Friends of Writing #5: Shut Doors
A shut door might be a writer’s best friend. The gerbils aren’t just in our head. They are outside, too trying to get in the office or calling us out to wander the house in search of rooms to clean and coffee to make.
These doors can be literal or figurative. My office has no door. It’s at an intersection of rooms with a cozy corner. I’m in that corner now, writing. When I go back to write, I announce to my wife, “I’m going to write,” and that signals the figurative door being closed– don’t interrupt me unless the house is on fire, the baby is choking, or the baby is on fire.
When I write during my commute, I have even less privacy. The door is something in my mind. I don’t stare out the window (it’s usually before dawn anyway). I don’t people-watch (and public transit is THE place to people-watch). I focus 95% on writing and 5% on not missing my stop. That hour is my writing time.
Why do shut doors matter? For the mind’s eye to open to imagination, all that outside stuff needs to stay at bay. The world will not stop for you to write. One must carve out creative space, both in the home and in the mind.
Enemy of Writing #5: Someday
Let’s make a painful, ugly, and necessary assumption about life:
You will never have more free time than you do now. Things only get busier from here on out.
When I was in college, I told myself I’d have more time to write when I didn’t have to contend with classes. Then in grad school, doubly so. When I landed my teaching position, I felt like all my time to write was gone. Then I bought a house, and even more free time was gone. And now I have a baby who steals everything. I should know better by now. Until I’m looking at retirement, my future will be more, not less, busy. It is up to me to make that time exist—during weekends, on trains, early in the morning, Summers, or whenever I can steal a few moments.
“The road to hell is paved with works in progress.” –Philip Roth
Similarly, holding back from writing the great book you’ve always wanted to write is a bad idea. Granted, I haven’t even written one published book, great or otherwise, so maybe it’s presumptuous of me to advise anyone to reach for the stars. But if you want to “be on the map,” don’t start with a lukewarm effort that you don’t feel is the best thing you could do. Write each book as if your entire legacy will depend up its quality and reputation. Then, after it is released, write another one that’s even better.
There are many other friends and enemies of writing. In your comments, feel free to offer up some other suggestions. What should writers embrace and reject to be the best artists they can be?