What do you do when you are too busy to breathe? When student notebooks compete with certification studies compete with long commutes compete with meetings compete with lesson plans compete with my own kids compete with oil change compete with laundry compete with PowerPoints compete with sleep…?
You do the best you can, of course, because you have to and because you want to, you smile through it all, so your students ask you, over and over, “Miss, why you always so happy?” and you love it some days and others you fake it, some days you’re a flying bull breaking through barriers, some days you dance through (sometimes literally!), sometimes you take a chance, sometimes you take off, lift off to space, then more often than not you crash back to reality, then you dust yourself off, begin again.
You just do it, right? We all do. I bet most of you have your own manic daily music to dance to.
So you do it. Each morning you wake up at 5, you dress up and you do your daily dance.
But what if underneath your daily dance clothes, you are also a writer?
How are you supposed to handle that? If you cannot spare your sleep? If your feet cannot afford to run marathons while dancing?
So here is what you do. You tiptoe back to your deeper truth: step by tiny step, you make your way back to writing.
That is what I have been doing lately: taking tiny writing steps every day.
Five minutes one day. Fifteen minutes the next. Then ten. Every day. It’s like a bathroom break or a quick surf through Facebook, only better. A little sip of writing here, a little gulp there. I don’t care about quantity. I don’t have time to obsess over quality. Just a few ticks of a timer, just a couple of daily beats of a writer’s heart, ten minutes at lunch, fifteen on Sunday evening.
And you know what? I like it. I like it a lot.
Even today, on a blissful break of a snow day, I could have kept going, I wasn’t stuck or anything, there was more to write, but after maybe 20-25 minutes, I felt good, I was complete for the moment. I was no longer thirsty, and so I stopped.
It may sound a little strange and maybe not very “writerly,” but a stolen writing moment to me is a lot more fun than a wide-open afternoon pressuring me for thousands of words. I don’t know if I ever had the stamina for it, really. Of course I tried it, and I did it; I did it for years, I did it plenty of times. But I remember after many a long writing session, I felt depleted and disoriented, out of breath, out of juice.
Maybe it’s a cosmic joke: that inside my workaholic body lives a very delicate, very laid back, do-not-disturb-me muse.
Sure, one day I hope to build back up to maybe Hemingway’s 500 words a day. Yeah, that sounds nice. Five hundred words, that’s, like, half an hour of drafting, okay, one hour max. Five hundred is really not a lot of words at all. I am not in a hurry. But I don’t see why I can’t get there. One step, one sip, one lungful of writing magic at a time.
Thinking about Hemingway, with his quick morning writing sessions and his leisurely afternoon visits with friends and Parisian cafes, maybe I am not the first writer who is not interested in heavy weight-lifting. Don’t get me wrong, if you are that 5k a day writer, bravo, truly, I applaud you. I used to be jealous of you; I used to try to turn myself into you.
Now writing’s simple, almost like back when I was 11 years old, just doodling and telling myself stories. A moment here, a breath there. How delicious. How re-freshening. Stealing back a few minutes of each day. Spoiling myself. A tiny daily victory.
So, this is what I have been up to lately.
What do you do when you are too busy to breathe?