You want to be a writer, and perhaps you are one, so you tell everyone you are a writer. You tell yourself, your family, your friends, your colleagues, the taxi driver who asks, the passport control officer in the airport, and every single person you meet. Almost without fail, everyone you inform about your chosen career/identity will react in one of two ways:
1. “Oh.” And a silent decision to never take you seriously, because obviously you couldn’t get any other normal job doing something useful, and that’s why you’re a “writer”. This is followed by a general misconception that you are free to run errands, join NGOs, fulfill the questioner’s own dreams, babysit, talk on the phone for hours, or go out for coffee at the drop of a hat. After all, you have nothing better to do, do you?
2. “Oh really? What do you write?” or “What have you written?” The problem with this interested reaction is that if you haven’t written the latest bestseller or are not a famous investigative journalist, the likelihood is that the initial interest will quickly morph into reaction number 1 (see above).
Don’t be embarrassed. This happens to me all the time, so I’m not talking about some theoretically humiliating experience that happens to “other” people. The result of these kinds of encounters is that, unlike when you were slaving away at a full time job you hated while dreaming of having time and space to write, you find that your time is fair game. Or, if you still have your full-time job, the rest of your precious time is obviously to socialize, chat, relax, and generally do anything but write.
So, what’s the solution?
Like everything else in life, there are no easy answers, but there are always possibilities. Whether you have decided to dedicate 3 or 30 hours a week to writing, it is up to you to create your own space of time and make everyone respect it. No one is going to respect that space unless you make them. Remember, everyone else thinks that you are now free to do everything they want you to do.
So the question is: how much do you respect your own writing? Enough to make that space? Or is it really not that important, and so-and-so’s request for a favor that will take you 5 hours to do is more of a priority?
Here are some suggestions on how to create that space:
1. Establish office hours for yourself (even if you are working out of your home) and stick to them. Inform everyone of these hours and be strict with both yourself and your family and friends. Remember when you were working that full time job? People usually wouldn’t call you during office hours because they knew you’d be too busy to answer. Recreate that atmosphere. Some people may become offended (because they know that you’re not “employed”), but always ask yourself the question: are you willing to give up writing for the possibility that someone will be unreasonably offended that you are doing what you’ve always wanted to do?
2. Learn to say “no”. There are so many causes and projects that people will try to talk you into joining. They will flatter you, plead with you, emotionally blackmail you, and generally embarrass you into joining their cause/project, so that you’ll wake up one day to find yourself with a full schedule, and with no time or energy left for your writing. I have three words for you: don’t do it. This is a vicious cycle that is hard to break, so don’t start it. Again, is your contribution to that cause/project more important than your dream? How much time of your life have you spent working on someone else’s project?
3. Put up a glass wall. This is not a call to become an anti-social hermit (although that possibility is always attractive to writers who are strapped for time). But you don’t always have to comment on every single Facebook status your friends post, do you? You don’t always have to answer the phone. You don’t always have to go to every single outing your friends arrange. You don’t always have to intervene in each and every (non-violent) argument your children or siblings are having. Don’t hide from the world forever, but sometimes you need to just put up a glass wall. Everyone can see you’re still alive and breathing, and every now and then, you can look up from your writing and smile and wave at everyone out there. This takes a lot of self-discipline, because the glass wall makes everyone believe you are available. That glass wall basically means that you are physically in the midst of family and friends, but at the same time, you’re worlds away with your writing.
Whether you’re writing for publication or for yourself is not an issue here. The issue is: you say you’re a writer, you’ve always wanted to be a writer, so will you write or not? Will you give yourself the space to be a writer?
Those were just some of my suggestions about how to create that space. I’m sure there are a lot more ideas out there, so I’d love to hear yours.