I used to have the greatest luxury a writer could want. My wife would leave for her job at 8:30 every morning. After I washed the breakfast dishes and put them away, I booted up my laptop promptly at 9:00 and began the day’s writing. I had the next eight hours to myself to be a writer.
Here’s how the day went. I’d read the papers for a while, especially during baseball or election seasons. By 9:30, I’d finally realize that I was wasting time and get around to writing. The next half hour would consist mainly of rereading what I had written the day before, tightening my flabby prose, and wondering why I was devoting myself to creating stories and novels when I could have been doing something more remunerative. Eventually the guilt would pass and the synapses would start firing, and I’d work for a couple of hours until I got hungry.
After lunch, I reread the day’s work, made changes where necessary, and brooded over my lack of talent. At 2:30, I’d go for a half-hour run. A snack and quick shower later, I’d settle in to read a contemporary novel, both to enjoy an accomplished narrative and to see what I was doing wrong with my own work. I’d end the day doing something laundry- or dinner- or scrubbing-cleanser-related until my wife got home at 5:30.
In early 2007, our son was born. My wife and I are neither religious nor conservative, but we are precariously middle class and cautious with money. For that and other reasons, we decided not to send our son to day care. My wife kept her job while I stayed home to care for our son.
My days changed a little. I could no longer sit at my desk at 9:00 and ease into the writing day. Strictly speaking, I no longer had a writing day. I had a little boy to take care of, a little boy who, though adorable and great fun to be around, had a tendency to insist upon my attention whenever he felt he needed it. I couldn’t write when I wanted to. I had to sneak in my writing sessions during his naps, or save them for the evening. I’d often have to brake abruptly when the ideas started rolling if my son woke up and demanded his bottle, or had excreted a trophy and thought it’d be lovely of me to relieve him of it.
For a man who thrives on order, this new routine was hard to adjust to. I feared that I would no longer be able to do my work every day, and do it well. I feared that my son, who is a smart kid, would sense my frustration and be less than thrilled about having to hang out all day with a cranky daddy.
But I soon made a welcome discovery: Having less time to write made me a better writer. As soon as I set my son into his crib for his nap, I’d rush to my computer and plunge into my work. There was no time to brood or read the paper. I had no idea how long his nap would last. I had to get to work right away and take advantage of every second my son granted me.
With far less time at my disposal, I became more efficient. I got into the stories more quickly and focused on them more intently. Characters became more vivid and finely drawn. Scenes got stronger and more dramatic. My son hadn’t taken away my time to write after all. He took away the wasted time, the surfing and stalling and brooding, and made me a better writer. The first short story I got published was a story I wrote during my son’s naps.
So, to all those fellow writers who wish they had Buckingham Palace to themselves every day and all the time in the world in which to write: You may not really want that, or need it. All you really need to do is come up with good ideas and learn how to focus on them. The time is there, even if it’s during a child’s nap, or on the subway on your way to work, or late at night when the house is finally quiet. The trick is not finding the time. The trick is learning how to use it.