Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books about the craft and process of writing. Almost invariably, when discussing the all-consuming writing routine, the author will say something like this: “You must keep your writing time sacred. That means you’ll have to say no to things to which you might otherwise say yes. If you’re invited out for dinner during your writing time, you’ll have to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t make it.’ If you’re asked to sign up for an exercise class during your writing time, you’ll have to say, ‘No.’ Having a writing life means you’ll have to say no to other things in life.”
To some extent, I agree with the spirit of this advice. It’s standard math: there are only so many hours in the week, and if you’re going to devote many of them to writing, there will be less time for other things. But I object to the idea of making yourself into a hermit who says no to everything. The standard “say no” advice to writers misses the finer points of prioritizing and fine-tuning your schedule. We all fill our time, one way or another. If you’re saying yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. But do you have to say no to your relationships? There are other things you can let go of: watching TV, scrolling on your phone, doing chores.
People are always a good use of time. People enrich our lives. Healthy relationships keep us grounded. And people are also the best fodder for stories. You can’t write characters if you don’t observe real-world applications of character. It can be difficult to find time to deepen long-term relationships and nurture new ones. But in the long run, it’s worth it to find the time, even if it means adjusting your writing schedule occasionally.
I’ve found three methods that have helped me improve my real-world relationships without sacrificing my sacred writing time. Forgive me for the silly names!
Method One: Catch Up Over Ketchup
Certain chores are unavoidable, but they can be multi-tasked with quality social time. Next time you need to stock up on groceries, call a friend. You can wheel your carts down the aisle and catch up on your lives while you’re stocking up on ketchup (And hopefully some other food too!). It’s the errand date: the perfect solution to making an irritating chore enjoyable while getting face-to-face quality time with a friend (Twenty-first century alternative: order from Fresh Direct and invite your friend over for coffee while you wait for the delivery).
Method Two: We All Gotta Eat (And Clean)
My family has a Friday afternoon tradition. My parents come to my house and play with the kids after school while my husband and I do chores and get the house weekend-ready: vacuuming, laundry, unpacking backpacks and bags. Then we all share a pizza, relaxing in the knowledge that our work and home obligations have been settled for the week. Breaking bread together is one of the best ways to strengthen relationships, and you can’t say it’s taking time out of your writing life, because everyone has to eat.
Method Three: Call Me Definitely
Phone dates are the new meet-up. If you have a commute, they’re the best! Commuting is a form of unavoidable delay. You’ll be in the car anyway, so why not talk to a friend (Hands-free, of course)? I have two standing phone dates, one with my sister in California, and the other with my friend in Texas. I look forward to those commutes all week. There have been days so frantic that I felt as though that one conversation completely saved my sanity. It might take a bit of finagling to schedule something that works for both of you, but if you can make it happen, it’ll improve your relationships without taking away from your work time.
Have you read The Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes? She chose to say Yes to all the invitations she was given over the course of a year. She said Yes to social events, Yes to work opportunities, and Yes to herself (yes to eating healthy, yes to exercising) and still managed to write three of the hottest shows on television. If Shonda can do it, why can’t we?
We are writers. But we are more than that: we are daughters and sons, parents, brothers and sisters, spouses, partners, mentors and friends. We need to be wary of any advice that keeps us from being those things. Nurture your real life relationships, and your writing life will be better for it.
How have you kept your relationships strong without diminishing your commitment to writing?
Leanne Sowul is a writer and teacher from the Hudson Valley region of New York. She’s the curator of the website Words From The Sowul and authors the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA. She writes historical fiction and personal essay, for which she won the Scott Meyer Award in 2017; her work is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with her at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, at Facebook.com/sowulwords, or on Twitter @sowulwords.