I met Andi Buchanan in Philadelphia when I was first starting out as a writer. I had an infant and toddler, no time, and a tiny portfolio of recently published parenting essays in magazines and newspapers with very small circulations.
What I lacked– in between the nursing, playdates, and the ten year-old desktop computer that froze every forty-five seconds– was a writing community. I had questions– lots of them. But before the era of writing blogs and message boards, I knew no one who could answer them.
A new friend tipped me off to a group of writers holding a book signing for one of their friends– a sort of old-time literary salon hosted by a local author named Andi Buchanan. “Do you want to go?” she asked me.
Desperate for a night without children, I said yes.
That night Andi, who led the discussion, introduced me to my first writing community. I continued to attend these literary salons while reading every book Andi published. (MotherShock is one of my favorite memoirs.)
When I learned we’d be relocating from from Philadelphia to Atlanta, I worried about parting ways with this warm, supportive tribe of writers. But I didn’t panic. Instead, soon after unpacking boxes at our new apartment, I ventured out to find other writers in the Atlanta area. Because Andi taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since committing myself to writing– if you want to be a writer, make the time to create your writing community.
When does besti-selling author Andi Buchanan write?
“When do you write?” is probably the question I’m asked the most, and is definitely the most difficult one to answer, because my answer depends on when you ask me. If you asked me twenty years ago, my answer would have been: in secret, all the time, whenever I wanted, but never for anyone else to read. If you asked me ten years ago, my answer would have been: in the dead of night, after feeding the baby or waking up to put a toddler back to bed after a nightmare; or in the rare, freakish moment when the kids’ naps overlap for even a few blessed minutes; or in the park, on a scrap of paper, just a sentence or two scribbled down before I forget, while the children bicker over sidewalk chalk; or in my head, while I’m making dinner or putting away the toys or changing a diaper or supervising bath time. Today, my answer is closer to what I might have said twenty years ago, except for that pesky “whenever I want” part, which still isn’t possible; and for the fact that now not all of the writing I do is in secret. Once the kids are off to school, my days are long, comparatively. When I’m working on a project, I usually spend the mornings researching, reading, or otherwise “pre-writing,” and the early afternoons writing (or editing what I’ve already written). I try to aim for word count instead of page count, and the word count I’m shooting for depends on the kind of project it is, and whether I have a deadline that’s self-imposed or spelled out in a contract. But still my schedule depends on the schedules of those around me, and over the years I’ve gotten better at holding an idea in my head and stretching it out until I can find a moment — usually somewhere in the dark, after everyone else is asleep — to write it down and think through it in words.
Seven or eight years ago, I was on a panel with some other writers who were parents of very young children, and much of the discussion centered around the practical aspects of writing with kids. The audience was mostly women, and the panel was mostly women, except for one guy who’d written a book about being a dad. Someone in the audience asked, “How do you do it? I mean, literally, how? How do you get any writing done as a parent?” and before any of us could formulate a good answer, the lone guy on the panel jumped in and said, “It’s really, really hard. I mean, basically, I just went to a hotel every weekend, just checked into a hotel room for the weekend and worked on my book.” It was an amazing moment, because I could actually FEEL the room turning on him. The way he said it! So nonchalantly! Oh, you “just” check into a hotel! He was seriously surprised that no woman in that room found that as obvious a solution as he did to the “how to find time to write when you’re a parent” problem.
Thinking about it later though — marveling over the privilege he had to be able to absent himself from his family life for weekends at a time, the sheer indulgence of being able to buy himself personal time and space and not feel the least bit conflicted about it — I realized that, as clueless as he was to drop that into a conversation with women who could not afford to take his advice, he’d pointed to something really important. We need to be able to claim our time. At the time of that panel, could I have “just” booked myself a hotel for the weekend in order to meet my writing deadlines? No way. But could I have metaphorically “booked” myself some time? Could I have given myself permission to take an hour somewhere — even minutes somewhere! — to focus on my work without feeling guilty for not also focusing on my family? Absolutely. I’ve thought about that guy a lot over the years, especially when I feel self-indulgent for spending time in my own head puzzling out a plot point. You don’t have to literally check out of your daily life and into a hotel in order to get done what needs to be done (although of course you can if you like!) — but it’s crucial to stake a claim on the importance of your (fleeting, limited) time and not apologize for taking it.