Good morning good morning good morning — the summer morning outside my window is grey and sounds like the whistle of a train passing through Jack London Square. What is rising for you this morning? What is falling away?
I am entering into a couple-day writing retreat: two days focused on a couple of book projects, two days of stealing away from my regular life, two days in which I give myself permission not to feel guilty if I spend time writing rather than doing other work. This is a stay-at-home writing retreat, and will be interrupted by a trip to the vet and a few other tasks (mostly involving prep for writing groups); still, my primary focus for these next two days will be on moving these books forward.
How often do you give yourself permission for a day to focus on writing? How often do you give yourself permission for thirty minutes, or ten? How often do you feel as though you are stealing time from something, or someone, else in order to write?
How often do you actually sit down in front of the page and just let the words flow? I’m not talking about an email or an essay for school or a grant proposal — I’m talking about playing on the page, responding to prompts shared here on this blog or elsewhere, writing down that poem you began to dream during the commute home or the exchange you witnessed between that old man and young checker at the grocery store or the memory you had of your mother the summer you were six and she took the day off from work just so that the two of you could spend a day at the pool, or was it the beach? How often do you think, I should write that down, and don’t?
How often does it happen that then, when you’ve finally decided to take those ten minutes to get your body in front of the page, you find you have nothing to say, nothing to write — all those great things you wanted to write about when you were in the shower or busy working on a spreadsheet or talking with your bestie on the phone just disappeared! It’s just you and your pen and the blank page and the emptiness in your head. Do you think to yourself, Who am I kidding? What makes me think I’m a writer? Why did I ever tell anyone that I want to write? Look at me — I can’t even move my pen.
Does that emptiness make you want to quit trying? How frustrated does this cycle of guilt and larceny make you feel?
I have a challenge for you today, you who wish to write, you who have words dancing under your skin and a lifetime of terror and disappointment and fear keeping the words from pushing out, stained and broken and imperfect, onto the page: I want you to take ten minutes today. Ten. That’s all. Ten minutes for this writing thing you love.
I want you to change one thing about your daily routine just so that you have those ten minutes. Turn of the tv a little bit early. Get to the gym a little bit late. Take your notebook and pen into the bathroom and lock the door. Get sneaky if you have to, to get these ten minutes where you will not be interrupted by family or friends. Tell yourself that you’ll get a reward after if you write for just ten minutes (and then make good on that reward!) — a half hour of silly television or reading the magazine that came in the mail today or hanging out doing a project with your kids or a dish of ice cream or some pieces of really good dark chocolate or … you know what would make the best reward for you. Of course, even better is the reward your creative genius receives: she gets to see that you will give her some time, that you are wiling to carve out ten minutes to listen to her rambling, generous voice.
Open the notebook and begin writing from the phrase, “This is what she stole…” or “This is what he stole…” (or “we stole” or “you stole” or “they stole…”). Complete that sentence with a single item or a list, and if you don’t know what to write next, start again. “They stole diapers and they stole time. We stole glossy, foil-wrapped Cadbury eggs from the convenience store up the road at Eastertime. He stole…”
Ten minutes. Set a timer. Stop when the time is up, period. If you’re really into the writing, break off in the middle of the sentence, and begin again when you steal another ten minutes tomorrow.
Keep on stealing these ten minute snatches. Do this day after day. Take twenty minutes some days. Take an hour. Take a weekend. Grab it. Demand that time for this thing that you love. One day you will find that making time for your writing doesn’t feel like theft, it feels like life-giving and promise. One day, you will find that taking time from writing is what feels more like theft.