This is going to be a harsh post, but I think there are certain people who need a slap to the face once in a while–consider this your slap.
You have time.
Whatever there is you truly want to do, you have time for it.
Let me start from the beginning.
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was little, very little. The first book I made was written on post-its that I took off the counter next to the phone. I illustrated a little frog and mostly wrote words that rhymed with “frog.” It wasn’t a great story.
But I kept writing.
In second grade, my teacher, Ms. Vodola, told me I was a good writer. She’d made us all write stories based off of our vocabulary words, but I had expanded from those words and my characters had a “celebration.” So she took me aside to say that I spelled celebration wrong but the rest of my story was very good, so keep writing, but maybe look at the dictionary more. (I also found out recently that Ms. Vodola told my mother that she kept some of my classwork because she knew I would be a writer someday, and wanted to have proof that “she knew me when.” Too bad I have no idea what her first name is and don’t know how to find her, as she doesn’t teach at my elementary school anymore).
And with her encouragement, I kept writing.
In third grade, Mrs. Daly was my teacher and she also told me I was a good writer. She also asked me if my parents watched “Friends” because most of my character names were suspiciously the same names as those six main characters (I even wrote a “Prince Chandler” once. Hahaha). Mrs. Daly encouraged me to read as much as possible so that my ideas of plot, characterization, and vocabulary would continue to grow (yeah, she said all that to a 9-year-old… this is why high expectations in school are so powerful, ya’ll). And I did. I read sooo much from her bookshelf in the back of the room: Nancy Drew, The Wolfling, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Julie of the Wolves, and Hatchet are a few that come to mind right away.
And with her encouragement, I kept writing.
In eighth grade, I had Mr. Higgins for English. He made us research careers for one paper (author, of course) and later made us write a full story, 50 pages minimum. I loved it. He didn’t make pretenses that my story was the best in the class, but he did affirm that I had talent that I should continue to develop. So around that time, despite being busy with school and youth group and life, I kept writing for fun–because I wanted to be a writer. It was the same with Ms. Rebman, my 11th grade English teacher, who loved my writing and encouraged me to keep it up.
And since I wanted to be a writer, I wrote. I found the time to make it happen, and knew that practice would make it better, so I continually practiced.
Then I found the Office of Letters and Lights tools (Script Frenzy and NaNoWriMo), and my writing output got really serious. Those aren’t the tools that work for everybody, but they work for me.
In April 2009, Jack Gilbert led our Advanced Screenwriting class through my first Script Frenzy. We had to write 3 pages a day to finish the script in a month… and I did just that. Slow and steady wins the race. It was my senior year of college, so I was dealing with other 400-level classes, final MAS credits, graduation paperwork, grad school and job applications/decisions, and my part-time office job, but still, I did it.
In April 2010, I did my second Script Frenzy. I was student teaching (as in, planning lessons for three different level classes and doing all the associated grading… and doing all this work for free), taking two grad classes and dealing with all that homework, dating Jeff long-distance (stupid east coast), and still working part-time at the office, but I finished my script by midnight on April 30th.
In April 2011, Script Frenzy rolled around again. This time I was working full-time in the office and starting to plan my wedding, but still, that was the least work I’d ever been doing at one time, so this script was comparatively easy. (It was also the Phoebe & Fred story, and since they remain my favorite characters I’ve ever written, it was great fun to work on).
Then we got to November 2011. NaNoWriMo, the novel version, was an option. I didn’t believe I could write 50,000 words in 30 days, but I did believe that it was worth trying. I was working full-time, had just gotten married, and was starting grad school for my MA in Education, but I wanted to try my hand at writing a novel in a month. I knew in my heart that I was better at noveling prose than at screenwriting. So, 1,700 words a day became the goal, and day after day I stayed awake until I hit it. Before November 30th rolled around, I had a novel.
In April 2012, my fourth (and, I would be sad to find out, final Script Frenzy–they dropped it due to lack of funding) screenplay went underway. Working full-time? Easy-peasy. Script written. I even had a day off one day to sit in a coffeeshop for five or six hours and write, something I’d never tried before. (I liked it, but I like sitting at home with my dog more).
Then, June 2012: a Camp NaNoWriMo! Surely I couldn’t write another 50,000 words of a novel this year, in one month? But I want to be a writer, and writers write. I made my outline, June 1st rolled around, and I hit the daily goals (or worked overtime on the weekends so I wouldn’t have to stress so much about the daily goals during the work week) until the novel was written.
August 2012, another Camp NaNoWriMo: DONE. Summertime was slow in the office so that was very easy, because I could daydream all day and write all evening.
November 2012, I conquered NaNoWriMo once more. I was in another grad course at that time in addition to my full-time job, but still, I made writing a priority and got the novel done.
And now here I am, in April 2013, facing a Camp NaNoWriMo (the rather lame replacement for Script Frenzy, boohoo). I took over a month ago for an 11th grade English class, so I’m trying to keep up with all of that reading, lesson planning, and grading, plus I’m finishing up another grad school course, plus I have all my married life duties and friendships to care for. But I’ve made a decision that writing is a passion I want to pursue, so I’m writing. Spring break is this week, so I’m writing double every day for the first seven days of April to knock my daily word count goal down to 1,200 words for the rest of the month while I’m teaching. I’m making it work.
I’m not making excuses.
I’m also not published yet, but I’m only turning 25 this year. I’m giving myself until the very end of 28 to panic about not being published. For now, it’s all working toward that goal (besides, Jack always said it took seven shitty drafts to get to something worthwhile, and I’m only working on my fifth novel now). Writing is the only way I’m going to get published, which is why I keep writing–can’t catch a dream if you aren’t chasing it.
So for the people who I hear say they “want” to do something but “don’t have time” to do it…
do you really want it?
If you did, you’d make the time. You’d put in the effort. You wouldn’t make excuses.
Maybe you want to “have a book published,” but not be a writer–you know, someone who has to sit down and write words and revise them.
Maybe you want to “have an album” but not be a musician–you know, someone who has to practice their instrument and compose creative songs.
Maybe you want to be known for something else, any other kind of skill, without actually working on your development of that skill.
GUYS. THAT’S NOT GOING TO WORK.
(It’s like how I want to be 20 pounds less than I am now, but I don’t much want to diet or exercise, so I have to accept that I’m not going to lose the weight).
If you want your dreams to come true, work for them. “Work” = put in time and effort.
There are other things that need to happen (I can’t just write, I also need to research agents and publishers, work on my query letters, read other fiction books to improve my own fiction books, etc.), but putting in the basic time practicing your basic skill comes first.
So I don’t want to hear your sob story about how you have no time, because you are capable of making the time for the things you want. My empathy knows bounds.
Take time before April 30th, before Camp NaNoWriMo ends and I likely have another novel written, to rearrange something in your life for your passions. That might mean less time on Facebook, giving up a television series, skipping out on a weekend activity once in a while… but it will be worth if, if it’s truly a skill you want to work on. Make time for the things you truly want.
I dare you.