If you write, you’ve likely said this statement at least once. You probably said it in response to a question from friends, family members or colleagues about the status of a personal writing project you’ve been working on–for several years. It’s pretty much this:
“Oh that? It’s coming along. I have my ideas laid out, but I just haven’t found the time to write.”
Hate to break it to you, but unless you till fields all day, are an international spy, coach of a soccer team at an inner city school, or a new mother of quintuplets, that statement is probably utter and complete crap. Recently I joked that if my novel was set up like a social media platform that automatically aggregated all my posted opinions and stories into a masterfully organized and well written memoir, that memoir would be done in under a month at the rate I post. I laughed about it (alone, of course, because it’s a painfully dry joke with no real punchline), but when I got home that day I was still curious to see just how much I post on average. I guess I’m weird like that. But hey, my day job is to post on someone’s social media and look at stats anyway, so it was a cinch for me to pull my own data together. I just wanted to gain insight into how much frivolous writing I was doing to gauge whether my joke was really a legit assessment of my writing behavior.
Needless to say, the results were damning. I wrote a lot. I mean, a whole lot. And the crazy thing about it is, I actually made time to do it. I don’t exactly have a lackadaisical life. I’m a working mom who commutes to work and has a decent social life, yet the word count was what it was. The number?
On average, I typed over three thousand words on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on days that I probably had a zillion other things to do. I omitted blog posts from my count, of course. Want to hear the grand irony of my discovery? I actually typed the least during periods when I had the most time available. My weekend and holiday posts were full of pictures, vids & links with very few words. Videos of me hiking with super short posts like ‘It was a beautiful trail!’ and pics of my son in the passenger seat alongside posts that simply said ‘Saturdays with the mini-me’ dominated my feed on leisure days. But what did all this mean? I guess it meant–at least for me–that my right to lament about not having time to write was officially revoked. So I took action.
The way I began to derail my counterproductive behavior was to define for myself what being productive is. The way I did that was to remind myself that I’m not just a writer because I write; I’m a writer because I get paid to write. That means that productivity for me is prioritizing the paid writing and editing to place them a rung above my rambling via social media. This doesn’t mean that I’m ready to embark on a series of social media fasts, because branding myself online is still a big part of how I land gigs. Rather, it means that I have to pause when I feel the need to write lengthy, opinionated posts about topics that are trending and ask myself “Why not just write the article or blog about it?”
So now I do.
I find that if I picture my words as time and my time as valuable, my brain deduces that my words are valuable–especially when I’m working on projects with deadlines. Next, I had to remind myself that my personal projects, my novel and my children’s book…they’re all projects that will generate capital for me and deserve my attention and, at very least, my adherence to the provisional deadlines I set for them. When even that idea’s not enough to quell my urge to write 800-word responses to misogynist posts on Facebook and have 10-post social justice warrior exchanges on Twitter with anti social justice warriors, I take a deep breath and remind myself that it isn’t worth my time.