By Anna Marcus
What makes a writer a writer? Is it how many publications you have had? Or awards you’ve gotten, or number of book copies you’ve sold? I don’t think so. I haven’t got any of those things yet, but I feel very comfortable calling myself a writer.
In my opinion, the only credential you ever need to become a writer is to practice writing every day. That’s it! No fancy degrees, book deals, or Pulitzer prizes are required, which is what I love about writing. It has such a low bar for entry. That said, it isn’t a pursuit for the flighty and flaky. Being a writer requires nothing short of a wedding vow-type of commitment. “I promise to write every day, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, til death makes me stop…”
How Unemployment Sparked My Writing Practice
I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my mid-thirties. I’d had a career as a dancer and a dance filmmaker, so I knew a thing or two about practice. I’d spent decades sweating in dance studios, and pushing my body to the max. I knew all about scheduling rehearsals and managing groups of people. What I didn’t know how to do was to sit myself down, by myself, and come up with a story from thin air. That was scary, but also extremely liberating. I loved the idea that I didn’t have to juggle dozens of other people’s schedules, rent space, or raise thousands of dollars to get started. Still, I wasn’t sure how to carve out the time to do it.
I started by taking some writing classes to push me along. They were great, but whenever a course was over, I would drop the ball on my writing. Without any external structures and deadlines, I wasn’t making much progress.
Then in the fall of 2016 I was terminated from my job. After the initial shock of losing my paycheck, my next thought was, “now I have time to write!” I took my unemployment checks, and used them as a grant to restart my novel. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), and spent that November (in the dark days post election) writing and topping 50,000 words. By the end of that month, I was past the midway point in my first novel, and I had established a writing practice. I was a writer.
My grant from unemployment eventually ran out, and I had to go back to earning a living, but I made sure to preserve some time every day for my writing. Now I get up early, before anyone else in my house, and I write. Sometimes I only get 15 minutes to write in my journal, but it still counts. Most days I get in about an hour. I find that once I start writing, I don’t want to stop. That’s why early mornings work well for me. Before all that day-to-day stuff invades my brain space, I have one hour of creative time just for me. I get the most important thing done first, and even if the rest of my day crashes and burns, I still feel like a success because I did my writing.
Do I write every day? No, of course not. I take at least one day off on the weekends. I also don’t sweat it if other things come up and I miss a few days in a row. If it’s a systemic problem, then I may have to look at my schedule and readjust. For example, we adopted a dog over the summer. He’s a wonderful addition to our family, but he wakes up early and demands to be fed and walked during my writing time. I’ve had to readjust my schedule accordingly. Now I am in the process of shifting my writing time to the hour just after my daughter leaves for school.
If you are trying to establish a regular writing practice, I hope my story inspires you. It’s always going to be a personal journey. You may be a night owl and love to write from 11pm-1am every night, or you only have half an hour during your lunch break. It doesn’t matter when or how long you write, just do it every day (or a majority of days), and do it around the same time. When you bake it into you daily routine you don’t have to worry about it any more. It just is. (Again, it isn’t how much or how long you write, it’s just that you honored the time as yours for writing.) Once you do that, you will officially become (with my full endorsement), a writer.
So take a look at your schedule right now and carve out at least 15 minutes every day to write. You can do it!!