Lately I’ve been having the hardest time finding the time to write. This is problematic for me because as much as that’s true — there are a lot of demands on my time of late — I also feel pretty strongly that that excuse is bullsharknado.
The issue of time is coming to a head because this week, I missed two days of editing my novel. It might not sound like a big deal, but it’s eating me up inside. The deadline is purely arbitrary; I’m accountable to nobody but myself, yet I’m furious with myself over it. Ashamed. And I’m asking myself why it’s happening. After all, I didn’t miss a day of writing when I was working on the first draft — not a single day outside of the week my daughter was born.
Back when I started this shindig in March and April, I was turning out ridiculous word count for the time I had. I’d have days where I’d bang out 2500+ words, between the first draft of the novel and the blog. I’d carve out swathes of time at work, sneak a few minutes here and there at home, hammer out a few sentences in the morning. Lately it seems I just don’t have the energy for that. I drag myself out of bed in the morning and it’s all I can do to make myself exercise. I feel like the day is too full at work to write even a few sentences. Then I’m home and into the daddy grind and before I can blink it’s 9:30, time to slog it off to bed.
I have every excuse. On the one hand, life has never been busier. My responsibilities at work have changed a little bit: I have more students, more papers to grade, and coming up in a few months, some after-school hours to put in as well, and all that adds up to a pretty significant pull on my time. There’s a second sprout now, and that means more diapers, more tantrums, more feedings, more outings — and of course, the original sprout is only getting bigger and louder and more demanding. I love them like crazy, but they are little time-eaters. I’m trying to put in a solid six days of exercise a week (okay, it’s more like five days on a good week) at thirty minutes a day, and that’s closer to an hour on a run day… and then there’s quality time to be carved out for the wife… Where does one find the time to write amidst all this?
But then I second guess myself. And this is where I’m frustrated (and yet very happy) with myself for reading the writings of Chuck Wendig and Steve Kamb, achievers whose teachings I am doing my best to absorb in this new chapter of my life. There’s one nugget they’ve both shared that has stuck with me: You have the same 24 hours in your day as everybody else. I can’t shake that. Sure, I have every excuse not to get the writing done. Sure, it’s hard to blame me for missing a workout now and then. But I know that for every edit I miss, every workout I skip, there’s another guy out there with all the same demands on his time but he’s getting it done and I’m not. Now, I’m not strictly competitive by nature, but this eats at my soul like a blood-swollen tick.
The other thing I can’t forget is a thing I’ve learned this year. Somehow it hit home after 33 years of living on this earth, and now the truth of it is inescapable to me: Momentum matters. The things you’ve been doing are the things you will continue doing. It’s all well and good to make changes in your life: you start exercising, you start dieting, you take up gardening, you begin knitting socks for the gnomes in your garden. And in the beginning it’s easy to establish new momentum: going for that run or leaving the cookies untouched or pulling the weeds or socking a gnome feels so satisfying because it’s such a sharp departure from the norm. But you have 34 years of slacker momentum built up, and over time, your old momentum begins to assert itself, and it’s easier to reach for the snooze button than your shoes at 5 AM, it’s easier to reach for the cookies than the celery, easier to just leave the garden unweeded for a few days and easier to let the gnomes go sockless. Before you know it, you haven’t run in two weeks, and you’re eating cookies by the sleeve, and the garden is one thick knee-high bramble and the gnomes are revolting.
I established some hellagood momentum back in March and April, not allowing myself to miss a single day of writing outside of the week that my daughter was born. And it carried me through until the first draft was finished in July. But my old slacker momentum is reasserting itself, and it is casting into doubt everything I’ve accomplished in the meantime. I sleep in instead of getting up for my 5AM run, and it doesn’t bother me as much as it did the last time it happened. I miss a day of editing, and I don’t feel bad about it all night. Momentum matters, and the sharknadoey momentum I’ve spent my life developing is sucking me in with its immense gravity, despite the positive momentum I’ve spent the last six months cultivating.
But the momentum is just the beginning, because soon the momentum changes form and becomes an insidious mental decay. I start having thoughts like, “maybe the time just isn’t right for me to pursue this dream right now” or “if I slow down, that’ll be okay too,” and the lure of those thoughts is tempting. Just like my excuses, they could be entirely valid. But I also know that accepting those thoughts of slacker momentum are only a short hop away from “maybe I’m just not cut out for it at all.”
And then I’m back to the 24-hour problem again. Because if I’m having doubts about how I’m spending my time, then maybe I’m not spending it in the right ways. And if it’s hard for me to make the time, to chip it away from the great grey monoliths of my other obligations, then maybe the sad truth is that I just don’t want it badly enough to make it happen. If I can’t make my 24 hours work toward making me a writer, then maybe the truth is I just don’t want it at all.
But I’m afraid I’m not ready to swallow that particular bitter pill just yet. Which is why last night I was up until nearly midnight writing this post, and why when WordPress ate it just before midnight, I vowed that I would go through the turmoil, the harsh truth, the unpleasant task of facing my doughy, slacker-momentum riding Asgard in the mirror AGAIN to write it today. Because it needs to be said. And I need to be able to come back here and see it. And I need to remind myself that writing is a thing that I want, and it is a thing worth making sacrifices for, and it is a thing which deserves to be done, even and especially when it’s difficult to do it.
In a movie that I loved, Grosse Pointe Blank, a hitman having a touch of existential angst over attending his high school reunion was advised by his psychiatrist to stop and take stock of his feelings. Repeat the mantra, “this is me breathing,” and “I’m at home in the me that is on this adventure.” A simple idea, intended to ground one in the moment, focus on the little things, and not get swept away by the mad tide of life. There’s wisdom in that, even if it’s not my goal to kill people with frying pans.
This is me breathing. This is me writing. I’m at home in the me that is on this adventure.