The Theft Of Time

This post, from Dennis Palumbo, originally appeared on The Writer’s Store site.

A particularly arrogant film producer once said to me, “I could be a writer, too, if I only had the time.”

Which implied, I guess, that if he didn’t have to attend meetings, deal with studios, manage production budgets—–in other words, if he didn’t have a real job—he too could just sit around, effortlessly knocking out compelling narratives and crafting pithy dialogue.

Yet for most writers, time is exactly that thing they can’t seem to get enough of. Certainly not without carving it out for themselves, strenuously hewing a private space for their writing from a dense forest of financial and familial duties. Most writers understand that they must somehow demand the time to write; that, in many ways, writing is a “job” like any other, requiring diligence, constancy and commitment. But getting others to understand this is not always so easy.

Robert Frost said that the one thing all nations on earth share is a fear that a member of the family will want to be a writer. There are a lot of reasons for this, from parental concern about a child’s ability to earn a living, to legitimate desires to spare the would-be writer the heartbreak of rejection and disappointment, to irrational fears about the aberrant life-style that writers are stereotypically known to indulge. Next to announcing that you want to be an actor, proclaiming your ambition to write is guaranteed to strike terror in the hearts of parents, siblings, and spouses. Especially spouses with whom you’ve had children.

The pressure to provide for a family is acute for most people, but even more so for writers, often struggling with both the difficulties of their craft and the insecurity and fickleness of the marketplace. Finding time to write is hard enough when you have a writing job—on staff at a TV series, say, or developing a screenplay for a studio. At least then you can justify the time spent away from the family, lost in your thoughts, scribbling notes on coffee shop menus, banging away at the keyboard at all hours.

But if you have a non-writing job, some 9-to-5 gig to pay the bills, any time you might need for writing, for pursuing a writing career, seems a selfish luxury. It’s time seemingly owed to personal obligations, to the tasks of running a home and raising a family. In such cases, “demanding” time for your writing carries with it the possibility of frequent relationship strife, as well as a significant burden of guilt.

In my private practice, many of my writer clients deal with this guilt constantly. They feel an obligation both to the demands of their creative ambitions and to those of their families. Even when their spouse or partner goes along with their need for time and solitude, many of them still feel guilty. Often it increases the pressure to achieve quick financial success. It affects their decisions about what kinds of things they should write. It makes them feel that every second spent writing must “count.”

More than one writer has said to me, “What if my script doesn’t sell? I’ve spent all this time doing it, obsessing over it. I’ve been distracted and impatient with my kids. Totally unavailable to my wife. What if it all turns out to be for nothing?”

Sometimes the fissures in the relationship at home become wide enough to cause panic. “I’ve made a deal with my husband,” another writer once told me. “If this spec doesn’t sell, I’ll give it up. I mean, how long can I keep doing this, banging my head against the wall? I’m not getting any younger. And I don’t want to lose my marriage.”

Even successful writers, those who make a living at their craft, find it difficult to continually justify to loved ones their need for private time. “Unless my kids hear the keyboard clicking,” one noted screenwriter confided in me, “they feel okay interrupting me. You ever try to explain to a four-year-old that you’re working, when all you’re doing is staring at the ceiling? Hell, sometimes I have a hard time convincing myself.”

Read the rest of the post on The Writer’s Store site.

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