“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” – Lawrence Kasdan
In the evenings, my partner Jacob often asks me the question, “Are you done yet?’ Usually, I’m knee-deep in a project, gazing at my true love: my laptop. More often than not that project is my writing. A never-ending project that on good days is a swirl of joy and on bad, a petulant child who won’t stop screaming. Or perhaps won’t start screaming if I’m blocked.
My writing is sadly what I save for those stolen moments. When my work inbox nears the mythical zero. When I’ve called my grandma, cleaned the house, made dinner, and finished watching all of Orange is the New Black. (Which is really good, by the way, go watch it.) When I’ve finished with all the other very important things that I also do truly care about.
At first, I thought I’d fallen into the procrastination trap. The I’ll do it later… But I know what that looks like, there’s a failure of launch. My mom is a self-described A+ procrastinator, and my harddrive doesn’t resemble her barely-started project remnants that have a room devoted to them. You procrastinate on your taxes or finally fixing that door that doesn’t shut right, not the thing you crave, the thing you dream about, the thing you roll melodramatically around in bed and tell your partner you’ll die without. You’ll fall over dead if you can’t write. You’ll come down with a cold if you don’t get out of bed right now and write. This is a scientific fact you’ve proven. Proven.
This is not procrastination.*
No, this is priority management. (But wait, isn’t that a procrastinator’s problem?) This is viewing my love of writing as a luxury, as a hobby, not the lifeblood it is at midnight when I think of all the important things in my life or what would happen if tomorrow in my review my boss fired me and what would I do. It’s always a simple answer: write.
Lately, I have not had a room of one’s own, to steal Virginia Woolf’s line. Instead, I’m writing in the common rooms of the world: an open-plan office, a coffee shop, a living room in a studio or one-bedroom apartment that Jacob and I travel between. I keep hearing all the people with my ears instead of with my head.
“We must accept the fact that all those good novels, Villette, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch, were written by women without more experience of life than could enter the house of a respectable clergyman; written too in the common sitting-room of that respectable house and by women so poor that they could not afford to, buy more than a few quires of paper at a time upon which to write Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.” — Virginia Woolf
This is not around 100 years ago. I’m a woman with a job, who makes more than $500 pounds a month. (Not that Woolf’s 1929 fictional writer’s salary would get you very far in Seattle circa 2013.) I don’t have my mother worried I’ll die in a hovel and be a lonely, unhappy spinster all my life because at 29, I’m unwed. I rent my own damn apartment, do my own taxes, bake my own bread, and helped start a nonprofit.
And yet, it’s not even the physical space. It’s the mental clarity. The time to listen to those voices of the writing kind in my head. It’s my partner not asking me why I don’t want to watch MacGyver (just in the background!) or Winston jumping on my hands because they should be petting the cat, not typing. It’s not thinking about how I need to reformulate Google spreadsheets to display metrics for my Mozinars. Or feeling guilty about not attending more events put on by the aforementioned nonprofit that I stepped down from in March.
These are the clogs in my sink. These are what I tell myself I need to finish first. I must get them done before I can write! Writing is what you do after your chores are complete. And didn’t I send 30 emails and tweet a bunch, isn’t that writing? Good enough for now.
But good enough still makes me feel like I’m going to die without the proverbial pen in my hand. Maybe, I need to take Kasdan’s thought and expand it further. Maybe I need to dig inside and find the A student, who always started her homework after school and didn’t attend parties in college to finish papers. Maybe she needs to make an appearance again and say, “No, write.”
Write because you’d die without it. Write because there’s no world for you otherwise. Tell everything else to fuck off because you’re getting this writing done. That’s what you’re doing. Write.
*(Okay, I’ll give my mom credit that she actually procrastinates on things she loves, or at least we assume she loves because she has the entire craft room devoted to them. (Also, I do love my mom, so only I get to share her unspun wool with the world.) And perhaps I only delude myself that I’m any different from her. Except in that she has a room.)
2 Replies to “Priority Item: Write”
Love this, Erica! I was in a seminar with Chris Abani once where he was talking about not letting life get in the way of writing. He said something like, “If you need to pay your mortgage, pay the damned mortgage, and then turn around and start writing.” I hear his wonderful accent when I know I’ve started to let things get really out of control. And now I’ll think of you and that my writing is not a luxury.
Thanks, Isla! Abani is spot on. Reminds me of reading “On Writing” where Stephen King talked about coming home from teaching and just writing. But yeah, it’s taken me years to move writing from the “hobby” category to something even more important. 🙂