When I used to dream of writing for a living, I thought I’d pretty much follow Stephen King’s schedule. I’d roll out of bed around 9 a.m., write 10 pages or so, break for lunch around noon, finish out the day by 3 p.m., go for a long, leisurely walk through the woods (I’ve never imagined living anywhere other than New York City, but shh, you’re ruining the fantasy), then reading and watching TV until I dozed off by the fireplace in my slipper socks.
Sorry, Past Lindsay, but my writing life is nothing like that. I guess it could be like that, if I really wanted it to be. I could cobble together health insurance and hinge my rent payments on advance checks (that most writers will tell you typically come months late) and get into credit card debt and just wing it, like Mark and Roger in Rent. But David Rakoff was right—being a starving artist stops looking so cute once you reach your mid-twenties. And besides, I don’t do well when I’m left to my own devices. I sit in my pajamas until 3 in the afternoon and eat three lunches and sneak in hour-long breaks to watch Judge Judy and Teen Mom.
So, here’s what my life as a working writer looks like instead: I decided to keep my really amazing day job in digital media. I started dating a really incredible guy (also a writer) that I’m marrying this June. I found enough time to write a first novel and begin a second one. I have tons of writer and actor and musician friends who inspire and amaze me every damn day. But if I don’t fiercely protect my writing time, it disappears. It turns into a too-long phone call with an old friend who just wanted to catch up. It turns into an extra glass of wine after dinner. It turns into staying late at work to finish a project. It turns into pressing the snooze alarm just one more time (or four).
It might take me longer to finish a novel than Mr. King, and I wish I had more time to sleep and catch up on Game of Thrones (I’m so ridiculously behind, every time I try to watch it I forget what’s going on and who all these random people are and get tired and give up—I know, I’m terrible). But I’m doing it. I’m writing, and I’m happy with this sparkly little life I’ve built.
So whether you’re a full-time artist or not, here’s what to do when carving out moments to be creative seems completely impossible: find your time, and protect it like a rabid, angry bear.
My time is at 5 a.m. (Oh hiiii, #5amwritersclub, what’s up?) It’s quiet and it's pretty much a guarantee no one is going to call or email me. When I tell people this, they usually get a freaked-out look on their face and say, "oh no, no, I could never do that, I love sleeping too much." But guess what? I also love sleeping. More than pretty much anything else on earth. But here's why 5 a.m. is the only time that works for me: I trick my critical mind into thinking I'm still asleep.
When I stumble into the living room with my laptop at 5, I’m exhausted and cranky and mad at everything—but my brain is still dreamy and flowy and subconscious, and that's critical. That critiquing insecure jerk brain isn’t even awake yet, so there’s no one there to tell me I suck and that scene you're writing is a terrible mistake and you're an awful writer and why do you even do this anyway, you should just quit. It’s just me and the stillness and Feist on Spotify and a glimmering sliver of sun, waiting to rise.
Find it, protect it, do the work, and don’t think too much. You’re not Stephen King, and you aren’t Roger and Mark, and that’s OK. You’re kickass, hard-working, humble you, and you’ve got this.