Dori Ostermiller: “Finding” time to write – as if!

\"\"The irony of my situation this week hasn’t escaped me: I agreed to write this blog piece about finding time to write, but I’ve been unable to find the time! There were the girls’ dentist appointments, the emergency teacher conference. My daughter needed a tutor, so I had to make a half dozen calls… New workshops demanded my attention, as did a pile of student manuscripts. There was a student who needed my help on a cover letter, an old friend in crisis and a new friend wanting to meet for coffee… I spent three hours this morning frantically cleaning my house in preparation for my mother’s upcoming visit… The list goes on. The writing time kept getting pushed aside.

All the while, the question was spinning through my mind: how do we find time and space to write? What tips and advice could I possibly give to others on this subject when I’m doing such a lousy job myself eking out time and space?

I finally decided that it’s less a question of logistics and more one of validity. The issue for me is not so much about “finding” time to write, but learning to call myself a writer – even after a published book! For many of us (especially women), it’s so frightfully easy to believe writing isn’t that important, and everything else – children, spouses, friends, jobs, housework – ends up taking precedence over this activity which seems so inherently asocial. So evidently selfish. How can we justify sitting alone in a room, staring vaguely into space and moodling over the right way to capture some elusive sensory image when dishes are piled in the sink, children are hungry, the planet is dying? What gives us this right?

I think we have the right because stories are essential. Stories heal us, help us define our world and our place in it. We have the right because we are born with a deep urge to name things, and because naming gives us insight, satisfaction, and understanding. Whether or not we are “professional” writers, the need for creative solitude and expression is viable, and vital: without it, we wouldn’t have art.

Once we make the decision that our writing is just as important as, say, talking with a needy friend or getting the kids to dance (and perhaps more important than folding the bloody laundry or weeding the garden), then creating time and space gets a bit simpler. You will not suddenly discover reams of unencumbered hours, but you might be able to say ‘no’ to what’s not essential more often. As Julia Cameron says, “If we learn to write from the sheer love of it, there is always enough time.” If we learn to claim it as essential – something we have the right to – then we begin to honor it, no matter how busy our days.

[Dori is on the panel How Much Do You Want It? Carving Out Time and Space to Write.]