6 Misconceptions about Writing – No. 2

Somewhere on the Internet, I found the “6 Misconceptions About Writing” by Rebecca McClanahan, which is excerpted from Write Your Heart Out, which was published in 2001. Ms McClanahan is the author of ten books and is also an educator, and public speaker. She specializes in essays and memoir, the craft of writing, and the creative process.

Rebecca McClanahan

I quote from her document below.

Misconception #2: Writers have time to write.
For many people on this planet, writing is not an option. Those who are locked in the jaws of war, illness, poverty, violence, illiteracy, starvation, natural or unnatural disasters don’t have the luxury of writing. Getting from one day to the next is all they can manage.
On the other end of the scale are those for whom life affords every luxury.
Blessed with health, talent, opportunities and material resources, their only
responsibility is to the blank page or canvas. Some are born into wealth and
privilege; their days are and will always be truly theirs, to use as they will.
Others, through cosmic collisions of luck and fate, are granted uninterrupted time and space in which to work. If they chose to write their hearts out, nothing can stop them—or so it appears. (We’ll talk more about this assumption later.)
The rest of us fall somewhere between these extremes. And though we cite
plenty of reasons for not writing, lack of time seems to be the biggest factor.
Listen in on any group of writers long enough, and chances are the subject of time will come up. “If I just had more time,” someone sighs aloud, and everyone around the table nods agreement: the poet/single mother of three, the essayist/ computer programmer, the novelist/college student, the mystery writer/nurse, the memoirist/carpenter.
The challenge of making time to write is not new nor is it trivial. For centuries, writers have felt time’s weight pressing down upon them, and many have collapsed beneath it. Books, journals, diaries and interviews are filled with their struggles. In Tillie Olsen’s meticulously detailed Silences, which ironically marked the end of Olsen’s own twenty-year literary silence, she tells of famous and unknown writers alike whose work was interrupted, postponed, abandoned, or, in some cases, barely begun. As Olsen explains, time wasn’t the only pressure bearing down on these writers, but it was one of the heaviest. Heavy enough to silence Melville’s prose for thirty years while he wore himself out at the customs dock trying to make ends meet. Heavy enough to force Katherine Anne Porter to spend twenty constantly-interrupted years writing Ship of Fools rather than the two years she estimated it would have taken had she been able
to write full time.
Any piece of writing requires time, and a sustained, artistic, well-crafted creation requires not only actual writing time but time for imagining, thinking, feeling, dreaming, revising, reconsidering, and beginning again. The circumstances of our lives eat up that time; that’s why we call them “time-consuming.” Some time consuming circumstances are welcome: playing with our children, making dinner for friends, planting a flower garden, taking a trip to the mountains. Other circumstances, if not always welcome, are nevertheless necessary: going to work, filling out tax forms, changing the oil filter, making out the grocery list. But whether welcome or unwelcome, pleasant or unpleasant, necessary to our physical survival or to our emotional well-being, these circumstances use up time, time that is not being used for writing.
When day-to-day circumstances absorb the time that could/should/might be
used for writing, you may get a little edgy. You might even get angry or envious, imagining living the life of a Real Writer, someone who doesn’t have to work at another job, or two or three, to make ends meet, who doesn’t have to mow the lawn, call the plumber, take out the garbage, clean the chimney, make breakfast, grade papers, feed the kids and the cat. I’ve wasted whole afternoons doing that old two-step, The Sulk & Carry. (The steps are simple: You just sulk awhile, then carry it with you all day.) It’s just not fair, I tell myself. In addition to everything else they have, Real Writers have time to write.
Or so it appears on the surface. In actuality, no person, however rich or free of outside constraints, has time to write. True, some people have more money, energy, opportunity, or freedom from day-to-day duties than the rest of us. But nature abhors a vacuum, and each life, however privileged, must fill with something. And fill it does. All the time in the world, by itself, will not make writing happen. Or, as we’ve said before, writing only happens by writing, and only the person who writes the book can write the book.
Okay, so maybe it won’t be a whole book. Not this year, anyway. Maybe what you’ll manage is a poem a year, one long letter on each grandchild’s birthday, a handful of travel essays or short stories, a stack of editorials written to your local newspaper, song lyrics for your daughter’s wedding, one wild and crazy screenplay, or a locked diary filled with your secret fears and wishes. Whether you end up publishing a body of work that makes Joyce Carol Oates’ output look paltry, or whether you write one story that no one but yourself ever sees, is beside the point. The point is, you’re writing.
As the Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want…but if
you try sometime, you just might find you’ll get what you need.” If you can make time to read this book, you can make time to write. If you can make time to watch the evening news or your favorite sit-com, you can make time to write.
True, you may not be able to make the time you want, but you can make the
time you need. You may even find that time limits actually feed the writing
process. (We’ll discuss this in the next chapter.)
Most of us already have everything we need to do the kind of writing we need to do. And if we don’t yet have what we need, there are ways to go about getting it. We can change the external circumstances of our life to allow more time for writing, we can wait for our circumstances to change, or we can learn to work within the restraints imposed upon us. But one thing is certain: If we spend time complaining that we have no time, we’ll have even less time to write.

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