If you’re in college for creative writing, as an undergrad or a graduate, and you are struggling to find the time to generate material, don’t give up… and don’t feel guilty for writing not being your first priority.
Just write. Make time for it. If it’s really important, you’ll figure it out. Get up earlier. Stay up later. Get your priorities right.
These are things I heard from a creative writing professor this past semester.
To be clear, I’m a full-time graduate student, a full-time Instructor of Diesel Service Technology and I own a small herd of horses that includes colts that I haven’t backed yet, breeding stock, retired geriatrics and my show string (one of whom is on pasture rest from an accident and another is done because of kissing spine).
In a private conversation after that, I looked at him and I said, “When exactly? I get up at 4:30 am, do chores, drive 45 minutes to work, listening to schoolwork on my phone, teach until 2 in the afternoon, use my office hours to stay on top of my school work – I don’t take a lunch – leave there and I either go to class until 9 pm, or I stay there and teach class until 9 pm 3 nights a week. I have to be in bed, asleep by 10 or I can’t function, but 1am more common than 10 pm. My mother comes over and takes care of my animals on my long nights. All the rest of my time is spent drowning under the 800-1000 pages of reading I have to do every week, the 600-800 word mini-essays, the 20-minute presentations and term assignments, and the critique letters for this class. Do you have any suggestions for making some time?”
He stared at me. Because, frankly, he didn’t know what to say. I work to hard, I guess. Finally, he said, “well, I guess you’re doing what you can… are you working on anything new?”
“Yes,” I told him, “a few short stories, some scenes for some bigger pieces.” Which ended that direction of the conversation.
Let’s be clear, though. I chose this. I’m not complaining. I’m so incredibly grateful that a) I am not one of the graduate TA’s in that program, who were more overloaded than me and they were only supposed to be teaching 6 cr/working 20hrs a week. (I had a 12 cr workload, min 35/hr week…) and b) that I suffered through this fall semester because it made me start looking for a different program and that’s how I found the MFA at Lindenwood. (Can’t wait for semester to start…)
I’m rambling. This happens.
My point is, when do you get the time?
What thing do I sacrifice? I already put a huge pause on competing with my horses… I haven’t been to an event since January 27th, 2019. Almost a year! Oh, the misery. I’ve only been able to steal a few moments here and there with my young horses, which I have 2 that need backing and one coming up. Oh, and while I was having this conversation with this professor, I left out the fact that I was taking every spare moment I had and pouring it into my blue pickup truck because my shiny new(ish, 2.5 yrs, like 5k miles) transmission had a mystery problem.
Priorities: Transportation. Work. Horses/School.
See how that works? Transportation first, because I must have it to pay the bills. Work to pay the bills. Family/Horses/School because Life/Life Long/I’m Paying For It.
Right now, writing is not a time=money gain situation for me.
I am not the only person in the world who has this problem. Replace ‘horses’ with ‘significant other’ or ‘kids’ or ‘healthcare’ and tell me how that falls for you. Or, in some cases, ‘another job so I don’t starve or become homeless.’
So, when you go to a conference, and you hear someone say ‘oh you make time, you find the time,’ take it with a grain of salt. Think a little wider. You aren’t Stephen King who is in a situation to dedicate his time to writing without concerns such as these things.
Does that mean you don’t write? NO! It just means you record your horrible verbal narration of your live opus while flying down the highway and let your fancy smartphone transcribe it into a confused jumble of words that don’t make sense (because it doesn’t ever understand what you say) for you to try to unscramble three days later when you finally email it to yourself.
It just means that you pull out an old short story, you know that one that you paid to submitted to fifteen journals and competitions only to have it rejected by all of them, and re-read it, rework it, cringing the whole time that you of five years ago thought that was submission worthy.
It means that you spend an entire 20 minutes searching for a specific thing you want to work on again, 10 minutes reading it and realizing that you will have to start from scratch with it, and 2 minutes sulking while you email it to yourself because you are now going to be late for work.
But don’t forget those that made it where you could steal a few minutes before bed, or at lunch. The ones that cook a hot dinner and deliver it on that night you have that awful class via video conference, so you don’t have to eat at 10pm (when you want to be asleep) because you didn’t have time between leaving work and class starting to pick something up. Be thankful for the co-worker who helps you finish a personal project in the evenings after work so you don’t have to worry about it not getting done. Be thankful for that significant other that drops everything and drives an hour just because you are having a stress-induced meltdown and need a hug. Be thankful for text-to-speech, Audible, smartphones, car stereos and OneDrive. And coffee. Most of all, be thankful for coffee.
Happy New Year.