My Writing Time is Sacred, but Please Don’t Ask Me What I Did All Day

April 21, 2021 § 33 Comments

By Sally Schwartz

It’s easy to be a writer. All you have to do is tell people, “Hi. I’m a writer.”

Gosh. All this time I thought I wrote memoir, and then this nugget of fiction pops out of my fingertips.

The nonfiction version goes more like this: It’s not so easy to be a writer.

Already I need to make an edit. One thing about being a writer is crazy easy: dressing the part. Really, I can’t say enough about the wardrobe. Everyone is going around, giving credit to COVID-19, as if only a pandemic could inspire an appreciation for elastic. Meanwhile, every writer worth her weight in sweatpants can attest to the fact that we’ve understood the joys of pajamas-as-daywear long before the world went into lockdown.

Earning no steady income, and forgoing benefits might be seen by some as professional drawbacks. Those people, who clamor for the gentle buzz of security, are among the short-sighted masses. They are the ones impervious to the thrill of the imaginary world book tour we take in our heads. They forego the satisfaction of daydreaming about the accolades not yet written for the books we have yet to publish. They don’t pretend Oprah, or Reese, are bickering over who gets to choose our memoir for their book club.

It takes a lot of time — time I could be spending writing — thinking about how I would cast the Netflix adaptation of my story.

The secret to my writing career has been my commitment to maintaining a sacred writing practice. Morning is when the muse visits me. Morning is when I am fresh, and the blank page beckons more than taunts me. To write, really write, I discipline myself to say no to all things before noon.

Obviously, I will make the occasional exception. Yesterday, for instance, I had carpet installed from 8 until 2. In my defense, it was the only time they could come. Also, last week, when the disposal broke, the guy came first thing the next day. So those writing days were shot.

Sometimes I need an emergency hair appointment, and Isa, who works magic with cut and color, only works in the morning. So that’s a writing-day exception I have to make every 5 weeks or so, depending on how bad my roots look.  

A few other things have to be in place before I write in the morning. The bed needs to be made, the dishwasher needs to be emptied, the laundry needs to be running. Also, I tend to be more open to creativity if all the bills are paid and my desk is cleared. Emails count as mail, at least to me, so when I sit down, before I write, I get through those.

I do like a fresh pot of coffee. Does that even count as a pre-writing step? Probably not.

Oh. I also need complete silence. No TV. No lawnmower, no leaf blower, and definitely no garbage truck, beeping methodically as it wends its way, slowly, up the street. Tuesday is garbage day, so forget writing on Tuesdays.

As part of the commitment to my art, I ignore my phone between 7 AM – Noon. I’m writing, I’ve told my friends. Unavailable.

If they forget, however, and I happen to be stuck in my process, I will occasionally answer. I should also admit that every now and then, I check my texts and respond. Communication is part of being a writer.

Monday – Wednesday, I find doing the crossword can help get me into a creative flow. Thursday’s and Friday’s crosswords are too hard, so my rule is only allowing myself to do the puzzle no more than three days a week. My writing time is sacred, I remind myself.

I can’t say enough about having a daily word-count target. Let me repeat that. I can’t say enough about having a daily word-count target. As I glance at today’s total, I think it bears repeating: I cannot say enough enough enough about having a daily word target.

Being a writer, a writer who thinks big thoughts, and has the discipline to sit down and get the words onto the page, is hard.

That’s why I like to reward myself, after a solid fifteen minutes or so of writing, with a little stress-relief. Online shopping is, from my experience, a great form of stress relief. You don’t have to buy those shearling lined Birkenstocks, although they would be comfortable. Also, it doesn’t cost anything to look at cashmere sweaters. Most of the time, you can even order and return, free of charge, in case you just want to see how you look in a muted rose oversized boyfriend’s cardigan. While you’re blowing off steam, make sure to read the return policy written by someone else.

Remember: reading is part of a writer’s job!

By the time lunch rolls around, I’m always exhausted. It’s a lot of work, being a writer, and I haven’t even mentioned the energy it takes to envy, and curse, all the writer friends I know who are getting book deals. The toxic energy of jealousy takes so much out of me, it’s almost like working a double shift.  

Non-writers have no appreciation for what goes into the writing life.

That’s why when my fiancé and I sit down to dinner, I hate it when he asks, “So, tell me what you did all day.”

I’m a writer. I’m very busy.

Sally Schwartz has worked for over nine years as a syndicated columnist for The Chicago Tribune, where, until recently, she published under the name Sally Schwartz Higginson. (Sally’s editorial note: Don’t ever change your name.) Sally has written a humorous memoir titled My Sister Betsy’s Guide to Life, and has an agent who believes she can sell it.


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