From the Writer’s Desk: Making Time to Write

Where does one find the time to write? Where do Mormons find the time to write? Over the years I’ve heard Mormons complain about this. The complaint usually goes like this: “I’d have a great novel to my credit if it wasn’t for the church. My family and my calling and scriptures and prayers and family home evening and genealogy—it’s all too much. That’s why I never write.” What they seem to be saying is, “It’s not my fault.”

At the risk of offending a lot of people, let me just say, “That’s bunk!”

If you really want to write, you will. You’ll turn off the TV, close your email program, tell your children to find their own rides to soccer practice. You’ll put off doing family history until you’re older. If you really want to write, you’ll give up trying to be all things to all people. (I will concede that it’s harder for mothers with children at home to find time to write, but many still do it, don’t they?)

Gail Sher, in her book One Continous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers, says it like this: “Writers write.” That’s it. If you write, you’re a writer. If you don’t, your not. The time spent making excuses is time that could be spent on writing. I like Sher’s definition of the writer because is it takes the focus off of product and puts it onto process, where it belongs. Even if you do write, even if you write a lot, and even if you’re writing is great, you have no control over what others do with your writing. Choosing to write on any given day, at any given moment—that’s something you can choose. Getting published, having people love your writing, winning awards for your writing—those are choices made by someone else. That’s why writers should focus on what they can control, the writing process, and not the product. If you’re in the process, I promise you that the product will take care of itself in due time. (Keep in mind, however, that “due time” may not be the same as your time.)

There’s another implication of Sher’s adage that “Writers write.” This means that if you’re not a writer, that’s probably okay. I’m not sure the world needs more writers. Ah! But if you need to be a writer, that’s a whole ’nother matter. You might have things you need to say. You might think you’ll go crazy if you don’t say them. Maybe you can’t not write! If that’s the case, then write. By all means, skip your Facebook session today and write! The world still might not need your writing, but important thing is, you need it. And that’s reason enough.

Or is it?

Are all motivations for writing equal? Probably not.

When it comes to Mormon writers, I’d rather see writers motivated by some insistent need to process a deep and troubling internal conflict. By contrast, Mormon writers who seemingly have no internal conflict, who are wholly certain of themselves and the rightness of their positions on all matters, they might be more interested in lecturing than writing. Those writers need a soapbox. Interestingly, their audience is optional. In short, I’d rather see a Mormon writer who begins with a question, instead of an answer.

If you don’t have time to write, don’t make excuses. Ask yourself a couple of honest questions instead. First, would the world end, or would your life end, if you didn’t write? If the answer is no, let it go. Get yourself elected to the school board instead. Start a neighborhood recycling program. Who knows, you might change lives. Second, ask yourself why you want to write. If you want to write because you want to lecture people, then, please, for all our sake’s, let that go. (Or use it on your teenagers; see how much mileage you can get out of that.) No, we Mormons lecture each other enough already. Save the urge to lecture for the right moment: when you’re called of God by proper authority, and when you’re moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

If, however, your world would end if you couldn’t write, if you’re writing because you’re looking for genuine answers, and if you’re willing to find those answers no matter what the cost, then my bet is you’ll find time to write. I’ll bet another thing too. If you write because you have to and you need real answers, you won’t be one of those complaining about finding the time to write. Because you’ll make the time to write.

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9 Responses to From the Writer’s Desk: Making Time to Write

  1. Wm Morris says:

    No one’s world would end if they didn’t write. Let’s go ahead and call out the whiners and the wannabes (and I have been at times and might continue to be both), but let’s not also over-psychologize, pathologize or romanticize the calling to be a writer. After all, there are writers who have made the wrong sacrifices in pursuit of false immortality and validation through self-expression.

    And the reality is that family responsibilities, careers to support those families, and demanding church callings do interfere with time to write — or even more damaging, in my experience, use up emotional and creative energy. And sometimes it’s okay to sacrifice that energy for those responsibilities even if the writing output suffers as a result.

    And sometimes it’s okay to push back and shrug off and procrastinate so that you can carve out space to write.

  2. Wm Morris says:

    Or to put it another way: I became much happier and more productive once I realized I didn’t have to be a Writer and could just write and could also just not write. Of course, that’s just about the time that life conspired to make the rest of my responsibilities much more intense. But that’s okay. At least it waited until after the realization.

    All of which is not to say that I never experience any anxiety related to writing. It’s just tempered because it has to be.

  3. Moriah Jovan says:

    Related: Writing: Ur Doin it Rong

    Quite frankly, I don’t care about other writers and what/how/when they write. I have my own business to mind.

    With every conceivable activity, there will be people who say, “Oh, I always wanted to ___” and “Oh, I never have time to ___.” It’s just human nature. So I shrug and go about my merry business because they have their lives prioritized. They probably don’t want people to encourage them to re-prioritize. If they do, they can go to Absolute Write.

  4. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Some thoughts I’d like to add. Some things are well worth putting writing off for. I don’t regret my years not writing while I was younger. My kids needed my attn. Not all kids need as much attn as my upper 2 did. My 3rd, for instance, is very independent. To those moms of young kids who don’t get in writing time like you’d like, chill. Even if you aren’t tapping the keyboard now, you are growing as a person, developing ideas, discovering the challenges of life. The same way living a good life is a kind of missionary work, so too living life (period) is a kind of storytelling prep work. Most of us write better once we get some time behind us.

    I do deeply resent my oversized house and all the demands it makes of me as we try to sell the dang thing (again). I resent the things that have forced me away from the keyboard, but not the people. The family. I do recommend, though, if you don’t want the church to interfere you learn to set some rules. For me, I started telling people that I work during the day and not to ask me to do things you wouldn’t ask a “working” sister to do. (If its evenings or weekends when you write, tell the church folks you have a 2nd job and no, you can’t.) I also stopped doing any writing for any and all church callings. No newsletters, nothing. Treat your writing job like its important and others will back off.

    And FTR, I whine about not getting enough time. And I’m not likely to stop. :)

  5. Great piece. I’m trying to think about what motivates me to write. I think rather than using writing to seek answers, I use it as a passive-aggressive response to the mundane nature of mortality and the boring certainties of Mormon belief. I like to create messes that pose challenges to my answers, and when it comes to have my answers start cleaning up those messages, I lose interest in the writing.

    I think rather than seek answers for myself, I like to write to mess with other people’s minds. I like to make them think about their own culture and beliefs more closely. And I like to make fun of things: myself, my religion, this world, life itself. I guess in creative writing, I just like to be weird and nonconformist, but not really question basic Mormon worldview beliefs. I love to question and mock the culture, though.

  6. C. M. Malm says:

    I, too, object to this statement: “First, would the world end, or would your life end, if you didn’t write? If the answer is no, let it go. ”

    What right have you to tell others that if they don’t have this intense, life-dependent “need” to write, they shouldn’t even TRY? I’m a writer–a sometimes slow writer, admittedly, who gets busy with the many other things that demand my time and energy, but a writer nonetheless–and I don’t have such a “need.” I know a number of other writers–not wannabe writers or thinking-about-writing writers, but people who actually WRITE–who don’t have that “need” either. It’s not a prerequisite or the only acceptable motivating factor a writer might possess.

    Nor is “looking for answers” the only legitimate reason for writing; nor is it the one and only alternative to lecturing. I write to tell stories that fascinate me, to explore alternate imaginary cultures, to capture various emotional and physical realities in fictional form as well as I possibly can. Sometimes I even write to exorcise my own personal “demons” of experience. I’m sure that other writers could add their own diverse items to a long list of “why I write.”

    I’m sorry to be blunt and a bit harsh, but on far too many occasions, back when I was starting out as a writer, before I had achieved enough with my writing to have much real confidence in myself, experienced writers spouting this kind of “need” nonsense created a HUGE amount of self-doubt in me. By suggesting that if a person doesn’t write as much as YOU think they should and/or doesn’t have YOUR motivations for writing, they’re wasting their time even attempting to write, you are doing no favors to beginning writers. Who is meant to BENEFIT from this lecture exactly?

    • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

      This made me chuckle. I recall sitting w. kids in creative writing classes who claimed they needed to write the same way they needed to breathe. Weirdos. I don’t have a “need” like that. Its entirely a want. A great big huge ginormous desire. I’m not sure why exactly. Its sort of like some people are addicted to Suduko. I enjoy the puzzle aspect of connecting words to create something that entertains or has meaning or, best of all, surprises me. I can’t say writing is fun, but neither is running marathons or mountain climbing. And yet both are popular recreational activities and people do it for the pleasure they find in the process. Twisted. Of course, I’d rather be a writer the way some people choose to be proctologists or urologists–because there is money in it. A girl can dream…

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        Well, I’m one of those people who HAS TO. And when it hits, it hits hard and everything else in my life is collateral damage. Fortunately, I’ve learned through the years how to deal with it. More or less.

        Seriously, there is a HAS TO component for some writers, so the idea of making time to write is totally foreign to me.

        I wrote for four hours yesterday, approximately 10,000 words in one gush. I wrote about 2,000 words Sunday because it was there to be written. Do I feel guilty about leaving everything else by the wayside when I do that? Sure. Why? Because writing is fun and (for me) easy. If it’s fun and easy, it’s not work. It’s like calling in sick to work and going to the movies.

  7. K says:

    This is a great article. It’s helped me to rededicate myself to paying my widow’s mite of time for the sake of something that I love. I can’t truly call myself a writer if I’m not willing to sacrifice for, or at least be inconvenienced by, something that I truly feel called to do. I ironically have to give a lesson about developing my talents, so this post couldn’t have come at a better time.

    I recently began my own business for providing written content and consultations. I’m scared to death that I’ll fail. Not because the business would fail. I’m scared that failing will mean that I’m not a writer, and I would be devastated by that. However, you helped me realize that as long as I’m sacrificing and working on my writing, then I am defined by what I do. I am a Writer because my actions show others around me exactly what is important to me.

    As long as I have that going for me, how can I fail?

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