Often times, we writers engage in the most insignificant of mundane tasks when we know we should be facing our professional conduit: the blank page. But this isn’t a piece about procrastination. It’s about the opposite: finding the time to write.

Whether we are novelists, poets, short story writers, essayists or screenwriters, the tough reality is that most of us, who have yet to have our books on the best-seller list, have to factor in full-time jobs to pay the bills and support our kids/family. If you’re a single mom (like me) and don’t have a partner to share the financial responsibilities, it can be even more difficult.

It sounds simple enough but it’s an extraordinary challenge to carve out free uninterrupted time to work on our writing projects. Every writer I know has lamented this fact at one time or another, so I know it to be true. There are writers, and I wish I was one of them, that can fire up their computer at 11p.m. after everyone has gone to bed--the house is quiet and there will be no phone calls or texts, emails or interruptions that require attention--and they can write. Unfortunately, I do not have the focus or energy to write anything even remotely coherent after about 7p.m. The truth is that I have never had the ability to write at night. The same goes for working out. I have a friend who can go to the gym, do a 9p.m. spinning class, go home and have no trouble falling asleep an hour later. If I worked out at night like her, I’d be wired and still staring at the clock past 2a.m.--not an option when you have to be out of bed in four hours.

For me, working out and writing require the same kind of energy and focus. I’m a morning writer and I always have been. I wish I could reset my writing-clock (and I’ve tried many times), but both the quality and quantity of my work suffers and if I’m not producing my best work, than what’s the point? Somehow I have been pre-programmed to think creatively and do my best writing in the morning after I walk Capote; peel a grapefruit; then sit down in front of my laptop with a tall mug of coffee. I’m writing this piece now and it is 6:20a.m.

There are no shortage of articles in trade magazines about how to find time to write while managing all the other competing activities and responsibilities in life. Most offer excellent advice such as: block off writing time for yourself; stick to your schedule; turn off your mobile phone; disconnect from the internet and don’t look at email. Find a space where you can concentrate and work uninterrupted, even if it happens to be inside a noisy cafe. All of the aforementioned are great suggestions, however, there is just one little glitch that tends to throw a grenade into the entire plan and if you’re anything like me, that glitch goes by the name: guilt.

My “day job” which is what I do in addition to being a writer, sucks up a huge amount of time above and beyond an 8-hour workday. For anyone who is employed in the arts, it is a given that our organizations are notoriously underfunded and under-staffed. As such, those of us employed in the non-profit arts and culture sector tend to work a lot of extra hours. There are evening meetings and events that we have to attend. Weekends are routinely interrupted by festivals or fundraisers and there are seminars, lectures or workshops that we feel an obligation to attend as well. In addition, we all have our cell-phones pinging and bleeping at all hours and many of us have family commitments with aging parents and/or kids with a barrage of extracurricular activities that demand our time. All of the aforementioned and more suck up enormous amounts of precious free time outside of work that could be used for writing, but instead we engage in an endless schlep-fest because we feel enormous guilt if we say “no” to our bosses, our kids, our partners, our parents and all of those people counting on us.

You likely already know and have probably experienced most of what I have said above. I am reiterating it so that: a) you know that you’re not alone; and hopefully b) you can find the strength to say “no” to people and things when they interfere with your writing goals.

The point I’d like to hammer home is that regardless of what stage you’re at in your writing career -- just starting or three books published and counting -- you need to give yourself permission to not feel guilty and protect your writing time at all costs. For those of us who are serious, writing isn’t just a hobby we do. I’ve witnessed family members, colleagues and friends of people I know make demands on a writer’s time because they don’t understand that “time” is in fact our most valuable commodity.

I urge you to protect your writing time at all costs. Set it aside and go somewhere where you will not be disturbed. Shut off your phone and face the blank screen. If you have people who don’t understand or respect your commitment and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by telling them “Bugger off, I’m writing now!” then I suggest you lie. Yes, lie. If you have a day-job, tell them you’re working extra hours and just go off somewhere and write. If you work from home, say you have an appointment and leave, go write. If you have to be home and the kids are making demands on you, order them a movie from Netflix, microwave some popcorn, sit them in front of the TV and go lock yourself in your room and write. Do whatever it is you have to do to protect the time you need every day to work at your craft. Don’t feel guilty, because that doesn’t serve you, or anyone else.

Do you think if any one of Hemmingway’s wives had said to him, “Ernest, the lawn needs mowing!” or “Ernest, the kids need to be carpooled to hockey!” he would have stopped his maniacal typing, set aside The Sun Also Rises and run off to do some mundane chore? I think not. So if you’re a writer (and especially if you’re a woman), feel no guilt in protecting your time to write. It is as important as taking care of your kids, working a day-job, taking your elderly mom to the doctor and all the other day to day activities we set aside time for without thinking twice. The difference is that You are a Writer! So make and protect your time to write.

Helen Argiro
Markham Arts Council

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