Getting It Done: Prioritizing Your Writing

Back in December, after years of publishing short stories, I finally buckled down and started working on a novel; now, in early May, I am close to having the first draft finished.  I’ve been able to do this in large part because I have Tuesdays off this semester, which has allowed me to devote one whole day per week to my writing.

However, when I first learned I’d have Tuesdays off, I pictured using that time for all these great things.  I would do yoga and go running and sit in cafes and read for fun; I could get brunch with friends and get all the cleaning done so I didn’t have to worry about it over the weekends.  One whole day off would be plenty of time for all that, right?

Wrong.  Each Tuesday I write all day, taking very small breaks to try to turbo-clean the essentials– a quick vacuum here, a quick bathroom wipe-down there– with the goal of finishing one chapter each day I have off.  I’ve done yoga once this semester, I think, and my social life has basically disappeared.  There are many friends I owe phone calls and emails, and while I would love to grab brunch with busy friends on a Tuesday, I’m not willing to give up my writing time, because this is the only time I get, and this is how it has to be if I want to get this novel done.

The truth is, you can always find things to do other than writing.  The house always needs to be cleaned, there are always friends you can catch up with, errands to be run, appointments to go to.  Writing is almost always seen as non-essential, superfluous– definitely by non-writers, and often we have a hard time even convincing ourselves that we deserve to take the time out of our busy lives to work on it.  If we don’t prioritize our writing and aggressively guard those hours, no one else will for us.  I’ve seen a meme going around social media for years now, basically saying that between your sanity, happy/healthy kids, and a clean home, a mother can pick two.  I feel similarly about working on my novel right now: with a limited number of days and hours in each week, I have enough time to work my full-time job, spend time with my husband, and write.  That’s it.  If I were to include other things, like socializing or extra-curriculars like book clubs or workout groups– things I would very much enjoy if I had more time– then something else would have to give.

I’m especially dedicated to it right now because I know this kind of opportunity doesn’t come along often.  As a teacher, my schedule is unpredictable from semester to semester, and it’s not often you get free time like this, so I have to take advantage of it while I can.  And writing a novel is something that can easily take years, or hang around unfinished for a lifetime, because everything else gets in the way.  I’m thirty years old and married, and as I think about my future and what that might entail, I have this very strong feeling that now is the time to really tackle it.  Like a lot of women writers, I get nervous about how having kids might affect my writing, and I worry that if I don’t do it now, I never will and being a novelist is a dream that will float around, sad and unfulfilled, for the rest of my life.  (Elif Shafak does an incredible analysis of how motherhood can affect writing in her memoir Black Milk.  I highly recommend it.)

Years ago, I remember listening to my advisor from grad school, an accomplished novelist, speak at a conference.  She said that when her kids were young, she would get in her car, drive to the end of the road, and just park and write in the quiet car, and threaten her family to leave her alone for a set amount of time.  She had to physically remove herself from the house because otherwise there would be constant interruptions– because that’s life in general, and especially so if you have small kids– even though she never went far.  Tuesdays are my car parked at the end of the road.  I feel guilty for not keeping in better contact with friends these past few months.  I feel guilty that my apartment isn’t cleaner, or that I’m not out running errands or overall being a better, more put-together adult.

But on the other hand, I have a rough draft of a novel almost complete– the one thing I have wanted and dreamed about since I was a kid– and that feels more amazing than words can express.  Me and Tuesdays, we’re getting it done, together.

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Tuesday writing session on the balcony.

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