[Maggie] You’re listening to But Is It Write, a podcast where we discuss, debunk, and debate common writing advice.
[Candice] There’s a lot of writing advice out there, but is it right?
[Candice] Hey everyone, I am Candice Lee and I’m here with my co-host Maggie Derek. Maggie is an award-winning author and bisexual artist who was a fan of dogs with human names.
[Maggie] And my co-host Candice is a full-time author, part-time procrastinator, and writer coach who is training for an Olympic medal in midday naps.
[Candice] Today’s topic is the piece of advice “protect your writing time”.
[Maggie] Yeah. Darn right it is.
[Candice] On the one hand I feel like it sounds simple: protect your writing time. Sure, you should but it’s not that easy.
[Maggie] Fight for your right to write.
[Candice] Oh, somebody put that on T-shirt. That’s ours, no stealing. But is it right.
[Maggie] We came up with it first. Probably. Not.
[Candice] We’ll look later and if nobody has will make T-shirts and hats.
[Candice] We’re already doing merch.
[Maggie] Anyway. Protect your writing time. This is one of those pieces of advice that I hear at conferences a lot. I hear a lot of presenters at different writing conferences really tout the idea of protecting your writing time. And I think it’s very admirable. I think it makes a lot of sense theoretically.
[Candice] I like the word theoretically.
[Maggie] Yeah, I mean, okay, if we were to break down: the idea is that you would plan your day, your week, whatever and you would schedule time on some kind a regular basis that “This is my time to write. Nobody is allowed to bother me. I’m not allowed to schedule anything else into it. It is strictly mine for my craft.” End of story.
[Candice] Which again is nice in theory, but there’s this thing called real life, you know? Have you heard of this thing — IRL?
[Maggie] Please tell me.
[Candice] Kind of pops up every once in a while.
[Maggie] Okay, so I love this advice, but again in theory. I love the idea of putting my foot down and saying to everyone around me “Shut up, don’t talk to me, this is Maggie time, this is a time I’m going to close my door, lock my cat out of the room, and just get ‘er done”. But I will say that despite all of my best efforts I don’t think I’ve ever managed to actually make it work. I don’t know if I’ve ever been able to stick to it.
[Candice] And that’s the kind of problem here is, I think – was it a previous episode we had talked about if you make this goal and you don’t meet that goal then you feel bad about yourself for not meeting that goal? I think it’s the same here. If you set a time you know every night between X and X or every weekend between here and here, I am going to write my story. I’m going to – this is my writing time. And then if something interrupts and you can’t do that and then you’re few days behind on your word count and it just starts piling up eventually you start feeling bad and guilty and you know like the point of protect your writing time is to make you feel bad for all the times when you can’t.
[Maggie] I don’t know. This is a tough one because again I keep saying the word theoretical because I feel like theoretically if you can protect your writing time, if you’re the type of person who can tell the people around you “This is my time, I’m not going to answer my phone, I’m not going to talk to the people in my household, I’m not going to make plans” and you can commit to that time and I say “Great, like good for you! Make it happen!” Like you said, don’t feel bad if you can’t, and I suppose that’s the difference is like – are you would be militant about protecting your your writing time and/or are you going to feel bad in and beat yourself up over it If you can’t? Because it feels like, you know, writing – it’s the one thing that I think that even even writers who their best to take it seriously sometimes struggle to justify giving it that much weight in their daily lives. Because you’ve got jobs, you got kids, you got whatever else that’s taking priority that – I don’t know, do we feel guilty when we try to protect the writing time?
[Candice] I think a lot of people do feel guilty because again they have other priorities and if you are writing, you know, the novel of your heart it does seem a little selfish that “I am taking this time for me”. Especially I think among women who have families and children they feel like you know “I have other priorities I shouldn’t be spending this time on a project that has meaning only for me”.
[Candice] Now I actually have the opposite problem. If I’m doing anything except writing, I feel so awful. if I take the time to do a workout or go have a nice healthy lunch, I just feel like “I should be writing right now, I’m not writing, what’s wrong with me, I’m a terrible person, I should be writing right now.”
[Maggie] I think where some of that comes from is the fact that you’re full time author and I think I think that comes from work culture and hustle culture that idea of “you’ve gotta be giving it 100% of your time” and especially for anyone that’s come from a workplace background where you’re used to like the 9-to-5 – if you’re not working, you’re time stealing, you’re being a terrible employee. I think that like really gets ingrained in you, and it’s a hard thing to shake. Except for you, it’s your job, right?
[Candice] Hustle culture is a thing that I need to have an entire episode about because it is not good for my mental health.
[Maggie] Well, yeah and it’s not just writers who who really suffer from hustle culture and I think that it really makes a big difference here in the idea of protecting your writing time because if it’s not your full-time job then you feel like “Oh am I giving too much time into which priority wait to something that maybe it’s a hobby, maybe it’s never going to get me where I want to go,” versus someone like you who is writing full-time and then suddenly feels like “If I’m doing anything else but writing and therefore protecting my writing time which I don’t know now has to be 9-5 I’m doing something wrong”. And so I think and in both cases it can be really tricky if you’re beating yourself up over it.
[Candice] That’s what I think it really comes down to, the whole beating yourself up whether it’s “protect your writing time” or “I can’t do anything except write”. It’s more about I want to say self-care, like your self-care is important. And if you are giving up what makes you feel good because of other people’s priorities, then I feel like that’s really sad. If you love writing and you feel guilty for making the time to write or conversely, you know, “Writing is my job but I feel guilty if I take some time to myself to do something for me”. Either way that guilt is really bad for our mental health.
[Maggie] Yeah. And I can get where more people are coming from and here’s the thing I feel like most of the time when you hear the writing advice to protect your writing time, it’s coming from really established writers and authors who have “made it”. I’m doing air quotes around “made it” because success is a moving barometer and it looks different for different people. But I find that usually I hear that from people who are making it in some capacity and they’re saying that the only way that you can be successful as a writer is to make writing your priority. Treat it like it’s your job and I find it people get really self-righteous about this piece of advice which I think in turn instantly makes anyone who doesn’t do it feel bad. “Well, if this really successful writer’s telling me that if I’m not making writing my priority then I’m doing something wrong and I’ll never be successful.” Of course they’re going to feel bad about themselves and of course that guilt is going to really set in. I just feel like with any writing advice, and we’ve mentioned this before, it’s all very subjective to your own personal way of writing and also your own personal circumstances. I don’t think it’s fair to tell somebody that you’re never to be successful or find success in writing if you don’t make writing your priority. And I think that making writing your priority and protecting your writing time go hand-in-hand. I feel like they’re almost one in the same to a certain extent. I think that, I don’t know, there are plenty of people who have been successful or have found success in writing who haven’t followed this advice. I’m one of them.
[Candice] I’m gonna I put my hand and I’m gonna be like I wish I had a routine, I really wish I did, but I cannot stick to any kind of habit with my writing. I write when I feel like it, which is really bad because I’m not consistent. I go spells without writing and then I do thousands and thousands of words a day for a week straight. It’s very up-and-down, but—
[Maggie] You get it done.
[Candice] I get it done!
[Maggie] And I’m the same way. Like I have one of those planners that is broken out by the hour and I always block off a certain chunk of time, I highlight it making it look all pretty like this is my writing time. Do I write that day? Sure. Do I write then? Very rarely. Very rarely does it happen at that particular part of the day. I just kind of fit it in where I can fit in because that’s what my lifestyle is like. My life is too fluid to really take that time and just say “this is just for writing.” Should I? Some people think I should. Does it make me a terrible writer? I don’t think so. I’ve written four full—almost five full manuscripts this point. I think I’m getting the job done. I’m just not doing it by setting the specific time aside. And does not make it any less valid? I don’t think so.
[Candice] Because there are some writers like, for example, I go back and forth on this. There was a long stretch where I got up every morning at 7 AM. I sat down and I wrote my word count and I did that every morning and after that the rest of the day I could work on my business stuff and my marketing and other projects. But then I fell off the wagon and now unfortunately at this point in time I’m back to the “Do I feel like writing right now? Not really. Maybe I should, but I don’t really feel like it.” So yeah, you go back and forth sometimes.
[Maggie] But to look at it on the other side of this coin, if we want to look at it as a coin. I think about people who have families. You and I, we don’t have kids. We, you know, for—the only creature I am responsible to is my dog, and to a lesser extent my cat, she kinda does her own thing.
[Candice] I don’t even have a plant, so I mean…
[Maggie] There you go. So there are fewer, there are fewer things demanding our time compared to some other writers. You know, maybe you’re a writer who has multiple jobs and that’s how you’re making ends meet. Maybe you’ve got kids, maybe you’re caring for another family member, and suddenly there are a lot more demands on your time. And I think for some people, whether it’s this is just the way you work well, maybe you are very heavily structured person and having that chunk of time that you can carve out and tell everyone to leave you alone for works really well for you and it is the only way you can get things done and it’s the only way you can carve that time out for yourself amidst all the other things are going on. And I don’t want anyone listening to this to think “Well, if Maggie and Candice don’t need to do it, then why do I?” I think if it works for you, then totally run with it. But I also think that what we’re trying to say is don’t feel bad if you can’t and don’t feel like there’s no way you’ll ever be successful if you can’t make it your priority and protect that time.
[Candice] Because I mean, yes, writing is important, especially if you’re looking to get published or you want to try to make a living. But I mean if you have kids, they come first, family, friends, your health, you know healthy eating, healthy exercising. There are things that are important in life that don’t have to do with words. I know writers like to say that it’s the most important thing and if you’re not serious about it then you’re not a real writer but it’s just words honestly. Your health and your happiness comes first. I think, at least.
[Maggie] Yeah, if you can protect your writing time and you can and you feel very strongly about that than I say all the power to you. But I just feel like life doesn’t work that way even for the people like in Candice’s situation who are for whom writing is their entire job. Like it is your, I don’t want to say 9-to-5 because that’s not how it works, but it is your bread-and-butter, correct?
[Candice] It’s how I bring home the bacon.
[Maggie] Exactly, and for some writers you will hear them in interviews talking about how to “Get up at this time and every day I got the same routine, I sit down I write for two hours, I take my leisurely stroll about the gardens, walk my dog whatever, come back to it and then I read or whatever” they say that they got these really regimented routines when it comes to the writing. If it’s true, cool. Good for them. I admire it. I think it’s beautiful. Do I believe it 100%? Nope.
[Candice] I’m sure there are times when they do do that, but there are also times when they just go a week without doing it. I’m sure there are times they fall off the wagon and go “I haven’t written in three days okay better get back on this.”
[Maggie] Yeah, I mean, how much how much of it do you think is really just posturing to sound like a bigger deal or to sound really scholarly.
[Candice] I’m going to say something. Where I went to like a talk, like a book launch, a reading, I can’t remember exactly what it was. But it had a very, you know, very well known author who had just released a book and she did a reading from it and answered questions. And she was asked this question, you know, “How many hours a day do you write?” or “How many hours a week?” or “How much do you write?” And she said “Oh at least I think it was something like six hours a day”. It was a lot of hours. And I thought to myself while that’s really impressive because I was assuming she had a really high output of words and then I looked at her—what’s the word, discography? But not for CDs.
[Candice] Yes, I looked at the books she had written and she’d written like three in the last 10 years. You cannot tell me she sat down every day for six hours and wrote words and only came up with three books. She was not writing the entire time.
[Maggie] Right, and I mean we talked about this before—writing isn’t just the act of putting words on the page. It can be the thinking, it can be the revising, it’s not just the drafting. I mean, my day job outside of writing fiction is writing. I’m a copywriter, so technically my full day should be nothing but putting words on the page and I can tell you that I am not spending eight solid hours every day putting words on the screen. It just I don’t know that your brain can work that way.
[Candice] I hope not.
[Maggie] But I think were also diverting. Yeah, technically that should be my writing time, but I don’t know that it’s natural or healthy to spend that much time doing nothing but creating words. That’s a stretch I think. I don’t know, maybe someone’s going to get in touch with us and say like “Um, actually I have this routine and I never deviate from it” and I’m going to say again “That’s awesome, good for you, keep it up!” I could never.
[Candice] That’s what it comes down to: what works for you. Because I feel like the idea of protect your writing time is super, super important because I believe you should try to make it a priority if you want to either get it published, make a career, or just have people read it. If you want to finish this manuscript, you really should make sure that you set aside some time to get it done and block out at the world. But that’s one of those good pieces of advice that you cannot adhere to all the time and if you try to it will drive you crazy.
[Maggie] Yeah, I think it’s a really good way to kind of tie that up in a bow. I was going to say what under what circumstances should you protect your writing time? In what cases should be you really be fighting to keep that as your time? And I think you touched on one really good one: if you’re trying to get that manuscript done, if that’s you you’re working on some kind of deadline than yeah maybe you have to really protect your writing time.
[Candice] And I’m going to say if you do have a family and kids and you have to drive little Jimmy to soccer practice that you can’t getting your writing time sometimes you can tell little Jimmy “Sorry, find another way to get to soccer practice, this is my writing time” because you should not always put your family first. You do not have to make other people your priority, you can make yourself a priority, like that idea of self-care. And if your self-care is to get my manuscript done then so what if other people need your time and attention tell them to go shove off.
[Maggie] I’m going to put an asterisks here and say “circumstances permitting” because I’m sure that there are some family people who are listening going “Not a possibility for me right now.” Maybe your kids are infants or whatever the case may be. But totally find a way to give yourself some priority in your life whether it’s writing or… I’m not a life coach, I’m gonna stop.
[Candice] I was gonna say, so we have writing as just the overall concept. And if it’s just words and you’re just writing, if you’re just writing a book and you have other priorities like a sick relative or you want to spend time with your family, if your self-care is those other priorities, if that’s what’s important to you then don’t beat yourself up about not protecting your writing time. If, however, your idea of self-care is to finish this book of my heart, then you should protect your writing time. Because I think the most important thing is what is your priority? What will make you happy? Forget everybody else. What will make you happy?
[Maggie] I firmly believe in self-care
[Maggie] Whether it’s happiness or just making you feel fulfilled because let’s be honest sometimes writing isn’t always enjoyable.
[Candice] Yes! Fulfillment is the word I would like to use, maybe instead of happiness. If it makes you feel fulfilled.
[Maggie] Then you should definitely find, I think then you should you should find a way to protect it, but perhaps it doesn’t have to be that regimented time. If you’re the type of person whose days are very structured and scheduled down to the minute and that’s the best way for you to do it and have that chunk of time blocked off in your daily schedule “this is my writing time” and that’s the only way you can fit it in, then run with it. But if you can’t, I think if you had to choose between protecting the time itself versus just getting it done, getting it done is more important than doing it at a specific time.
[Candice] Does it really matter as long as it does get done?
[Candice] There are others who I know that they, you know, have their writing app on their phone open when they’re in the middle of the grocery store cashier line and they’re just typing up a couple more words here or there, fixing a few sentences, and they sneak in time whenever they can.
[Maggie] Yeah. I think it’s becoming more and more common, too, when you got smart phones and any sort of, you’ve got Google Docs on your phone. I know I’ve definitely been sitting waiting for a doctor’s appointment in the waiting room working on a chapter.
[Candice] I have definitely sat down to eat and opened up one of my apps and just gone through an edited chapter, just tighten things up, got rid of some words, added some words did a little bit of, you know, touch ups. Now that doesn’t mean I have written an entire chapter on my phone. I think that would kill my thumbs and my my wrists, but I just fit some time in
[Maggie] If that’s all you can do, that’s okay. If you can’t protect a certain chunk of time but you’re still getting it done, that’s valid. That’s all. I think that’s my ultimate stance on this writing advice – great in theory. If you can do it, that’s amazing. If it helps you think, process, and create better, then great. But do not feel bad if you can’t pull it off.
[Candice] Right. I think that is pretty much, that’s pretty much it. If this advice serves you, wonderful. If this advice does not serve you, ignore it.
[Maggie] And especially don’t let famous established authors make you feel like you’re not a real writer if you can’t protect writing time.
[Candice] Your process is your process.
[Maggie] Yeah, exactly. Look at that. You can take professional courses and pay money to be told the exact same thing and we just gave it to you for free. You’re welcome.
[Candice] Is that the advice you got during your writers studio program?
[Maggie] I have paid money to be told that advice and I was livid. But anyway.
[Candice] You know what’s cool? I was the one who brought up the writer studio instead of you for once.
[Maggie] Do you have any idea how hard I’ve been trying this whole episode like “don’t say it don’t bring it up”?
[Candice] I’m going to start a tally.
[Maggie] It wasn’t my fault this time, for anyone keeping track at home.
[Candice] I brought it up. It was my fault, okay?
[Maggie] So, let’s let’s wrap it up then. The advice, Protect Your Writing Time: but is it right?
[Candice] It’s right if it works for you. If it causes you to feel guilt or feel bad that you can’t, then ignore it.
[Maggie] Darn right. I’m also trying really hard not to swear. Trying hard to swear, trying hard not to mention my writer studio…
[Candice] Trying real hard not to say swear words and it’s tough because I don’t know any alternatives for some of the stuff I want to say.
[Maggie] I’m just going to say heck a lot.
[Candice] That works. Heckin’ good episode, Maggie!
[Maggie] Thanks, Candice! I think so, too. Oh, my cat just broke into the room.
[Candice] Good thing that this podcast is almost over.
[Maggie] Okay, I’ll wrap it up. Don’t forget you can recommend advice to us to cover on a future episode by tweeting it to us on Twitter @butisitwrite, or you can send it to us via email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like what were doing and you’re enjoying the podcast, please remember to give us a five-star rating and tell your friends to check us out. We would really, really appreciate it. And that’s all I have to say on that
[Candice] Good wrap up.