I tell my creative writing students that the writing life is as much about “trade-offs” as it is about anything else. You have to give up other pursuits to write seriously. You will have to sacrifice other interests. I suspect that this message is offensive and too radical, even to my students who dream of writing “full time.”
When I was younger, I could pursue all of my interests, or so it seemed. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that some tough choices are necessary. I can’t pursue everything I’m interested in. For one, I have a full-time job, I have a wife, I have two elementary-aged kids. Add in a number of other roles I play.
Recently after presenting at academic conference I regularly attend, I could not ignore my desire to devote more time to my writing. To drafting, to revising, to brainstorming, to submitting pieces. I acknowledged that if I wanted to work on my in-progress projects (a second poetry collection, a dozen short stories, a novel, a book-length memoir), I had to “make time” somewhere. I would have to give up something or somethings.
Many years ago, one decision I made was to cease watching TV with the exception of one weekly show. (Prior to that point, I could vegetate for several hours a day watching junk.) For a while, it was The Office every Thursday evening. For the last year, it’s been an episode of the new Father Brown Mysteries on Netflix every Saturday evening. But that’s it.
Sleeping less was not an option. I already wake at 5:30 most days. I wasn’t going to cut out exercising. I didn’t want to minimize other social engagements. I wasn’t going to decrease my family time. Where else could I go? I knew the answer, but I wasn’t initially happy with it.
For the past six years, I have regularly played piano at my church on Sundays. In the last years, I was playing most Sundays, and with the addition of a fourth service, along with our pre-service rehearsal, I was at church 8 hours on Sundays.
Things changed this fall, as I was no longer required to play for the fourth service. Still, six hours of my Sunday were spent at church. Granted, I love playing music with people, and I love the opportunity to use my other talents.
Nonetheless, I decided to take a break for the next six weeks, as well as to cut down the number of times each month I’ll play thereafter. This was not an easy choice: to cut back on something I love to pursue something I love even more. I agonized over my decision, but in the end, followed through with it. I spoke to my worship pastor, and he was very understanding. I told some close friends at church with whom I play music, and they were very understanding, too.
So writing this in the comfort of my home office, a candle lit, a cool glass of water within reach, blinds open to the breezy afternoon, music on my headphones, I feel a peace about my decision, eager about more time with words, with paragraphs, with line breaks.