Friday, June 21, 2013

Close Up the Wall

"Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more;
Or close up the wall with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;"

Henry V, Shakespeare

William Shakespeare knew a thing or two about protecting his writing time if this bit is any indication. Or maybe he really was just putting words into the Henry V's mouth so he could get the action going on stage. However, Henry's monologue echoes the advice you've seen this week for protecting your writing time, right? Wall off your time, defend it from all comers.

Here, then, are the bodies with which to shore up your defenses:

If you write, if you want to write, and you're juggling a family and a life as most of us are, you'll get much farther if you accept a few basic tenets.
  1. You are equally worthy of consideration as anyone else.
  2. Life is happening with all of the bumps, blows and traumas associated therewith. Accept it. Deal with it. Write in spite of it.
  3. Recognize that if your writing time is being encroached upon and/or interrupted, you're participating in that pattern.
  4. You can only impact one person's behavior. Yours.
The first point is an echo of Jeffe's post from Sunday. It's easy to make excuses for not writing based on whatever our families and loved ones need - but it conveniently dodges what WE need. That shifts us into the whole martyrdom complex where we sacrifice our lives and our dreams on the altar of the family. Reality check yourself. Is your family actually asking you for that sacrifice? If yes, consult a counselor. That's abuse. Most families neither ask nor want you to sacrifice yourself. Healthy families have room for everyone's needs - including yours. Some give may be necessary to accommodate everyone, but at no time should your needs automatically and always take a back seat to everyone else's. You're a member of your family. You count just as much as everyone else. Negotiate your time and your space for writing.

The second point, that life is what's happening right this second, is about excuses. You know the ones. "I've had a lot going on. I just haven't been able to write." A Lot Going On. It should be a sign painted in bright letters and posted above your computer. Loved ones get sick. People die. They're born. They have crises and weddings and graduations and life altering car accidents. You either write through all of that, or you don't. Make writing your refuge, your celebration, your place to go to find sense and meaning and comfort. If you can do that, it won't matter what life brings. You'll write. You'll sink into story and rest there, emerging back into life rejuvenated and calmer. Saner. How, you ask? You decide to do it. It's that simple. And that difficult.

The third point requires that you identify where and how you're participating in the patterns that make it okay for people to interrupt your work. Many of us get caught up in feeling like we're indispensable - our loved ones NEED us, man! What we're really saying is that we've successfully trained our families to lean on us rather than stand on their own two feet.

If you've made that bed, you can unmake it. You can require that family members learn to fend for themselves. I'm not talking about throwing tiny children or pets into the ocean and demanding that they figure out how to swim. That way lies having your house burned down when the six year old decides to stuff marshmallows in the toaster. Start with small, incremental steps that teach self-sufficiency. This makes the individuals within the family unit capable, and it weans you off of the heady, addicting feeling that they just can't make do without you.

The last one is, for me, the real game changer. It's what pushed me over the edge into committing to writing every single day, regardless of what my family said, did, or thought.

It's this: At no point, ever, is it incumbent upon anyone else on earth to respect your writing time. That's on you. 100%.

If you can't write at home without someone interrupting you, go into a room and close the door. Family barges through the door? Get a lock. They knock? Ear plugs. Shouting, texting, and phone calls, constant angst? Leave. Physically leave the premises. Find a coffee shop or a tea shop or an all night diner that will let you flip open your laptop and camp for an hour or four so long as you buy a beverage and a treat of some kind. Cheap office rent. You can take the cell phone with if it makes you feel better, but don't answer it. Not texts. Not ringing. Nothing. Work out an emergency ring code before hand with the one person you trust to not abuse your time. One ring, hang up, call again - this equals an emergency that requires you to answer the phone. (You're also wise to lay out what qualifies as an emergency ahead of time, too.) Anything else can go to voicemail.

You deserve to spend time each day chasing your dreams. It's not just okay to be as ruthless as Henry V about defending your right - it's healthy.

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