In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Ann Kroeker and Charity Craig ask this question: To what extant have you arranged your space and time to honor your writing?
I joke with my wife that only three poets in the United States make a living from writing poetry, and two of them are Billy Collins.
Expanding from poetry to writing in general, how many novelists actually support themselves by strictly writing? Likely more than you find in poetry, but it’s equally likely that the number can be counted – it’s not huge. James Patterson. Stephen King. Some romance writers.
The number is finite and knowable.
For the rest of us, we likely write whenever we can cram in a minute or 30 minutes or an hour. I write whenever I find a moment to write.
My first novel, Dancing Priest, spent the first four years of its existence as a story idea inside my head. Initially, I never intended to write it down. It started with a song I heard, and the image of a priest dancing on a beach. I developed the story as a mental narrative and delved deeper into it once I started biking. A number of scenes in the novel were created and elaborated while I rode the 10 miles (20-miles round trip) of Grant’s Trail in St. Louis.
I was also doing a lot of traveling, including a regular monthly trip (sometimes more frequently) to Alabama. Airline flights and nights in hotel rooms afforded the time for writing. Two hotels in Oxford, Alabama, provided the physical space for the writing of Dancing Priest from 2004 to 2007, the mental and physical narratives overlapping during this time.
I started writing the story down in the fall of 2005. Hurricane Katrina and getting my mother and aunt out of New Orleans had something to do with it. Perhaps it was seeing the destruction of the place I was born and grew up. Whatever it was, it was Katrina that spurred me to start writing the story down.
I immediately discovered that thinking a story in my head was infinitely easier than writing it down. The mental narrative included images – what the characters looked like, the settings, even the weather. The written narrative had to account for these things in words. The time required multiplied exponentially.
So, I crammed it in whenever and wherever I could – early mornings, late nights, and trips. There was no set time, because I was also a husband, a father (and soon a grandfather), a church deacon, an editor, an occasional freelancer – and I had a full-time job that, like most jobs, is something more than full-time.
To answer Ann’s and Charity’s question, I have no regular time to write. I have only what becomes available, or what time I can make available. Through 2015, that “schedule” allowed the creation of two published novels (Dancing Priest and its sequel, A Light Shining), the non-fiction book Poetry at Work, this blog, a weekly column at Tweetspeak Poetry, and occasional articles for other online sites.
In the late spring of 2015, the time available changed radically – I retired from the day job. With all the supposed free time, it took three years to write the third novel, Dancing King. Perhaps I did better with a demanding schedule.
But there’s a second consideration to that question asked by Ann and Charity – the idea of honoring your writing.
I could come up with a longwinded answer, but I believe it’s tied to the time devoted to writing – I honor my writing by making the time for it.
I’ll ask you the same question – how do you find the time to write, and how do you honor your writing?
Photograph by Jordan McQueen via Unsplash. Used with permission.