What’s Stopping You?

August 21, 2018 § 32 Comments

Multi-tasking is the key

Yesterday I went viral on Twitter:

And aside from 17 replies of “But I’m 97,” a few scoldings on how I shouldn’t glorify Laura Ingalls Wilder, 12 “What if I’m just lazy,” and a couple of crabapples sniping about factual accuracy (yes, I should have said “novel” for Twain), the overall response was one of relief.

Thank you, I needed that.

There’s still hope.

I needed to hear that today.

A lot of people are worried they might be too old, or not published enough (the paradox of not publishing until you’re published), or that being a writer is somehow a special condition and only certain people are allowed to contract it.

It was fun to see so many retweets and likes, and I checked in periodically while putting together a PowerPoint for a workshop next weekend, “25 Hours in the Day: Planning and Living a Writing Life.” I made pretty slides about saying no to tasks that don’t help your writing, and how many “obligations” we take on aren’t really things we’re obliged to do, and apps and tools to manage our time. Then I edited two hours for a client, went to the library and printed some maps I needed for novel research, refilled a prescription long-distance and answered some email.

My day also included a panic attack, where I wept and vented on the phone to my best writing friend, because I’ve just finished a writing workshop and booked myself three days of personal writing time in the same location, and I’m spending that time working for other people.

Not writing my book.

I feel my age closing in, the sense that I’ve “wasted my life,” which is patently ridiculous given that 1) I’m only in my 40s; and 2) I’ve already done three successful careers which, surprise! gave me shit to write about.

But in a one-on-one consultation with my teacher last week, he looked at me very sternly and said “You need to stop editing and write your own book.” I repeated that to my husband, who said “That’s what I’ve been telling you for four years.”

I like editing. I like teaching and speaking and helping other people work for their dreams, and I don’t want to quit entirely. I like blogging for Brevity.

I don’t want to quit teaching circus entirely.

I don’t want to quit traveling.

And all these things help me write, yes, but they also take time from writing. They demand physical and mental energy. That’s what we forget when planning our writing lives: it’s not the obligations we chafe at that are hard to shuck off—It’s the stuff we love.

Many writers love being a good spouse. Parenting well. Looking after a family member who needs help. Those aren’t writing hours.

We enjoy living in a nice place and keeping it up. We like working to pay rent and food and the care of people who need us. We take pride in doing well at that work—some of us even adore the work itself. Those aren’t writing hours.

If I’m going to write, I have to make writing hours. A lot of them. I don’t have kids, but I like being a good wife. I like the self-respect that came from being self-supporting. Some of being a good writer is sacrificing some of those two things. I contribute to the house with money and work, but after twenty primary-breadwinning years, I’m not self-supporting any more. My best writing time is often away from my husband by thousands of miles. And it’s hard to say no to editing clients, because I’m arrogant enough to think I can help them best.

Small things help: I pop in my earbuds and put on the song that launches me into one book or another. I maximize my time by turning off wifi and my phone. I updated my website to say I’m not taking on new writers, because it’s easier to have potential clients say no to themselves before emailing me.

I’m privileged that these are options I have; your barriers may be different and much harder to surmount. But it’s easy to make time for writing by saying, “I’ll get the kids to do their own laundry and start doing groceries only once a week.” It’s much harder to look at things we love and value, and decide we might love writing more. Especially when we aren’t living on our writing money, the time we spend can feel like self-indulgence, like a frill.

But we’d tell our treasured friend, You deserve that time. We’d say, Modeling dedication and focus is also good parenting. We’d tell them their spouse should be supportive, and applaud the spouses who were.

Let’s tell it to ourselves, too. Let’s ask, What’s stopping me from writing? and be brave enough to let go.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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§ 32 Responses to What’s Stopping You?

  • rubyfergus says:

    Thanks Dinty. My response to Allison went viral (for me anyway) and there is such an appetite to cheer on writers over the age of 50!

    Thanks for posting this and all you have done to support writers based on their writing — and nothing else.

    Warmly, Michelle Bowdler.

    Forgive typos. Sent by iPhone

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Yay, viral for everyone 🙂
      I’m also so grateful for Brevity as a literary home.

    • KTatum says:

      OMG! Thank you for your words to capture the fears and anxieties I also have as a woman in my late-40’s, trying to adopt the attitude of the Kathy Bates character in Fried Green Tomatoes: “Face it girls! I’m older and have more insurance.” . . . . . Nothin’ left to lose Just do it! Get to it . . . .

  • I deny that “being a writer is somehow a special condition and only certain people are allowed to contract it.” But on my weak days, I fear it’s true.

    Thank you for giving me hope over and over again.

  • pmacott says:

    “That’s what we forget when planning our writing lives: it’s not the obligations we chafe at that are hard to shuck off—It’s the stuff we love.”

    Well, that certainly made the bells and whistles go off…

    Allison, I so enjoy reading your writing – I would look forward to a book, for what it’s worth!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks–it was a big realization for me, too! I’m glad you enjoy, thanks – I’m almost ready to send out a novel and I’m working on a book about writing and editing – thanks for the cheer!

  • Phyllis Brotherton says:

    Thank you for this inspiring list and great article. Just what I need while navigating a deeply conflicted transition to retirement where most would be thrilled with the extra writing time and I’m petrified. Will I get that ms published, will I finish the two in-progress projects, will I start something new? Maybe I should read Joan Didion, Lia Purpura, Rebecca Solnit and Maggy Nelson all over again? Anyway, a sincere thank you!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      You’re welcome – keep doing one thing at a time, one after the other. You are going to rock this!

  • kperrymn says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I would love to add an inspiring bit of encouragement of my own, but hey, this is my writing time, so instead I’ll just say that I’m going to write now–join me!

  • Monica Graff says:

    Thank you for this. Just what I needed to hear this morning as I stare at a blank outline for my first book … with my fiftieth birthday closing in.

  • Thank you! I love your posts… and it is nice (but kinda bummers) to know that I am not the only one trying to do too much and wondering why I can’t get it all done. I have a memoir I am working on, along with final edits on a novel, making jewelry, writing for my music website, art, my husband, my cat… and oh yeah! I have a full time job and am in college half time. It is writers like you that keep me in check on the positive side… ❤ thank you so much!

  • This spoke to me more than you’ll know. Thank you for this. I needed this at this very moment.

  • Thanks for this post, Allison, which is inspiring and for your great viral Twitter post! It helped me feel more positive about editing my 80K book draft. It just shows too that the appetite for writing at all ages, and especially with some years and experiences gathered, is as strong as ever!

  • This was a well timed word of encouragement to keep my goal of publishing a book. I surprisingly don’t want to face the truth in my answer to “What’s stopping me from writing?” The unavoidable truth is that I am my only barrier. I have to start choosing ME & the pursuit of this goal. Let’s get writing AND published everyone. We CAN do this!!

  • Difficult to be our own best and most treasured friend in the midst of life’s daily chaos. A great reminder. Thank you!

  • You’ve given me hope and wisdom.
    A must read
    Every day!

  • biocodebox says:

    I have two young children and am one semester from graduating college….a 13 year feat. I wrote a blog today aimed to encourage people that may think they’re too old to do something, to do it anyway. Everyone didn’t make it…until they did. Like you mentioned the paradox around not being a published author, until you are.
    Feel free to read my post here ( https://biocodebox.com/2018/08/23/am-i-too-old-to-learn-to-code ), it may serve as some encouragement as well.
    But either way, keep going because you ‘re doing great!! Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are capable of what we are working towards, regardless of what our past accomplishments look like.

  • […] Whether you’ve already seen the Allison K. Williams tweet that went viral this week or not, you’ll likely appreciate Allison’s reflections about age, time, choices, and writing. […]

  • lindawis says:

    You were great at Hippocamp, pretty slides and all. Encouraging, motivational. So human to read your struggle and relate to it. Fun and worthwhile stuff have to go if I want to have a daily writing practice and that’s hard. Thanks. Let’s do writing. 😉

  • Love this and thank you. At 50, I sometimes feel overloaded with life and can’t find the time to read or journal. I need to make it a priority. Thank you again.

  • […] many writers of a certain age, myself included, Allison K Williams’ recent Brevity blog, about the tremendous response to her tweet listing beloved authors whose first book was […]

  • Thank you, at 45 I felt like my dreams will only remain just that dreams!! but after reading this I am encouraged. Thank you

  • […] empowering to see reminders that many famous authors were not young when they first published. In What’s Stopping You, Allison K. Williams reflects on her tweet that went […]

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