The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 2: Writers Write

I'm a writer

I love the story Ann Patchett tells in “The Getaway Car,” an essay from her wonderful book, This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, about making a commitment to her writing.

She and her husband are having dinner with friends, one of whom was a musician named Edgar. Patchett shares that she was traveling too much, giving too many talks, and not getting any writing done. Edgar commiserates – he was also doing a lot of traveling and not finishing the compositions he had due.

Edgar tells Patchett about a trick he used to get his work done: he decides to put a sign-in sheet on the door of his studio, where he writes down the time he enters the studio to compose, and the time he stops composing. The simple yet profound thing he finds, of course, is that the more hours he spent composing, the more compositions he finished.

As Patchett notes, “Time applied equaled work completed,” and says, “It’s possible to let the thinking about process become so overly analyzed that the obvious answer gets lost. I made a vow on the spot that for the month of January, I would dedicate a minimum of one hour a day to my chosen profession.”

She sticks with her commitment all of that January and into the rest of the year, and ends up doing “some of the best writing I’d done in a long time.” She notes, “I’m sure it worked in part because I already had a story in my head and I was ready to start writing, but it also worked because my life had gotten so complicated and I was in need of a simple set of rules.”

When I decided to commit to this 30-day writing project, I was in need of a simple set of rules.  Between client work, marketing my business, and the usual life obligations, my weekdays are ridiculously full. Many weekends find me working as well. Usually only if I’m on a client project deadline, but even when I’m not on a strict client deadline, I still generally spend all of Saturday doing business-related stuff. I fit writing in, but it’s typically writing to market my business – blog posts, newsletters, and guest posts for other sites, etc.  

And the writing I do that’s not related to my business? The “other” writing – essays, narrative non-fiction, etc. – that I love? I spend time on that too, but only after all of the above is done, which means not too damn often.

So while in the throes of this dilemma and the beating-up-of-myself over it, which happens to show up regularly, I sought solace in the best place there is for right advice on writing and the creative process: other writers.

Because it’s universal, right? We all struggle with the same thing. This quandary is common to all creative people trying to practice their craft – when life gets in the way, how do you find the time?

Today I found the answer while re-reading Ann Patchett’s “The Getaway Car.”

If you’re a creative person who also feels challenged by the time puzzle, I hope Patchett’s words will inspire you the way they’ve inspired me:

Now when people tell me they’re desperate to write a book, I tell them about Edgar’s sign-in sheet. I tell them to give this great dream that is burning them down like a house fire one lousy hour a day for one measly month, and when they’ve done that—one month, every single day—to call me back and we’ll talk. They almost never call back. Do you want to do this thing? Sit down and do it. Are you not writing? Keep sitting there. Think of yourself as a monk walking the path to enlightenment. Think of yourself as a high school senior wanting to be a neurosurgeon. Is it possible? Yes. Is there some shortcut? Not one I’ve found. Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.

Here’s to putting our creative projects back on the daily to-do list and devoting time each day to working on them. Word!