The third floor of my university’s library was called the Ultra Quiet Zone. I loved going up there on weekends to write, because you were literally forbidden from even whispering. It was so quiet it was almost too quiet. Almost.
I loved this space. I won four of my NaNoWriMos thanks to that space. But I unintentionally ended up spoiling myself going up there so often with my laptop, because the real world is neither that quiet nor that accommodating.
For a few weeks after November ended, I always found myself frustrated and unable to concentrate on what I was doing because there was so much noise and distraction around me.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a situation where you have no choice but to write — no distractions, time constraints, or sustainable excuses not to do it — that suddenly writing feels easy? Maybe it’s not great writing, but the words still come, and time seems to both slow down and accelerate at the same time.
Have you also ever noticed that writing is only stressful when someone or something is in some way preventing you from doing it? That once that someone or something is no longer an issue, the stress often subsides?
It seems to me — from my own experience and from speaking to all of you through comments — that it isn’t the act of writing itself that’s stressful, but instead the art of trying to make writing fit into a non-writing-friendly environment.
The real world was not designed with writers in mind — at least not the way many of us live now. When I am not alone in my house, there is always a TV on in at least one room. Someone is almost always watching a video on their phones. There is no designated “everyone be quiet so Meg can write” time. (Especially not with a puppy around.)
But it’s not just at home, either. We’ve been conditioned to believe that packed-to-capacity work and social schedules are the norm. Our days don’t allow enough downtime for writing — at least, not without a little effort. There’s always something happening. There’s always something more important that demands your full attention.
What makes writing stressful is that we’ve forgotten how to leave enough space for it in our lives.
We feel stressed when we plan to write but don’t follow through. We feel stressed when we haven’t written in days or weeks or even months (years?). We feel stressed when we’ve been writing for several hours and suddenly we have to stop unexpectedly to take care of something, or someone, else.
No, we can’t neglect the outside world and those who live in it in favor of our stories. But we can find balance on this invisible wire that divides our creative time from our obligations time.
How? By working in very small, more spread out intervals. You don’t have to write every day. You certainly don’t have to write for multiple hours seven days per week. It’s OK to write for 15 minutes only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s not a lot. But it’s SOMETHING.
We stress too much about things not going the way we want them to. But there is no Ultra Quiet Zone in the world we were born into. We have to write knowing the odds are against us, that time will never be on our side, that we’re never going to do any of this perfectly.
There’s already enough to stress about. Let’s put less energy into worrying about writing and more into actually writing. And playing. And eating, and laughing, and enjoying the rest of what life has to offer us.
You can take your writing seriously and still experience the world. It’s not about quantity, it’s not about isolation. It’s about finding people who will push you to spend time outside of your head, but also allow you to escape into it a little bit every day because they know it’s what you need in order to thrive.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.