I have two sisters, one younger, one older, and they both run marathons. Well, half marathons. They set out for places like Tennessee and Chicago and bring home tee-shirts immortalizing their accomplishments. Thirteen or so miles. Nothing to sneeze at.
I've never accomplished a half marathon. Or, in recent memory, five miles at a go. I'm a steady two-or-three-mile, three-or-four-times-a-week runner. Sometimes less. Sometimes, I walk.
Yet, there are times when something--sibling-rivalry or competitiveness or not wanting to be left out or the fear that I'm missing out or the desire to achieve, achieve, achieve--causes me to re-evaluate my measely two miles. I think, if they can do it, I can do it. And, that's probably true. I probably could start training. Get myself on a schedule, set up a goal, earn my very own tee-shirt.
People who attend my workshops or just curious ones sometimes ask me about my writing routines. I don't know what they're hoping to hear, but I can see the disappointment on their faces when I tell them: I start writing by around 4:30 in the morning and go until my kids get up. I do this everyday, holiday, vacation, out-of-town, whatever. Two winters ago, our furnace quit working and I rose early as usual, put on a couple of coats and a pair of fingerless gloves and got right to work.
Every time I answer this question, I can see right off what the asker is thinking: I should be getting up at four. Asker bites her lip and looks away. Or else, she thinks: I can't get up that early. Oh well for this writing-thing. Clearly, I don't have what it takes.
Certainly, you don't have to be an early-morning writer to be a writer. And more: you don't have to give your whole life to it. If you write, you're a writer. Any level of commitment, in my view, gives you the title. So, go ahead. Call yourself a writer. Quit playing coy, and quit harboring guilt over all the things you think you should be doing. Some die-hards would quibble with me for calling myself a runner. Let them. I'm a runner. I am. We'd all be wise, I think, to strive for equilibrium in our lives rather than satisfying some vague notion of all that we need to become.
I run for health, for well-being. To clear my head. I don't need a tee-shirt. We should write with the same goals in mind. Decide how important it is to you--writing, running, or anything else in life--and find a way to give it a proportional amount of your resources--time, energy, money, and gumption. There's no shame in writing as a hobby. There's no shame either in boiling your life down to writing and little else. Just make the choice. Live a fully conscious life. Know the sacrifices you're making and why you're making them.
After all, would my sisters really care if I ran those awe-inspiring 13 miles? How impressed would they be? Beyond that, even if they were completely undone with jealousy or respect or whatever it is I'm after, how would their feeling that way actually improve my life or theirs? Or anyone's? Is this what I'm doing here, impressing my sisters? Other writers? The people who come to my workshops? My cyber-writing friends? My very own you'll-never-be-good-enough demons running around inside my head?
You have to do it for you. You just do. Any other way, you lose.
(Okay, so I wandered off into preachy territory--sorry. This post has been inspired by a dear friend and superb writer who recently reminded me of the importance of priorities and what it means to value one's own well-being. Thank you, thank you, you know who you are, you wise, talented, and generous you.)