Every day I write the book.

Or so sang Elvis Costello.* I cannot say the same.

The other day, Nichole Bernier tweeted a link to a year-old piece on the LA Times’ website, “A Working Mother’s Guide to Writing a Novel.”

Wow, did I feel ashamed after reading this piece.

I know, it doesn’t do to compare yourself to other writers who work in different, seemingly better ways. And by better, I mean, more productive. Comparisons only lead down a path of guilt, self-disgust, writer’s block, etc, etc.

But I digress.  This working mom, Mary McNamara, offered a list of 10 things that need to happen in order to successfully juggle work, motherhood, writing, and the rest of your life. (If indeed there is one.) The list is, I think, both motivational and sobering, and not just for writing moms and dads but for anyone who happens to be juggling other roles in their lives while attempting a writing career. Some of McNamara’s guidelines are fairly obvious: Have a laptop, for example, because you as a busy, working parent don’t have time to write longhand, then type it up, and you’ll be writing in various locations such as cafes, your kids’ ball games, the car, etc. Other suggestions are less obvious: Be discreet about what you are doing, because talking about writing a book and writing a book are completely different things.

The piece of advice that got me was this: “You have to write Every Single Day, and I mean it. Obviously there are exemptions for death and illness, but it’s like dieting or working out — if you start skipping one day or two, it’s all over.”

It’s not like I haven’t heard this advice before. Of course you have to write every day, is what I thought as I read the piece. And then I saw it. My inability to stick to writing every day had landed me where I am these days, which is, well… nowhere in particular. I have started a novel (or two?) and written several short stories in the past few months. Some of them I’ve completed, some of them I have not. In the past two months, I’ve written almost nothing, and have even lost track of what my most current project is/should be.

When I read McNamara’s advice I saw what my casual attitude of late with regard to writing has done to all aspects of my writing, the routine, the output, the quality of that output, and my motivation level.

It happens that I have recently resolved to get more exercise. My workout routine has gone much the way of my writing routine. I go to the gym once or twice in a week, then miss the next week, or multiple weeks. McNamara is right — skipping a day or two, or a week or two, means it’s all over. I have just as much trouble getting back to working out, and getting back to the fitness level I was in before, as I do getting back to my writing when I’ve been away from it.

So what’s the fix? I have grown accustomed to giving myself a lot of slack in recent months. And by slack, I mean making excuses. You’re doing the best you can, is what I frequently tell myself when I let my daily life take over my writing life or my workout routine.  You have a kid to take care of, a dog to walk, work to do, a relationship to maintain, dinner to cook, sleep to get, etc. etc. After reading that piece, and after trying to run at the gym for the first time in months, and after sitting down to write today and not being able to remember what project I was last working on, I see that I have not been doing the best that I can.

McNamara writes that she arranged with her husband to write at night, while he put the kids to bed. She cut out a lot of other activities. There are plenty of moments when I have been lounging about on the couch in the past few months (or years), in the evening, after my son has been put to bed, and I’ve been doing nothing in particular, which is to say, I’ve been watching TV and/or reading headlines and checking Facebook and Twitter on my iPhone. I have been telling myself, when my guilt about not writing or blogging or doing whatever else makes itself known, is that I am doing so many things during the day that I deserve these few hours of nothingness. In truth, some days I do need a bit of nothingness. But not every day. I could be writing during those times, is what I thought when I read McNamara’s article.

And so. I see now that writing every day involves breaking out of habits as much as developing new ones. It means snapping out of laziness and a cycle of excuses. And, toughest of all, it’s about being a hardass about making writing a priority, not something you can set aside because a preschool event has come up, or because you need to buy groceries, or because you feel like doing nothing instead. Writing, if you’re serious, is not a special hobby you get to when you’ve cleared your to-do list of everything else.


*Back in the day. The Charles and Diana aspect of this video seems baffling now, though no doubt in 1983 I thought it was great.


7 thoughts on “Every day I write the book.

  1. I’m with you: If I skip — even “just a little” — I throw ALL my momentum off track. :(

    The only thing I’ll say is that I DO think it’s different to “miss” a day’s worth of writing because something came up (like a sick child or a house emergency) versus because you spent too much time on Twitter, FB, etc. The former is legitimate and not worth beating yourself up over; the latter is what I’ve been doing lately, and it’s lousy.

  2. I really need that book. Being a working father (if you’re, like, interested in your kids, do pick-up and collection, your share of the ballet classes etc and are the partner that can actually get out of bed before 7 operate a kettle) has its own challenges.

    Writing every day. Yup. And that means working on your book properly every day, even if its only for 15 minutes. Not been a good week for that.

  3. Pingback: I need to remind myself of this daily. « ce.

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