This past summer, I was more disciplined that I've ever been as a writer. I created a schedule to complete all of my home responsibilities and exercise, and was still not only cranking out an average of 1500 words a day, but also reading more than I had in months.
Then school started.
For whatever reason - new classes, changes at home, just plain laziness - I've gotten so off my game that I haven't written more than 500 words in the last six weeks. I have a project that I'm really excited about and think of throughout the day, but there seem to be so many demands on my time that I just can't carve out the minutes in the day to make words happen on the screen. Even this blog post is the first time in a month that I've been able to get around to it, and I don't even want to say what I'm supposed to be doing while I'm typing this. There are at least three circles in my streaks app that are pushing sad notifications my way on a regular basis.
For a writer, a real aspiring writer, this is a problem that can't be overstated. I'm sure it's the same for any other artist or entrepreneur with a day job that pays the bills, but it's very like an existential crisis. Am I a writer who also teaches? Or am I a teacher who dabbles in writing sometimes?
Is this writing thing a hobby, a vocation, or a calling?
Balancing different desires in life is so difficult, and it's hard not to feel the "should" hiding in every moment. When I'm writing, I often feel like I should be spending quality time with the family. When I'm engaged with the family, I should be grading papers or catching up on communications from work. When I'm catching up on work, I should be writing. And somehow in the midst of all those shoulds, there's supposed to be time for relaxation, meditation and prayer, and exercise. Oh, and reading. And marketing myself on social media.
Every book or article I read on the subject says that if you love a thing, you'll make time for it, but there's two things wrong with that thinking. First, I love a lot of things, starting with my wife and kids, and it's not so much about desire as it is about the demands of life. Second, I can't make more time, as much as I would like to. I only get but so much of it, and a lot of it, like a lot of my money, already has someone else's name on it before I even get to see it.
But I do love writing, and I know that I've been more focused and productive at other times in my life, and I can at least be that way again. My schedule was a little easier last year, and I was generally able to dedicate at least thirty minutes each workday to writing, while sill getting everything else done as well. Maybe I need to find those minutes in the day, even if it's not every day, to be productive.
Also, there was a time before we had the baby when I had made a habit of getting out every Saturday morning for a couple of hours to sit in a Starbucks or McDonalds, order a light breakfast to justify taking up space and bandwidth, and knock out anywhere from 1500 to 3000 words before I came home. Best of all, my wife supported this habit as long as I came home with her favorite coffee and a treat. Now that the baby is becoming more independent, maybe I can start that tradition again.
However it turns out, I'm going to get it back on track. There has to be enough time to achieve these goals, to tell the stories about the people who live in my head so that everyone else can get to know them too. If one successful habit got broken, then another one can be created in its place. And after all, one of the great things about my job is that even if I struggle to produce during the school year, I can still plot and plan, still write down my thoughts and update my notes, and then be ready to shift back into my highest gear when summer comes again.
Because I love it.