My most popular workshop—one I’ve been delivering for years, sometimes as a smaller session, sometimes as a keynote—is about the 10 top writing lessons I learned from 10 years of interviewing bestselling authors for Writer’s Digest.
More than one of those tips relate to finding more time and space in our lives to write—because this is the No. 1 thing I’m asked about by aspiring writers: In my inbox, at conferences and events, on social media. It’s also the most familiar comment I hear from friends who think they might give the whole writing thing a try … later.
Everyone wants a magic bullet, a secret way to find an hour hidden in every day.
At a recent book club meeting where I was invited to join their discussion of my novel, I was answering questions from a group of neighborhood women about how I’d written my first two published novels at night, while my two young children slept, while working a full-time job at the magazine.
“Wow,” one of them said. “You must have really wanted this.”
It sounds a little harsh to deliver this advice sometimes, but the “secret” boils down to this:
You have to want it enough to make the time.
You will not find the time otherwise; it will not present itself to you. Whether you dream of writing a book or improving your golf game or mastering French cooking or starting your own business, you have to find a way to put the hours in.
Which means you’ll need to make the sacrifices necessary to make it a priority.
Nobody really wants to hear this advice—which is understandable. But writing for publication is rarely, if ever, a quick or easy path, so we might as well be honest.
If the reason you don’t want to hear this is… perhaps… an inkling that you’re not willing to sacrifice sleep or social time or peace of mind in pursuit of this particular goal? At least, not right now, at this point in your life? No problem! No one is pressuring you to; no reason to beat yourself up for things you’re not doing. Life is filled with enough guilt trips as it is.
But if you do, you really do, want to make some changes? Read on.
Giving Yourself Permission
My favorite tip on this came from an interview I did with No. 1 New York Times bestselling suspense author Lisa Scottoline. I love seeing the way it resonates with writers when I relay this at workshops, because it so resonated with me—then and now:
“The world is really tough on people who want to be writers, and there’s precious little support for it. And if you’re a good person, and most people are, you have a lot of responsibilities. We’re so good that we put them first, and lose ourselves.
I think it’s a bit about [being] an adult who has a dream. Like, little kids, when you go, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ you think that when you’re 30, you should have answered that and you should be it already. But that’s really not fair. In my case, it didn’t work out. I was a lawyer, and when I got divorced and my daughter was born, I wanted to be something else. You have to nurture this dream.
I visualize it as a candle. You’re the person in the movie walking around in the dark scary house, and you have the candle in the little dish, and you have to protect it with your hand. It can blow out very easily. And the world is not going to help you hold the candle.
You’ve got to protect the candle. You’ve got to go, ‘No, I can’t come into work on the weekends—[that’s] when I work on my novel.’ … People deserve those dreams, and they have to fight for them. You don’t want to be at the end of your life and go, ‘Oh, I met all the obligations people had for me.’
You have to believe that it actually can happen, and nobody tells you that. It can happen! … But you have to give yourself permission, say to yourself: ‘I’m not foolish for wanting this.’”
What’s so brilliant about Lisa’s metaphor is that it allows for all the many reasons we aren’t writing. It’s not that we’re lazy. It’s that we’re busy, with worthwhile things! It’s that we’re wrestling with very real self-doubt. It’s that we’re alone in wanting this as much as we do. And yet. We have to protect the candle.
Because of this quote, I keep a candle on my writing desk at home. It reminds me, even now, that this beautiful flame is worth it—and that it’s up to me to keep it lit.
What about you? What keeps your candle lit? Join our discussion on Facebook.