It happened again. I looked out my office window this morning, and there was no sign of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, palm trees swaying in a salt-tinged breeze, or seabirds swooping over frothy waves. Instead, I was greeted by my normal view of my Colorado neighbors’ houses, fresh snow dusting last week’s old snow.
Then I glanced at my schedule. Instead of 8 hours of gloriously empty hours in which to write witty and lyrical prose, I was supposed to drive an hour away for my first Covid-19 vaccine (yay! not complaining!), pick up groceries, put gas in my car, pay some bills, argue with the IRS (their mistake, not mine), write a blog post, and research potential markets for a couple of my short stories.
In other words, my view of a perfect writing day didn’t exactly coincide with my actual life.
It never does.
But that’s okay. It has to be okay.
As writers, it’s normal to crave perfect conditions for writing, but—and you’re going to be shocked now, so brace yourself—we seldom get perfect conditions. As near as I can figure, there are two possible responses to that:
- Throw a fit, then throw in the towel.
- Adapt and find a way to write around the disruptions.
We’re all onboard with response #1, right? Sigh. Okay, you’re right. As much as I want to choose response #1 some days, it’s a no-brainer that #2 is the better choice for me. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) That’s because I can’t imagine a life without writing.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to be flexible enough to write through the chaos of everyday life, or that every writer will find the drive to continue despite the obstacles. For many writers, those obstacles become insurmountable, and that’s their valid choice. But for those who can’t escape the relentless pull of writing, we must find a way to create regardless of whether we’re blessed with the perfect conditions in which to do it.
If there’s one thing my career as a freelance/contract writer has taught me, it’s that I don’t have the luxury of waiting for ideal conditions in which to write. I can’t afford to wait for that fickle muse to reach out and tap me on the shoulder. When deadlines loom, any condition must become the “right” condition. There simply isn’t any other option.
Noisy house? We can try earplugs or earphones with soothing music. Kids at home? We find ourselves pecking away at our keyboard in the middle of the night. Wasting time in the waiting room at the doctor’s office? We whip out our notebook and dash off a few lines or notes for later. No dedicated writing space? That’s what laps and laptops were made for.
If we become slaves to that craving for a “perfect writing day,” we’ll never get a word written. Period. Many a brilliant writer has never gotten past the first chapter of their book because they mistakenly thought they couldn’t be creative unless their free time, muse, weather, view, and beverage of choice were all perfectly aligned.
That’s false. You can be creative anywhere, anytime. In fact, I firmly believe we’re at our most creative when we’re up against crazy deadlines, dozens of conflicting priorities, and impossible odds.
Of course, there are times when we just can’t fit a single minute of writing into our lives. That’s when it’s okay to take a break. Sometimes that break is good for our mental health, anyway. But we know that eventually we’ll feel that pull again, and we’ll return to it, determined as ever to start writing again, no matter what.
We humans are some of the most adaptable creatures on earth. I daresay we writers must be even more so.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t be ridiculously happy to wake up someday and find myself in a sweet little writing bungalow on a sun-kissed beach, watching a palm tree waving outside my window. But until that happens, I just have to keep carving out paragraphs, one at a time, no matter where I am and what disruptions I have to work around.
If anyone sees my muse, tell her I couldn’t wait around for her. She’s probably on that beach, sipping rum punches.