Waiting for the perfect time to write

In one of my author Skype visits last week, a student asked this question:

How long did it take you to write your first book?

Well…er…7 years, I answered him a little sheepishly. There were some good reasons it took so long: I was learning my craft and had a long way to go before my work would be ready to send out. It was histoical fiction and involved lots of research. I rewrote…a lot.

But there were also some not-so-good reasons. Back then, I had this idea that I needed the perfect time to write. The house had to be quiet, maybe on a day when my husband had both kids. Or I needed to be away somewhere, with large open stretches of time and no ringing phone. Perfect quiet. Throw in a cupcake or two while you’re at it. And if all those conditions weren’t met?  Well, nevermind then…I’ll never get anything done, so I might as well not bother trying.

Since then, I’ve learned that the myth of perfect writing time is just that…a myth.  Sure, those ideal situations happen — usually twice a year for me, in the form of a couple retreats that I attend. But you don’t get books written in eight days a year.  You get books written by writing regularly, whether the conditions are perfect or not. And you learn to write some pretty good stuff with noise. And without cupcakes.

I’m typing this post at my daughter’s skating show practice right now. The Plattsburgh State Field House is chilly. I’m wearing a fleece jacket and scarf, and I’m sitting on the concrete floor next to the only electrical outlet because I forgot to charge my laptop last night. It’s just after 7am, my bottom is cold, I’m running out of coffee, and the techno music – some sort of space odyssey theme for the glow-in-the-dark number – is loud enough that I can feel it reverberating through my body.

As soon as I post this blog, I’m going to open up the Scrivener file for my 2013 Walker/Bloomsbury novel, and get to work. Is it perfect?  Not by a long shot. But it’s a stretch of three hours (probably more like two, actually, before someone comes to get me to help paint scenery) that I can spend frittering away wishing I had some perfect writing time…or I can just get to work and write.

“Perfect” writing time is lovely; I won’t lie. The four days I spent hanging out in an old inn on Lake Champlain, quietly tapping away with a bunch of writer friends last summer were amazing. But that image of writing is largely a fantasy world. In the real world, especially for those of us with other jobs and families, writing time lives in less idyllic settings. It’s an hour on the skating rink floor, fifteen minutes in the car in the school parking lot, a couple hours at the computer early in the morning or late at night.

Sometimes I talk to people who say they’d love to write — really — but they just don’t see how it can happen. How do you find time?  My best advice? You make time. You give up that half hour of TV or cut back on your phone time or Internet time or make something simpler for dinner.

And if you really want to be a writer?  Stop waiting for the perfect time…and just write.