I have learned an important writing lesson this summer: it’s impossible to write in your spare time. It is impossible because spare time is a myth.
It’s not like I can can move the couch cushions, check my coat pockets, the bottom of my purse and find some spare time to collect in a jar on the kitchen counter until I have enough to sit down and write my book. Time doesn’t work like that. Life expands to fill all the available time:
work (i.e., the shit I get paid to do)
cleaning the bathrooms
endless kid activities
sex with my husband
You read that last one right. I volunteered to lead my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. That’s a 10-hour a month commitment I now do in my spare time. Before I started all this Girl Scout madness I complained about not having enough time in the day, but somehow I found that 10 hours a month. I started thinking about this new found time and wondering how I could find more of it to give to my writing.
Where did it come from? Did I get more efficient? Did I spend less time on social media? Did I stop having sex?
Efficient? Ha, ha, ha! No. I gave up on efficiency and productivity when I got off the tenure track treadmill and started reclaiming my sanity.
Less time on social media? No. Where would I get my dose of daily outrage and videos of cute baby animals if I did that?
Stop having sex? Please. I’m a Girl Scout, not a nun.
The time I needed didn’t come from my spare time jar, and I didn’t find it by cutting back on what the self-righteously virtuous like to call time-suck activities. And I certainly didn’t find it by cutting out time from the important relationships in my life. Friends, family, and yes, sex with our partners matter. It’s the fucking reason we’re alive in the first place.
Where did I get the time? I stole it.
I stole it back from all the tasks our patriarchal culture tells women they should devote their time to. Those tasks can fill every available moment if we let them because they are designed to be endless. Our houses are never organized or clean enough. We are never good enough at our mothering. Any magazine or mommy Facebook group will tell you that. Today’s mother could spend every waking moment making her own baby food, packing bento boxes, and planning educational craft activities and still feel like she didn’t do enough. If you add time for our culture’s totally unrealistic beauty standards into this toxic mix, you can quickly see spare time is a lie. Under these circumstances, spare time for writing is like the stepmother’s promise to Cinderella that she can go to the ball if she finishes all her chores. The chores were there to keep her from the ball in the first place, and today’s patriarchal bullshit is there to keep us from creative expression and independent thought.
I wasn’t conscious of it at the start, but I found the time for my daughter’s troop because Girl Scouts aren’t goody two shoes—they’re cultural renegades. Scouts is a space where girls are artists and scientists and leaders. A space where they make the decisions. A space where they learn how to take back the time that was stolen from them without asking for permission or forgiveness. I need to follow their example and take back what’s mine. I need to steal time because it’s the only way to make the writing happen.
I have a friend who started a successful blog about five years ago. She posts almost every day, and I was in awe of her ability to find the time to write that much. When I asked her how she does it, she reminded me she does get up at 5:00 am (she’s one of those damn virtuous types). But then she lowered her voice, leaned in, and said, “Some days when it’s slow at work I close my door and write. Everyone assumes it means I’m really busy, so they don’t bother me. It’s great.” Sometimes even the virtuous steal to get the writing done.
I admire my friend’s theft because it comes with a brazenness that says, “My writing is important.” No one pays her to do it and no one expects her to do it. She does it because creative expression is her birthright. To be clear, she isn’t shirking her paid work, she’s just not going around like a good girl looking for ways to fill the work day with things that will please her boss. I’m trying to learn that lesson, to internalize that way of thinking. Does everyone have clean underwear for tomorrow? Yes. Great. I shall go write and leave the folding for later (or never). Have I completed all the work I promised my clients today? Yes. Great. I shall now go write and leave the other things on the list for tomorrow. And tomorrow I will promise the world a little bit less and take back that time for writing.