One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “What is your writing process?” closely followed by, “How do you make time for your writing?”
Although I’m prepared for these questions, I dread them. Not because they’re bad questions; rather, it’s because my response is often a long-winded diatribe to cover up the real and simple answer, “I don’t know. I just do it.”
The questions of writing process and time are closely linked. For many of us, writing requires a lot of time spent in the chair staring at the computer screen, staring up at the ceiling, mindlessly skimming the internet and social media for something, anything that might trigger a thought.
Although I’m organized and focused in most areas of my life, my writing process is in a perpetual state of disarray as I try to make sense of scribblings on Post-It notes, paragraphs scrawled in journals, a Word doc of sentence fragments and incomplete scenes, and the overarching pressure of producing something sustainable, meaningful, and appealing, not to mention potentially paying and award-winning. (I can dream, can’t I?)
I think we’re all a little disoriented when it comes to our writing, and that’s why I so often get asked about my process. We all need reassurance sometimes that we’re doing it “right.”
While we may not be able to control “process” or “inspiration,” we often feel that we can become better (or at least, more prolific) writers if we could just get a handle on our time. If I had a dollar whenever I heard a writer lament about how little time she has to give to writing, well, I would never have to concern myself with royalties again.
But let’s really look at that notion of “time management.” Is it really a thing? Can we really have any control over time?
Well, that question is as old as the ancient Greeks, who actually had two words for the concept of time: Chronos and Kairos.
Chronos was the personification of clock time, or chronological time (note the root of the word). It represented past, present, and future, and could be mapped on a timeline, notated on a to-do list, and tracked on your calendar. It was measurable and trackable, a data enthusiast’s dream.
Kairos was a little more complicated. It represented the concept of “opportunity” or the idea that memorable moments were fleeting, and therefore, had to be captured—nailed down—otherwise a person’s entire fate could change course. Over time, this concept has evolved. Virginia Woolf referred to opportune writing time as “moments of being,” in which the writer had to be ever-present in the moment or the brilliant idea might just slip away forever. These days we think of it as our “muse” or “inspiration” or what Elizabeth Gilbert called our “illusive creative genius.”
While Chronos is quantitative (time that can be measured), Kairos is entirely qualitative. It yearns for the perfect moment on which our entire future success and happiness as writers—and as people—depend.
In addition to general feelings of inadequacy and depravity that writers face about their futures (I include myself in this), we further complicate our hopes and dreams by trying to quantify opportune moments. We think, “I just need one good afternoon, and I can finish this short story,” or “Once I finish dealing with the insurance company, I can dedicate two pivotal hours to my novel,” or “If my spouse would just take the kids for a day/week/month/season, I could actually write something that someone besides my dog will think is valuable.”
What we so easily forget is that both Kairos and Chronos are products of intentional living. There will always be insurance policies to compare and grocery lists to shop and children to feed. There is no “perfect” time to set aside for writing because time cannot be “set aside.”
The moment we are forever-seeking is messy, inconvenient, illusive, and a bit of a tease. It is happening while life is happening because it’s the qualitative moments in life that give us a reason to write. When we are arguing with our spouses or cursing in traffic or sending passive aggressive emails littered with smiley emoji’s or cleaning the kitchen AGAIN, we are living, and it’s that living that gives us moments for writing.
So rather than wondering about a writer’s process or finding time to write, use the moments you’re living to create opportunities and cause for writing. Live intentionally and you will write incessantly.
Melissa Grunow is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University.
Category: On Writing