I’ve been giving some thought the last couple of weeks to the idea of self protection as writers. I’ve talked before about how you don’t FIND the time to write, you MAKE it, and you protect it with all the psychotic ferocity of a honey badger. Which is a necessary thing given that you do not always have the same support for your writing as you would for a more traditional job. But the time to write is only part of the picture. I’m really good at that part. I’ve got discipline coming out my ears.
But one of the very necessary and less talked about parts of writing is the time spent NOT writing. By which I don’t mean all the time spent doing other things that actively occupy your brain like Evil Day Jobs and interacting with other people. I mean the THINKING TIME. Writing is a very cerebral activity, and part of that means that we, as writers, need time to hear our own thoughts. That might be us going for a walk with the dogs or taking a long shower or working in the yard at some form of mindless labor (note to self: must remember to do the weeding soon). Sometimes it’s reading someone else’s work or rereading old favorites. Sometimes it’s just being quiet. I can’t tell you how much I value the rare days when I don’t have to speak to a SOUL for a full 8-10 hours. Because on those days, all the other crap that clutters up my brain can usually be brushed aside and I can hear myself think, I can hear the voices of my characters pointing out the things I haven’t been able to figure out because of all the NOISE.
This is the part I have a hard time protecting. Because so much of the NOISE is not stuff I have control over. It’s stuff I have to stop and deal with. And with limited hours in the day, it’s hard to find or even MAKE the necessary time. It’s why I run, why I walk, why I do any number of other things to get the hell away from people who want something from me, even if that something is only my attention. This, combined with my natural inclination toward EXTREME introversion, means that when I don’t get that time, I get mean. There’s no other word for it. I do. I get short-tempered and angry because CAN’T THEY SEE I CAN’T TAKE THIS RIGHT NOW AND PLEASE JUST SHUT UP? (See also, do not talk to me until I’ve had my morning tea). Of course not. They’re not writers. They don’t have a whole TOWN’S worth of illusory people ALSO demanding attention. Or they’re extroverts who think the idea of not speaking to another soul for a full day is the fifth circle of hell.
I am utterly blessed to be married to an equally introverted musician/photographer (NOT a morning person either), who absolutely grasps the concept of needing time to chill and hear oneself think. His version generally doesn’t involve silence (big gamer), but he’s marvelous about letting me get my writing in and not getting (too) annoyed when I’m off in my head somewhere else.
Unfortunately, the outside world interferes more often than not. And that’s when I struggle. Because though I make the time to do the work, without also having the time to think, that work time is less productive than it should be. It’s why I keep bumbling along trying to meditate and clear my brain. God I miss my 20-something brain’s ability to focus and compartmentalize.
I don’t have any answers. Just kind of throwing my thoughts out into the void.
Long drives in the country are my favorite. Also, early mornings with coffee on the deck of my cabin are good thinking times. Getting that respect to be left alone can be very difficult. You are lucky that your spouse is also a thinker and understands.
Oh, I know what you mean. Most of the time my husband is good about it, but every so often he forgets and comes barreling into my office like the Kool-Aid Man on steroids…every. Five. Minutes. This makes me growly, which I later regret, but SHEESH. As a kid whenever I spent too much time in my own head my mother grew convinced I was depressed and needed to see a doctor. Out of the goodness of their hearts, people try to help but don’t understand you just want to be left alone and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Me, I bought a pair of ginormous, noise-cancelling studio headphones and studiously ignore everyone, even if I’m not actually listening music. It’s working so far as the international signal for “not available”. 🙂
I don’t have much to say except that I know exactly what you’re talking about. Long walks, runs, drives, showers, even just lying on the bed with the door closed and headphones on are what work for me. I agree that it’s crucial to protect what writing time you do have with tooth and claw, because no one else will do it for you.
You make a really good point: I think we sometimes do forget about thinking time, and focus on writing time.
Showers and physical labour are great for thinking. I can also recommend long train rides, where you have nowhere else to go 🙂 It really cuts down on your possibilities for procrastination.
Oh I MISS trains. I loved riding them places when I lived in Scotland.
I take the train to and from work, and it’s really helped me get into the habit of writing every day. What else am I going to do? 🙂
Too much coming and going, too much socializing, too many people, and I have to crawl back under my rock and recharge. I’ve finally decided to stop apologizing. I’m wired for introversion, and I’m normal. One of my goals is to ride the train about 200 miles and then change and come back home, writing all the way.
Yes! I don’t want to go back to it, but when I was at university and working, I still lived with my parents. And there just seemed to be a lot more time to hang out on my own and spend the day following tangents in writing and reading, seeing where things led. I don’t seem to have as much time now to pontificate…
I know what you mean. I don’t have as much time for that now because real life is always interfering.