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Writing Excuses 8.52: You Think You Don't Have Time to Write with Mette Ivie Harrison

Writing Excuses 8.52: You Think You Don't Have Time to Write with Mette Ivie Harrison


Key points: You let people tell you you should be doing other things with your time. Don't let other people control your decisions. Decide that writing is something you are serious about! Make yourself a writing space or at least a writing ritual. Let other people solve their own problems. Don't wait for the time to write, make it now.

[Mary] Season Eight, Episode 52.
[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, 21 reasons you think you don't have time to write.
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you're in a hurry.
[Mary] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] In the part of Dan will be played by a sentient, but mute dancing wombat. We also have Mette Ivie Harrison again guest starring with us. Thank you for coming, Mette.
[Mette] Great to be here.

[Brandon] Now, this podcast is based on an idea you pitched and an e-book you have out, which I believe is currently free.
[Mette] Yes. It's free on Amazon.
[Brandon] It is called...
[Mette] 21 Reasons You Think You Don't Have Time to Write.
[Brandon] We're just going to let you start going down some of these reasons. We probably won't get to all of them, listeners. That's why I told you where you can find the audio... E-book so you can download it and read the rest of them. But we're just going to go down some of Mette's favorite ones, and we're going to discuss them. So what is a reason I don't think I have time to write?
[Mette] Okay. So I'm going to say that the reason I came up with this is that I have been to so many conferences and people are always asking me how it is that I find time to write. I can tell people like how I negotiate my day, how I figure out how to deal with my kids, how I plan out from hour to hour. But I started hearing it from so many people that I began to think that there was something deeper going on. It wasn't just about people figuring out how to schedule their lives, there was a deeper problem at work in this. So the first reason I've got is you're letting people tell you that you should be doing other things with your time. I mean, this is an enormous problem. First of all, that you need to acknowledge that you're letting people tell you this and you're letting that... Those people have control over your decisions. It could be your parents who are telling you, it could be a spouse... Not that you should listen to a spouse... But it could be kids, but often it's actually people who... It's the keeping up with the Joneses kind of thing. People outside of your circle of family and really close friends who are telling you, "Oh, you should be doing something else with your time rather than writing."
[Mary] Yeah. I'm just going to jump in on this one, because it's a pet peeve of mine. That one of the things that I feel like writers need to retrain themselves for is that transition from writing as hobby to writing as something that you are serious about. That if it is... If it were a job, if it were school, if it were anything else, that conversation would not be happening. That you need to protect your writing space in the same way.
[Brandon] Uh-huh. People have this opinion of writers, it's this weird sort of opinion, and I've talked about it on the cast before, how people react when you say you're a writer and that sort of, "Oh, right." Until they find out that you're quote unquote a real writer.
[Brandon] The trick is you're a real writer long before you're a quote unquote real writer in their eyes. That's part of this problem... Was I less of a writer for those 10 years that I didn't get published that I was writing even more fiction than I am now, because now I have to do publicity and touring and all of these things? I was more of a writer then. And yet, in the eyes of all these people, there are other things I should have been doing. I should have been doing this or that or whatnot, and instead I was writing.
[Mette] TV shows like Castle don't help. Where [garbled] writers...
[Howard] I never see... Yeah, it's like once every four episodes where we see him actually in front of a device writing.
[Mette] Yeah, but he's almost never actually writing on it. He's usually like making excuses not to write. Then when he does anything that's writing related, he has like a free bar at his release and... Babes! I... There are no writers who have these things at their parties.
[Brandon] Neil Gaiman does.
[Mette] Okay.
[Howard] Sigh.
[Brandon] That's just Neil. You know the other aspect of this is a lot of... Even as people are accepting you as a writer, there are a lot of things you do as a writer that aren't the writing part that people don't understand. We've talked about this in the cast before. The staring off into space. The go for a walk and think through your story line. The I need to be left alone right now even though my fingers aren't touching the keyboard at this exact moment because if I get interrupted then that... These are the sort of things that people are like, "Well, you're not doing anything, maybe you should be... I don't know, taking out the trash."
[Howard] One thing to keep in mind is that when you are supposed to be thinking, it is often critically important that you acknowledge right now, I am supposed to be thinking. My hands are not supposed to be on the keyboard unless I am writing words. I don't need to check Facebook or Twitter because those things will interrupt me every bit as effectively as vacuuming the cat will.
[Mary] Should we go on to the next one? Because I'm like, we could actually do an entire podcast on that.

[Mette] Yeah. So, related to that is you haven't decided to treat your writing seriously, and so no one around you treats it seriously either. I wanted to say about a lot of these points... I mean, you can complain all day long about how the people around you are not doing what you need them to do to help you to become a writer, but... It's possible that you in fact though do need to change some of the people that are around you, I can't tell other people what they need to do, but you have a line of control over your life and the way that people see you, that you're not acknowledging as a writer. When you start treating your writing seriously, then other people do know... Other people will naturally do it. For example, if you say I am going to write from this time to this time, and you turn off your phone, and you don't go on the Internet during those times, people will begin to treat you more seriously when you do that. If your children come down and ask you if you will play a game with them during your writing time, if you say no and give them a nice kiss and send them away, those are signals to other people about the way you see your own writing and people will follow [that garbled].
[Howard] That's not how I send that signal anymore.
[Mette] Okay, how do you do it?
[Howard] No, my hands are on the keyboard and I'm writing and my... I will hear somebody walked into the room behind me and I have a little round mirror on the thing... I can tell if... I mean, if the house is on fire...
[Mette] A mirror? I don't have a mirror.
[Howard] I mean, if the house is on fire, if there's something serious going on, well, okay, I'll take my hands off the keyboard and I'll help. But often all they will get out of me is a grunt and maybe the word busy. And I keep writing. For the most part, I don't need to say that because they will walk in, they will peek to see what daddy is doing, and if daddy is writing with the comic panels or if daddy is writing with the big block... The big wall of text, then we will just turn around and go the other way, because getting barked at is no fun.
[Mary] We have... We don't have children, but my husband also needs the signals, so I have a trifold sign that says writing, other work, and goofing off.
[Mette] Oh, I love that.
[Mary] They should really come with like red light, green light because...
[Howard] We used those at the retreat. Those were wonderful.
[Mary] Yeah. So goofing off, totally approach me at will. That's a green light. Other work? Maybe? Approach with caution because I may be... Writing? No. Do not speak to me. So... My office unfortunately doesn't have a door so what I get is I get this slow peek around...
[Mary] The corner until he can see the sign and then this slow withdrawal.
[Brandon] That is just awesome. I love that image.
[Mary] It's hilarious.
[Brandon] That's a great point. What's the next one?

[Mette] Okay. You haven't made yourself a writing space. I mean, I think that in this day when people carry around laptops and iPads everywhere that they go, maybe some writers can work that way, but I need a space where my writing stuff is. I have an office. I don't always write in my office, but I have books in my office. It's a writing [kay?]... That is, a place where I go and I am inspired, even when I am not actually hands on keyboard. It's... There are writing [garbled]
[Howard] The space... I see what you're saying, and when I'm writing the comic, it's critically important that I be in my office with my tools. When I am writing prose, I have begun teaching myself that the space is in fact portable and the act of unfolding the device and setting it up in front of me and taking the backpack with all of its other things and maybe my water bottle and whatever else and positioning the things, I am... It's a little ritual and I create that space and it's... Then I need to stick to that and say, "All right, I have created the space and the document is open and now I am not allowed to go through the well, let's check email and Twitter one last time before we start." I have to maintain that headspace.
[Mette] I think that's a really important thing.
[Mary] Yes.
[Mette] I think that may be an advanced skill. Beginning writers may need to have more of a space.
[Howard] it may be an advanced skill, but the fact that we have mentioned it here and that the beginning writer knows it exists, means that they can look at it and they can say... And if you're listening to me, you should be saying this, "Oh, I could totally do that." Because you can.
[Mary] I started as a beginning writer, but that was because I was on tour. So every day I was in a different place. Yeah, I had to learn to write on the road.
[Brandon] I had to learn as I started touring. So yeah, I no longer have a space.
[Mary] But it is... But it... But learning... It's still creating... Even if it's not a... I still have a...
[Mette] It's a space in your head sometimes that you...
[Mary] No, I still have a physical space and I still have... I still have writings... I have a writing program that I use for writing. As opposed to... Like I use Scrivener, so some of that, some is just having that open on the computer. It's like, "Okay, Mary. Do not open the Facebook page."

[Brandon] All right. Let's stop for our book of the week. Our book of the week this week is Metatropolis: Green Space. Mary has a story in it.
[Mary] Yes. So this is the third book in the Metatropolis anthology series. This is original audio fiction from Audible. This one was edited by Ken Scholes and Jay Lake. Interesting... So these are science fiction... It's a shared world in the future of Earth. A lot of it is exploring what Earth would be like after a green revolution had taken place. One of the interesting things about these stories is that they are all original, they all came out in 2013, and are all eligible for the Nebulas. But when you get to the Hugos, they are not eligible in fiction categories this year, they are eligible in best dramatic presentation. So the Hugos are the only category that does this... Only major award that does this, that because there's a performance element, they regard them as something different. Just as a side note, any of your favorite audiobooks would really be eligible for best dramatic presentation. But it divides out so the anthology itself is about... For best long form. If you like any of the short stories in this, any of them are eligible in best dramatic short presentation.
[Brandon] Howard, how can they get a copy of this?
[Howard] Well, head on out to You can start a 30-day free trial membership, pick up a copy of Metatropolis: Green Space and any number of other potential nominees for best dramatic work, short form or long form, which apparently is what audiobooks are classified as.
[Brandon] And your story is?
[Mary] Oh, my story is called The Forest of Memory. I really, really like what the narrator did with this. She is just absolutely wonderful. This is Allison Johnson was my narrator, and she does just a bang up job with it. If you're interested in structure, actually, on one of the previous podcasts, we talked about a story that I got stuck on and needed to power through and write by craft? This is that story.
[Brandon] Excellent.
[Howard] That was the episode... The Q&A episode with Mercedes Lackey is what that was.
[Mary] Yes.

[Brandon] Let's go on to the next reason?
[Mette] Okay. You don't let your kids and other people solve their own problems.
[Mette] This is one... Howard was talking about how when he's working and his kids come in and he says I'm busy and they leave. For me, it's a little different because I'm the principal caregiver and my husband works outside of the home so there are times when my kids have an emergency and I have to decide on the spot whether or not this is a time when they need to solve their own problems or whether it's a time when I really need to step in. That's an important skill, and it's not just a kid's skill or a parent's skill. When you have friends, when you have other work obligations, it's really important to learn that sometimes you need to let people just... You can just say, "Oh, that must be really hard. I'm sorry that you're going through that."
[Howard] If you're a problem solver... If your personality... If you are a problem solver, there will always be a problem that is easier for you to solve then writing whatever that thing is that you're supposed to be writing.
[Mette] Yes!
[Howard] There will always be that. My kids have learned that... If they are squabbling... I say they have learned. It still happens from time to time. If they are squabbling, if there is some sort of disagreement that reaches a pitch at which it is now distracting me from writing, I will get up from the writing chair, I will walk into the room where they are, and begin bellowing at them. And basically explain, "Look, you guys need to fix this because if I need to fix this, I will just take away all of the things. What is it you're fighting over right now? Oh, a computer and an Xbox and a DS? I can make those go away in a heartbeat. Figure it out." Then I'll storm back into my office. Then it's quiet for a few minutes. Then Sandra comes out and convinces the children that daddy still loves them.
[Mary] I so wanted to do that when I was the vice president of SFWA.
[Mary] Just take away all the toys.
[Mette] [inaudible – this is why they can't have nice things, huh?]
[Howard] Oh, goodness.

[Mette] Okay. So another one is that you think that you're going to have time to write more later. I mean, this is [inaudible]
[Mette] People are always saying to themselves, "Oh, when I get through this particular thing, then I will have more time to write." Or when I have a different stage of life. When my kids are in school, or when my husband gets a job, or whatever your excuse is, to say, "Oh, I'll have more time to write later." It may be true. It may, in fact, be true. But it may not be true. Most of the time, my experience has been, you're not going to have any more time later. If you think when your kids grow up and leave home that suddenly they're not going to like need you anymore, it's really wrong. They may need you just as much, or your parents may move in with you, or... There's always going to be something. That... Unless... If you don't prioritize your writing and get it done now.
[Mary] Yeah. I think the fact that we all laughed in knowing recognition is a sign that [you're right]
[Brandon] Like I thought I would have more time to write when I became a professional writer.
[Mary] Yeah. No!
[Mette] Yeah, yeah. Oh, yes.
[Brandon] And no, I have less time to write.
[Howard] Now... I was so excited for the first writing retreat at the Woodthrush Woods that I went to. Very excited, for the Writing Excuses workshop and retreat we did last summer. For that exact reason! Oh, finally, I will just be able to put away all the crap and write. What happened, and it is... We talked about it like three minutes ago. What happened is there was always something that actually did need to be done...
[Mary] But not by you.
[Howard] That was easier to do than the writing that needed to be done. I have a big problem with that. Especially since the comic is easier for me to do than the writing that I also want to do.
[Mette] Yeah. I mean, that goes... That's another one of my reasons. You do what is urgent rather than what is necessary. It can be really easy to make a list of things that need to be done today, and to do your list of things that need to be done today before you do the stuff that fulfills you as a writer. I try to prioritize first as a writer when I sit down, get the chunk of writing I feel like I want to get on the page today, get that done. Then deal with the emails and putting out fires and whatever stuff needs to be done immediately. Reversing that has enabled me to like increase my word count enormously on a daily basis.
[Mary] Yeah. There's a website called a week planner dot net or week... Anyway, we will put it in the liner notes, the correct thing ( But one of the philosophies of it is that you basically... Is based on this guy who does this demonstration where he puts... You have big rocks and small rocks in a container. You try to put the small rocks in the container, and then you try to fit the big rocks in and they don't go in. Then you put the big rocks in, and then you can fit all the small rocks around them. So the way this... It's a to do list, but the way it works is that you break your life into different categories. You're like, what is the most important thing you need to do today as a writer? That has actually been like, "Oh, look, I'm getting things done."
[Brandon] I would like to continue on these, but we are at 18 minutes.
[Mary] Oh, yeah. Okay.

[Brandon] So I'm just going to have... Throw a writing prompt at Howard.
[Howard] Okay. We've talked about lots of things that... Lots of excuses that you make, lots of reasons why you can't write. We've explained why those don't actually count. Come up with a reason why the writer in your story absolutely cannot write.
[Howard] Then have that writer manage to write, anyway.
[Brandon] All right. Do go check out Mette's books, including Iron Mom and...
[Mette] 21 Reasons You Think You Don't Have Time to Write.
[Brandon] Thank you very much for being on the podcast. You all are out of excuses, now go write.
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