Every day we distract ourselves from becoming the artist we want to be. And it’s easy to do.
If I am without a specific purpose, I sidetrack into household projects like cleaning the kitchen walls. I let other creative endeavors or commitments to family and friends take up the day, and I don’t get to the writing.
Pat Schneider, one of my favorite writing teachers, describes the commitment she made to her writing self in her book Writing Alone and with Others.
Not only do our busy little activities and our more serious commitments nibble at our concentration. Other forms of artistic expression may distract us. It occurred to me one day that my mother was at heart an artist. She made quilts. She crocheted tablecloths. She made children’s clothes and Christmas ornaments and embroidered wall hangings and intricate ornaments for the tree. Sometimes she wrote. A little bit. She did a lot of different things a little bit. At the moment I recognized this about my mother I myself was standing beside my sewing machine planning to piece a quilt—a project that would require hundreds of hours of concentrated time.
Suddenly I saw I had no choice. I said to myself, you can’t have it all. You have little time after parenting four children—you cannot crochet and preserve jellies and bake bread and make quilts and also write. The other forms of personal expression are things I truly like to do, but that day I folded up the quilt pattern and scraps of cloth. I stopped making jelly. I gave up sewing forever. Because I most wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be an artist, and I knew I would have to be faithful to the practice of my art (Schneider 53-54).
I like the word nibble in the opening sentence.
Nibbling away at birthday cake sounds harmless enough until you’ve eaten all twelve pieces on the platter. It is the same with the ways in which we use our time. Nibbling at a variety of tasks sounds harmless enough until it adds up to a week or a year or a lifetime and you look back and wonder, why didn’t I ever ________?
Becoming a writer means saying yes to yourself. You have to say yes to staring at the blank page, setting goals, drafting and re-drafting, and risking rejection. You have to say yes by making time to do the work. But what is most challenging is facing reality: when you say yes to being a writer or a [insert your own ambitions here] you say no to something else. It is a lesson I have to learn over and over again.
So, what say you, dear reader? What are you distracting yourself from today? Comment below. Or don’t waste another minute. Skip scrubbing that kitchen wall and get to your writing.
Check out other writers who are writing every day this November for NaBloPoMo here.