Protecting My Writing Time (And the Rest of It, Too)

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days… Although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it.”

  • J.K. Rowling

Last weekend, nice weather led to an impromptu neighborhood party just outside my door. I live in a close-knit community where such events – planned and unplanned – occur all the time. On the community Facebook page, people post when they’ve cooked too much food or are firing up the grilling, extending an invitation to everyone to come, join, eat. For the most part, this camaraderie is an unmitigated benefit of living in this neighborhood, especially for the mom of an energetic kid. Guests who come to visit us marvel at it with awe and a touch of jealousy. But here’s the thing I never tell them: as a card-carrying introvert, it’s exhausting.

As I often do, I left last weekend’s gathering at dusk to put my daughter to bed. And, as usual, I used bedtime as an opportunity to quietly ghost for the evening, even though the party raged on just outside my door. Having been engaged in social interaction for the better part of three hours(!), I curled up in my daughter’s toddler bed and promptly fell asleep. Later, when my husband nudged me awake, he told me I’d been the subject of conversation that night. Some people had questioned why I didn’t come back. When he told them I needed to recharge, that spawned more questions. They “didn’t get it.” In other words, why was I being so weird? As a middle grade writer, I suddenly felt a kinship with my own misunderstood characters (and with the insecure middle school me that inspired them).

But then a glorious thought dawned on me. I’m not in middle school anymore! I’m in that other awkward “middle” now – middle age. At nearly forty, haven’t I earned the right to leave a party whenever I want, in exchange for comfy jammies, a mug of tea, and a good book, without a word of explanation to anyone?

The answer is yes.

The answer is hell yes.

This incident – though not directly related to writing – brought to mind Ms. Rowling’s quote above. If Twitter has taught me nothing else, it’s that writers are largely introverts (yet another reason why this is my tribe), and that the plight of the two go hand in hand. Going out and engaging with the world lays the foundation for a good, relatable story, but an equally fundamental part of writing is reading (so, so much reading) and then marinating in everything we’ve seen and read. Being still and quiet and simply thinking is a critical part of the process, the part that many people don’t “get.” Writers – like introverts – have to give their inner worlds space and time to flourish (which is why the best ideas always arrive smack in the middle of the night, right?).

When I leave the party early, yes, it’s because my battery level is low, but it’s also because I have work to do. Tonight’s nap translates to tomorrow’s productive writing session; the novel I’m reading contributes to the worlds I’m building in my head. And mental rest and breathing space promote my overall sanity. These things won’t make me the life of the party, but they’re crucial to me. These things are worth protecting.

So I will be ruthless about guarding not only my writing time, but all of my time, in spite of the chatter that may follow. Because life is short and I’ve got so much more to get down on paper. And because even if the grown-ups outside don’t “get it,” hopefully the kids who read my books someday will.

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