I recently read On Writing by Stephen King. It is part memoir, part "here are my thoughts about the craft of writing." I am not a reader of King or his genre, so I entered the book with some trepidation.
It was excellent.
One of King's basic observations is that writers (a) read a lot of books, always, and (b) write a lot, preferably every day. He himself writes daily ("365 days a year") and advises would-be writers to set aside time daily (preferably the same time) and just write until you at least reach a set quota of words.
Well, I am one for two, which in baseball means I am batting .500. In writing, I am a weak hitter at best.
I read all the time. Just last night, I "power read" the last four books of the Little House series because I was out of fresh (unread) books and wanted to read something. As I pen these words, I am waiting for Warren to come home. I am eager not only because I always look forward to seeing Warren but also because I stopped at the library this morning and then dumped an armload of books in the car (conveniently parked nearby) rather than lug them along to coffee and lunch.
But writing every day? Setting aside time in which to write and then holding that time sacred?
I have no excuse but a lame "haven't done it."
I know someone who has committed to getting up and going to her study every single day to work on a novella. She doesn't know if she "has" something yet, but every day she sits down in front of her computer and starts typing. After two hours, she emerges for breakfast with her husband and then goes off to her day job.
And I had coffee with morning with a friend, a young woman who also works at the craft of writing. Today we talked about what, how, and why she does it.
I admire both women for recognizing that writing is work and deserves the same focus as any other job.
I shared with my friend this morning that I kept getting stuck on the time issue. It is a hurdle on the track which I come up to and then stop short of throwing a leg over to clear it. She was very sweet in saying that it was okay to have writing as a hobby and not to beat myself up over what I am not doing.
Writing as a hobby? I can see Stephen King lobbing a brick at me to catch my attention. "Hey, you. Yeah, you. Stop sitting on the fence."
I don't know what I am afraid of. I don't know what is holding me back. Not being any good? Not having anything to say? Do I think that spending time writing is a selfish pursuit? Not enough time? Too many other commitments? They are all sham excuses. The real question is why do I not value my time enough to set a portion of it aside every day to pursue something I love so deeply?
My friend spent some of the past summer in Turkey, her husband's homeland, staying at a family cottage near the coast. "I wrote a lot," she said, and we both smiled.
I would love to have a writing vacation at a coastal cottage. Heck, I would settle for a small shed or tent by a lake. Just try me.
But that is not why I am not writing and I know it.
We also talked about writing "at home" versus writing "somewhere else." She does her work primarily somewhere else, as she finds her home calls to her when she is there. The laundry, the dishes, the cats, what to cook for supper—they all tug at her concentration. So she uses home to outline and do research, then heads to an out of town coffee shop to burrow into her words.
As I write this post, sitting at our kitchen table, I wonder if the towels on the line are dry yet. And then get up to check them, fold them, and bring them inside.
But the towels are not why I am not writing and I know that too.
I have written before about the writer Bess Streeter Aldrich, who gave an interview in which she spoke on writing with one hand and ironing with the other. She also commented that people managed to find time for the things they loved, and if you claimed you wanted to write but couldn't find time, then maybe you didn't really want to write.
I need to teach myself the skill of writing with one hand and ironing with the other. I move closer to it; I have learned to always have a pen and notebook with me and sometimes even remember to use it. I have learned not to make excuses of "I'm just writing" when Warren (busy with his own projects) walks through the kitchen on his way to the workshop.
I need to face the hurdle on the track. Even if I am not yet able to leap it smoothly and fluidly, I can still walk up to it and straddle it, one leg on each side, until I get the courage to bring the other leg over too.
And then do it again, a little smoother. And again, a little smoother yet.
And then trust my feet (and my pen) to leap it and keep going.