Writing requires boundaries and learning to say “NO!”

NaNoWriMo is over! There are so many writers I’m so proud of because regardless of whether or not they “won”…they wrote. They forced themselves to put words down even when it was hard. They wanted it enough to put the work in.

If you’re one of those people, know that I’m proud of you. Seriously. You did something that SO MANY people claim they will, but they never follow through on it.

This post is about the people that say they want to write, but never do.

We all know them. Sometimes its friends, sometimes its family, or even the odd coworker. They talk about how they’re going to write a book someday, they really will! They have all these ideas but claim they don’t have time.

There are some common responses from these folks that I hear when I talk about a new story being published or that I hit my word count goal.

“Wow, that’s cool, I’m so jealous but I’m just sooooo busy!” they’ll say. Or my favorite: “I wish I had time to burn like you so I could make art.”

Uh, excuse me?

Don’t get me wrong: literacy is an incredible privilege. Having parents that encourage my dreams while also being realistic and expecting me to support to myself is a massive gift. Being loved by friends and family that support my dreams without even understanding writing is more than I could ever ask for. I know that, and I am thankful.

But if there’s anything I’m short on it’s time.

When I was in college I had zero free time. I worked essentially full time at a retail job I detested, I was a full-time student paying her way through school, and I had an internship. But I still wrote.

I wrote because I decided what mattered to me. I cut out TV and hanging out with most of my friends and I would come home super late after six hours of class and ten hours of working, and I’d still write. On a rare day off I’d sequester myself away and type furiously until my eyes hurt.

Which brings me to the point of this post: If you want to write, do it.

You have time. But it has to be a priority.

My coworkers tease me for being a hermit on lunch breaks because I hide in my office and write poised over the keyboard with a fork hanging out of my mouth. They joke I’m antisocial because I never go for drinks after work and as soon as the clock hits four I’m practically sprinting out the door. In my head I’m already running a mental tally. Gym, dinner, writing.

Look, I get that for those starting out it can be hard. But writing requires patience. It requires willpower and dedication. And for a lot of people, it’s going to require sacrifice.

When I started actively pursuing publication at age seventeen there was a shift in my life and my social world. I’ll be the first to admit I lost friends. A friendship ended in college with a girl I considered my best friend at the time largely because she felt like I wasn’t spending enough time with her, and that was fair. But writing still mattered more.

An ugly truth: many of the people you love just will not understand when you turn down time with them and say you need to write. If they’re not writers, they don’t understand the process, and they don’t understand just how damn long it can take.

And that’s okay. It’s not their fault. But if you want to write, you have to be a little brave and learn to say no. Once you discover your writing time, set boundaries around it.

Look, I get that this is uncomfortable. And people pushing at those boundaries never goes away.

As I write this, I’m already bracing myself for it.

My work is having a Christmas party tonight that I have no intention going to, and a few of my coworkers have already pestered, pleaded, and poked. Each “no” is awkward, but I know what matters to me. For my coworkers that are extroverts I know it bugs them when I don’t go to social events, but at the end of the day my coworkers aren’t the one that can work towards my dream. That’s all on me. If I’m going to do that, it means skipping the drinks, food, and Christmas music. It means heading home to edit a short story and wrangle my latest manuscript because my characters are being problematic.

Here’s the thing: the more words you put down, the more you get yourself into this habit, and the easier saying no becomes.

You start to get these tiny bursts of validation that show your commitment is worth something. First it’s personalized rejections. Then it’s rewrite requests.

Last week something incredible happened: I had my first pro-sale to a SFWA qualifying market. I was geeked. I was thrilled. I actually cried a little at work. I’ve been submitting since April, and this was always the goal.

But behind that pro-sale are so many short stories that never found a home I can’t even count. And I could have never written my way to this one without those boundaries.

Ask yourself what you genuinely, truly want. And if that answer is to be a writer, then learn to say no, and make the time.

No amount of wishing in the world will get it done.

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