it was easy for me to push aside my own writing in the name of Responsibility. I had a job, a dog, a boyfriend, bills to pay, rent to make, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, students to help, emails to answer, texts to respond to, phone calls to make, dentists to cringe under and doctors to visit. I convinced myself that all of these HAD to be more important to me because I’m an Adult! Adults don’t follow their dreams; they live their lives like good citizens, right?
More often than I like to admit, my writing got moved further and further down the priority scale. If I had scheduled time to write on a Friday afternoon, I would suddenly realize that I needed to go grocery shopping because I wouldn’t have a chance for the rest of the busy weekend. Or I would have a Sunday afternoon set aside to write my third act, but then oops! I’m out of underwear, time to do laundry and then dust and then do dishes and then take an allergy pill because the dust is bothering me and then I notice that I have the new Doctor Who on the DVR, so I’ll just watch that first and then excuse, another excuse, another excuse.
This was a downward spiral that I could have easily gotten lost in. My writing could have easily taken a back seat to everything else in my life for the rest of my life. Because I was so scared of losing everything that I had regained in my time after my divorce, I was terrified to push those things aside for just a few hours in order to make myself a better writer and overall person.
Fortunately, I discovered an amazing booked called The Artist’s Way. This is a book designed to help the struggling writer/actor/director/painter/other form of artist. The information in its pages began to help me reshape my artistic priorities almost right away. I formed an Artist’s Way group with two of my writer friends, and they continue to help me each week to stay on track. If you are a blocked or struggling artist of any kind, I highly recommend the program. You can get more information on it here: http://juliacameronlive.com/
The program mentions how, as artists, we writers love to push aside our true creative selves in the name of fear. We are more scared of success than we are of failure. And for those of us who have tried to succeed in the name of art and failed, like I have, the battle to recover that confidence to proceed is even harder.
But the truth of the matter is that, if I’m going to be a Writer (capital W), then I need to write. Just saying that I’m a writer doesn’t make it true. I have to earn that title. My writing time is my sacred time, and when I am scheduled to write, then I need to show up for that job, like I do for any other job. The paycheck keeps me showing up to my day job, but there are rewards aside from money that can also help to me motivate me if I let them.
Today, I still have a very full plate, and it can be hard to find those big chunks of time in which to write. However, I’ve come to realize two things: 1) if I set aside a day, an afternoon or even just an hour to write, then nothing else should happen but writing in that block of time except writing, and 2) I don’t need those large chunks of time.
In 2002, I composed one of the best screenplays that I have ever written. It was a story that I couldn’t sell in the market place because of the over-saturation of super hero films, but it is still one of the stories of which I am the most proud. And I wrote it, scene by scene, while riding to and from my job in Berkeley each day while riding the subway system, BART. For twenty minutes, I rode from Concord to MacArthur station, changed trains, and then had another ten-minute ride to the Downtown Berkeley station. I carried a spiral notebook with me, and as soon as I had a seat, I would sit and write. Sometimes, I wouldn’t get a seat until MacArthur station, so I’d only have ten minutes that trip to write. It took a long time, but the script got done.
When I made the decision – and it had to be a conscious and committed decision – to dedicate myself to being a Writer, I had to remember that screenplay. I had to remember that greatness can be attained in ten minute increments. I just had to make sure that when those increments came, I took advantage of them. Today, I cherish those increments. Because of my life, they don’t come as often as I wish they would. Sometimes, I have to search for them. Sometimes, I have to create them. But when they come, I embrace them.