Where’s that Time to Write?

A Question of Priorities

In January I read a great post called “The Truth About Finding Time to Write” where Jennifer Blanchard has several practical links about time management. She also makes an excellent point: time is not an elusive creature you can look for under a rock …

Time Hiding Out

… or in some obscure cranny you never noticed before. Time isn’t something you find. Time is something you have to make.

Unless you’re in school and some marvelous teacher requires you to write something creative, don’t expect anyone other than you and maybe some supportive, kind friend to say “Write that story! Write it now!”

I wrote about why I write, and it’s true! But. Wanting to write, believing in writing is still not enough to get me to take the time to do it.  Before I started this blog, I carefully blocked out several hours a day on my new calendar for writing time.  And I’ve ignored every single one of those blocks. Why?

“What is WRONG with me?!”


That’s the question I’ve been exploring.

CREED OF BEHAVIOR – a scientific observation

Why do I do anything? How do I set my priorities? I decided to get scientific and simply observe my actions – trying not to judge! If I’m not writing what AM I doing? Mind you, I set the rules here. I make the decisions (I’m my own boss) and I’m busy, busy, busy.

According to my actions, this is what’s most important to me:

I ALWAYS (every or almost every day):

Charlie -- a happy dog

Walk my dog, write my “morning pages” (a kind of journal from “The Artist’s Way”), read and respond to emails, plan, shop for food, cook dinner, volunteer for the Threshold Singers, play Sudoku, connect with friends and family, and read

I OFTEN (but probably not every day):

Do chores, chauffeur, act as household secretary (make appointments, etc.) and financial guru (pay bills, etc.).


Exercise (wii-fit!), knit, watch a movie or TV show, do a project, host a critique group, play with art, work on my blog, write fiction, garden.

Look how low on the list my writing is! Wow. Why isn’t writing more important to me?  For a while this observation made me depressed.  I used to be a writer.  Now, I don’t know – do I even care any more?

Well, yeah. I do.  Duh.  So… again – why does so much take priority over my writing?

I came up with my Creed of Behavior – I was taught some of this by my parents, some by my sisters, some by life.  Whether it’s “right” or not, I don’t even care at this point.  It’s how I live.  These are the rules that guide my actions without my even thinking about them.


1) Uphold my commitments to others

2) Not burden others

3) Serve to make the world (however large or small) a better place

4) Put myself in the other person’s shoes

5) Nurture myself.

This explains everything. The more categories an action can fit into, the more likely I am to do it! No wonder I spend so much time on relationships – that fits every category! And I spend so much time on Sudoku 

because it’s short and takes zero energy and it’s like a little bit of

chocolate ,

a little bit of Mathilda-nurturing

I can squeeze in (and so I squeeze it in and squeeze it in and soon it’s taken up more time than I want to admit to).

Writing has lousy standing for me because in my gut I don’t feel it fits all my categories:

1) I don’t commit to others with my writing – just to myself, and I don’t count (sad, but true); 2) Here’s an irony – I feel like asking others (like the publishing world) to read my work is burdening them!  In addition, I burden my family and (ack!) 3) the world because choosing to write is choosing not to do something else that would better serve others. 4) This one is complicated. I do put myself in others’ shoes when I write: such is character development! But if we’re not talking character, putting myself in another’s shoes means that I see myself as someone who is really, really lucky to have the opportunity to write. The pressure of this blessing is enormous.

“You’d better take advantage of your opportunity, girlie girl!”



Scary.  That’s a mean person whose shoes I just stepped into.


My conclusion is that, really, 5) I’m only writing to nurture myself.  The thing is, other activities also nurture me: chocolate, Sudoku, crosswords, trashy romance novels, lunch with friends, theater, family time.  These activities are easy to fall into. They don’t require set-up. They don’t require commitment or (often) brain power. They feel thoroughly indulgent, whereas writing feels like an endeavor, like a promise to the universe (see # 4 above).  Don’t I already have enough commitments?

Can this change?  I think I’m stuck with my creed, but I have a strategy to manipulate within it:

1) Nurture an audience for my writing through this blog. At some point I’ll figure out how to allow comments on the posts, and induce some of you to subscribe to my words!  Then I’ll feel like I have a public who depends on me. 2) Heck, reading the blog is voluntary!  No burdens there! 3) Maybe if I help just one other person, or someone finds something that resonates within them…  if I can cast a light on the wonder of all of this humanity stuff,  that serves my deepest sense of purpose. 4) I thumb my nose at mean Mathilda! 5) and yeah, it’s all about me.

In the meantime, I’m seriously dying to hear if anyone else has a Creed of Behavior they’ve figured out.

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Still a work in progress, this self-portrait will appear on stage to ilustrate my character ("Big Suzie")'s desire for self-aggrandizement. What a kick to work on this with the help of my art teacher!

I’m in a play. It’s been two years since I’ve been on stage and way longer than that since I’ve had a part that’s demanded I be real. So this is a challenge for me. A big fat pretending challenge.

And I bring it up because no matter how much acting isn’t writing, it sure uses a lot of the same muscles.  The pretending muscle is a big one.  When I act, my goal is to put myself into the skin of someone else and make it real.

Whoa. Same thing with writing!

So I’m going to fess up to why I find this so hard: sometimes I don’t know what real is.  I don’t even know who the real ME is! And I’m 52. You’d think I’d have this figured out by now.

Sometimes I think it’s all real. All true. Whatever is, is right. Somebody famous said something like that*.  But we fake our responses all the time. You know phony people. So do I. It’s a social skill, for heaven’s sake! And it can get so habitual that maybe we don’t even know when we’re being honest and when we’re “putting it on.” We can trick ourselves. So can characters.

How old was I when I first realized that not everyone thought or felt the way they pretended to? 9? Younger? Such a betrayal! Such an awakening to the dark side of human nature.

And such, such, such giddy potential for drama and comedy – conflict and farce and morals and romance. All stemming from pretending to be something other than what we are. Than who we are.

So here’s a writing challenge: what kind of pretending do your characters do? And do they know they are pretending? Why are they pretending – what do they get out it? Does the pretense need to be exposed? (usually this exposure brings about an ending!)

Here’s a famous example: Lots of pretense in Hansel and Gretel.

  • Many versions of this fairy tale begin when the evil stepmother pretends to love the two children, then abandons them in the woods.
  • A witch with her candy house lures them inside with fake hospitality: “Have some treats, my dears!” She shuts the boy in a cage and makes a slave of Gretel.
  • Hansel pretends to be skinny by offering up the chicken bone to be felt instead of his finger.
  • Finally, Gretel saves the day by pretending she can’t light the fire in the oven. When the witch pokes her head in, Gretel slams her inside! The children return home, expose the evil stepmother, and are re-united with the loving father.

In this story, every single bit of pretense works to serve its purpose. And once its purpose has been achieved, the pretense is exposed. The children learn quickly that in order to survive, they need to emulate the adults. What a moral!

For less famous (but hey, written by me) examples of how pretending impacts a scene, click here.

*I just googled it — Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man.” He said exactly that. Gosh, I knew I was educated!

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Using Art to Create Story

"We are Elephants, (bum! bum!) From our backs and fronts (bum! bum!) We are elephants all day long"

One of the things I love about being a Mom is how you do things for your kid and then discover it’s really been for you all along. Like art class.

My daughter was a little shy, so I agreed to take art with her for a year. She stopped after that – but I loved it so much I couldn’t quit. This is my fifth year at BellinghamArt.

Look at the top of this blog. I’m awfully proud of my whale up there in its banner position! The original isn’t so long and skinny, but I think you can still tell that is one amused whale.

Well, my oil painting teacher has now even started giving us homework! This week we’re supposed to write down what makes a great painting. I’m pretty sure she’s looking for “value,” “contrast,” “color,” “composition,” and “theme” (I think we’re supposed to rank these). But for me – it came to me in a flash of light! – for me, it’s story.

I want to be drawn into character, to look at a picture and have my imagination throw me into a scene. Well, duh. As a children’s writer of COURSE I adore illustration.

Doesn't this picture make you think of a story?

Which leads me to the subject of this post: using art to create story. One of my favorite exercises is to have a bunch of pictures – maybe paintings, maybe photos, maybe a combination, in a slurpy pile on a table. You choose one at random and then spend 10 or 20 minutes getting into the head of one of the characters—describing the scene or just talking.

I wish I had the photo the following exercise came from, but I can tell you a friend of mine just cut it from a magazine, maybe even one she got for free at the library. It was a black and white picture of a young girl in pigtails and overalls, sitting on the steps of a front porch with a flower in her hand. The photo took me right into … well, here’s what I wrote:

If I squeeze my eyes tight enough the polkydots inside turn colors – bright yellow and green—and I can see my wishes come true.

I got a wish comin’ to me. Gimpy gave me the first orange rose his garden grew.

“You gotta have it, Shandra Fay,” he said. “It goes too good with your cover-alls to give to someone else, someone—” and he interrupted hisself to look at Googaw and he snorted up a laugh. It was playful. “–someone who got the bad taste to wear lilac on a rose day.”

And Googaw grinned her old white teeth. “You get the wish, Shandra Fay. Don’t waste it, sugar-hon.”

I sure am not gonna waste it.

I see my Daddy in the polkydots, coming down the sidewalk, carrying a silly ol’ kitty cat. It’s crawling up his shoulder, orange like my rose but pink, too. But then the black in my eyes scoots over and the kitty goes.

I don’t care. I really don’t. ‘Cause all I really want is my Daddy home again.

That’s all I wrote! Maybe some day I’ll put Shandra Fay into a book. But even if I don’t, I made her. She’s part of me now. She colors my world. Kind of wonderful!

Hmmm. Here's another good one to start you off!

So you do it. It’s your turn. Find a photo or an illustration in a book. Don’t look at the words! That’s for you to make up. Tell me how it goes. Is it fun?

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En Avant!

“En avant” means “Onward!”  Since this is my very first post EVER, I thought I’d start with something spiffy. Like a foreign language.

Ooh la la! J'aime bien le francais

Like a foreign language I actually understand, which is French. It’s my way of encouraging myself to go for it.

If you read my  page WHY, you’ll discover that I love words.  Even though I don’t really consider myself a poet, there is a music and a magic in words that both inspires me and feeds me.

Here’s something I’ve noticed: when a word sounds delicious, it’s usually because it has some onomatopoeia ( on-a-mat-a-PEE-a) in it. In other words,  it sounds like its meaning:






People have disagreements over what words have onomatopoeia, so try it out and see what you think. Bulbous. Doesn’t that sound round and maybe a little hard?

Sometimes words alone can inspire ideas for writing.  For me, the word creates a picture in my brain and I voyage on from there.  Sometimes the inspiring word doesn’t even make it into the final draft!  But sometimes the sounds just trip over each other to get out and I end up with something poetic.  With me, it’s often pretty silly, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s one I did called “Ooey-Gooey.”

So here’s my challenge: list out some words you love to say. Pick a few — pick them all! And create a little story or poem.

Tell me how your adventure with words goes. I want to know!

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