In March, my company moved its headquarters from Indianapolis to a northern suburb. I live on the southwest side, which means I now spend two hours almost every weekday commuting to and from work. I say almost because, after the move, I adopted a standing "work from home day" to save on gas and preserve my mental health. Only instead of working out of my actual house, I camp out at the library.
It's not impossible to write websites and brochures with a toddler clutching your leg and crying "Up, Momma, up," but there's a better way, you know?
That's how, on a random Wednesday in April, I met "Ronald."
I was sitting at my favorite desk (selected mainly for its proximity to the bathroom), when a senior male came over and tapped me on the shoulder. "I'm looking for somebody to help me write the story of my life," he said.
Ronald is a 79-year-old farm boy turned machining pro who rose to chief engineer at GM. He's a WWII veteran who spent time in Okinawa, and he partied with Jimmy Hoffa. He was married three times and put his last wife in a mental institution. "She wasn't there long. I had to take her out when we found out she was pregnant. She stopped taking her pill!"
This frail little man stood over me for half an hour, reliving his colorful past and sharing his urge to get it all down on paper. He said he was in the process of moving to my town and that he was looking for a writing partner, but eventually clarified that his role would mainly be talking. Lots and lots of talking, I could see.
It was an interesting 30 minutes.
As Hoffa's bestie transitioned from one escapade to the next, I was having a frantic conversation inside my head, wondering what my role should be in bringing Ronald's story to life.
On one hand, I felt like I'd received a sign from God. Of all the patrons in the library, how is it that he decided to pester talk to me, ME, proud owner of two writing degrees and one lofty dream of making it as an author?
On the other hand, I already spend five days a week telling stories that aren't mine. I got secrets of my own, you know!
So I compromised. I gave Ronald ideas on how to search for a writing partner, along with my email address. If he wanted more tips, he could contact me and I would do what I could to help. If he didn't, good deed accomplished.
It's been almost two months since our divine literary encounter, and nothing yet.
Well, a little something. Two days ago, I started my book.
It was physically painful. Every few minutes I was logging into Facebook, checking email, looking for anything to distract me from the scariness of finally starting a goal almost thirty years in the making. The end result is vague at best and doesn't even fill a page in Word.
One-inch picture frames. Shitty first drafts. Anne Lamott, I'm doing it all.
These lines from my new favorite article on writing, also penned by the rascally Anne, help. In the article, she offers up the advice she gives to students on making time to write. I've quoted it here before; now I want to ink it on my brain like a tattoo.
First of all, no one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy! That is half an hour, a few days a week, I tell my students. You could commit to writing one page a night, which, over a year, is most of a book.
If they have to get up early for work and can’t stay up late, I ask them if they are willing NOT to do one thing every day, that otherwise they were going to try and cram into their schedule.
It's not a new concept, but whenever I think of MY writing projects, I've always assumed that nothing good can come of ten minutes here or there - that true productivity will result from hours of serious effort. Taking a "Go big or go home" stance in my creative writing life has given me a great excuse to be lazy.
I'm finally ready to admit that this line of thinking isn't helping my cause. I may not have huge blocks of time, but Anne Lamott is right. It is there.
Fight tooth and nail to find time, to make it. It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day.