On Being an Everyday Writer (Without Writing Every Day)
Even after I became a published author, it took me much longer to feel like a “real” writer—in part because “real” writers are supposed to write every single day. But who has time for that? From my day job to teaching classes at night to eventually embarking on the even-more-hectic life of a freelancer, I’ve never had the time to write every day. And yet, somehow, I managed to write and publish a few stories here and there—and, eventually, even a book.
If I can pull this off, any writer can.
Being a writer is not just about sitting down to write every day (anyone can sit down and type, after all), but it’s about thinking like a writer; it’s about becoming an Everyday Writer in terms of how you see the world, not in how many words you type on a given day.
In the last year, I’ve embraced the notion of Everyday Writing as a way to help me come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be one of those writers who sits down for several hours a day to write (and I’m guessing that, with the exception of a lucky few, most writers out there can’t afford to do that either). And since I’m not about to give up my writing, I’ve been focusing instead on how to make the most of the time I do have—to stay inspired, to gather material, and to get the words on the page whenever I can.
Below are a few tips for how to be an Everyday Writer even when you don’t have time to sit down to write. I’ve found that the more I think and live like a writer, the more inspired I am to squeeze in the writing time—and the more material I have at my fingertips once I’m in the chair.
Become a better observer. I always thought I was a keen observer of details, until one day when I was in the park with my husband and a trio of young men passed by. As they walked away, my husband commented on the fact that one of them was carrying a gun, which I hadn’t even noticed; another man nearby had seen it too, so it was apparently very obvious. At that moment, I realized that there’s a great deal of life that I’m probably missing out on by not opening my eyes and ears enough—and ever since, I’ve been paying closer attention. The more you see, the more material you’ll find, whether it provides a detail for a character description or a storyline for a new project. So pay attention, especially during the moments in which you’re usually bored (in line at the post office, for example, or waiting for your turn at the DMV)—and you’ll see that there’s a lot out there for your writer self to enjoy.
Always (always!) carry a notebook. This goes hand-in-hand with paying attention; as much as I may now notice going on in my world, not much sticks unless I write it down. I carry little notebooks everywhere I go—and if I’m ever without one, I’ll send an email to myself from my cell phone. Eventually I’ll drag my notebook from the bottom of my handbag and find notes I’d completely forgotten writing down—and I’m so grateful to have them. Get in the habit of doing this so you won’t lose all the little treasures you pick up in your regularly scheduled life.
Write down your goals, and revisit them every month or two. It’s all too easy to get off track and let the writing slide, especially if you’re between projects or working on a long-term goal, like a novel. But by keeping a list of projects and revisiting your list, you’ll remember what you set out to do. In January of this year, I took a look at my writing goals from the previous year and saw that I had three short stories that still remained incomplete after two years—and for no reason other than my not having made the time for them. Seeing how long they’d been languishing inspired me to get back to work on them, and I finished them all within the next four months. Often you’ll find that all you need is a reminder of your goals to spur you on toward making them a reality.
Try a retreat. Busy writers often go on retreat in order to get serious writing done—and this is a great idea. Keep in mind that a retreat needn’t involve money, travel, or applications—you can create your own writing retreat any time, anywhere. Whether you set aside two hours on a weeknight at the kitchen table or a full weekend of writing in a log cabin in the woods, give a DIY retreat a try sometime. Just make sure you let people know you’ll be “away,” no matter where you actually are, and make all the necessary adjustments (unplugging from the Internet, arranging child care, etc.) so that nothing interrupts your writing time.
Be persistent yet flexible. Most important of all, stick with your writing. I’ve known so many talented writers who give up too soon, often because sticking to a routine proves daunting or impossible. Remember that the only routine you need is the one that works for you. So experiment with your schedule and its possibilities, and come up with a routine that allows you to fit in your writing time whenever and wherever you can. Even if you think you only have room for one or two hours of writing a week, the more you think like a writer in your everyday life, the more often you’ll be inspired to trade Facebook for a few extra minutes (or hours!) of writing time.
Midge Raymond is the author of Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts To Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life and the short story collection Forgetting English, which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.