I could write a book…

alarm clock 5 am“I could write a book — if I had the time.”

People say this sometimes. Though I am not easily provoked, it always annoys me to hear this.

Aside from the implied put-down to those of us who work hard at writing (i.e. “Anyone can write a book”), it makes it sound as if people who don’t write books have more important things to do with their time.

This generation has more free time than humans at any other point in history. That may be hard to believe, since most of us feel pressed for time. Advertising is primarily responsible for this sense of urgency; people who feel stressed buy stuff. We deserve stuff, don’t we?

In truth, the concept of leisure didn’t even exist until sometime in the late nineteenth century. We all know how tedious it would be to have lived before appliances. Just the thought of hanging my rugs outside and beating them with a long stick to get them clean makes me weary.

It doesn’t make me feel like vacuuming, though. I’d rather watch re-runs of Law and Order (just in case I missed an episode) or see what’s new at YouTube.

That’s what we spend our leisure hours doing, studies show. In 2005, people were spending half of their free time watching television. In 2010 I’m pretty sure we spend nearly that much time playing on the internet (though some of that is while we’re at work, so it doesn’t really count as free time.) And if you’ve got a laptop, you can do both at once. Now, that’s an efficient way to waste time!

Those of us who write must give something up in order to spend time on our craft. I may have the television on while I write, but I accomplish little. Writing isn’t a social activity; it requires time alone, time to focus on one thing intensely. For me, the ideal time is early morning – four or five a.m. I know a few other people who get up that early, but not many.

As a consequence of my early mornings, I fall asleep early – nine or ten, most nights. But I am willing to sacrifice an hour or two of prime-time television in order to write when I’m at my best. If I wait until I get home in the afternoon, I’m no good.

There are still just twenty-four hours in a day. In those hours there are things that must happen – sleeping, eating, earning a living in some way. If you think you could write a book, if you really want to do this, you have to figure out when it’s going to happen. What are you willing to give up? Learning the craft takes time and energy.

What we are willing to sacrifice reveals what we really value. People who say they want to write, but don’t find the time to do it, have other things they value more. That’s all right. Everybody doesn’t have to be a writer.

The goal is distant –and elusive. I can’t think about the odds. If I did, I would probably start training for the Olympics or standing out in thunderstorms, waiting to be struck – the odds of those things happening are much better than being published.

If you really want to write, you will. I’ve tried to quit, but I can’t. There are many times when I sit down to write just because it’s four a.m. and I want to write 500 words before I leave for school. I don’t always enjoy it; sometimes I hate it. But I must do it.

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