2012 saw me depart Los Angeles, my home of ten years, and take up residence in sunny Tel Aviv. Also, this month marks the sixth anniversary of Just Effing – originally The Rouge Wave. There are over 1,500 blog posts here now, something that amazes me. There are many things to be grateful for and excited about, past, present and future.
But lately, something has been on my mind and I bet you can relate to it – time management and expectations for my writing this coming new year.
I often struggle with my time management – script reading, consulting, blogging – not to mention living, reading, finding time for friends and recreation and, god forbid, balance in my life. I am also working on a memoir about having lived in Hollywood for ten years and then moving to the Middle East. Sure, sure, I have tons of notes already written, and ideas and some great support and connections at some major publishing houses – in other words, I have everything lined up – from notes to enthusiasm to connections.
And yet, as 2013 is just beginning, I know that now it’s time to stop talking about the book and get to writing the book. And the thought scares me – how will I find time?! I have language lessons five afternoons a week. I have a waiting list of consulting clients, I have the Just Effing Competition – well, I hear myself rationalizing – the book is going to just have to take a year or two to write. But even as I say that, I feel my bullshit-o-meter going off. Baloney. A 75,000 word memoir is NOT going to take one year to write, much less two years. No way. I can write this book in six months and YES with my other commitments. Right? Well, certain things are going to have to go out the window, like taking walks and days off – but is that healthy? Or is them just the breaks if you are a writer and wish to have some kind of self-imposed discipline?
I sat glumly in a cafe in Tel Aviv the other day, and contemplated how stressful 2013 is going to be for me because of this stupid book – stupid book? Did I just mutter that to myself? No, no, no, this book is my dream, I am so excited to be blessed enough to be living it and writing it, are you kidding?! I can’t wait to reflect upon what it’s like to move overseas, so far from the American culture I was steeped in. I can’t wait to contemplate and articulate how I see the US now, from thousands of miles away. To get onto paper what life in Hollywood is really like, now that I have both physical and emotional distance from it. During my last couple of years in LA, I experienced some terrible grief and awful betrayal and then I did something extraordinary – I moved to the Middle East – who does that? And then a few months after I arrived, there was a war and I found myself running to a bomb shelter on a daily basis – no, I’m excited about this book, it is practically writing itself! But – that’s not true. Books do not write themselves.
Every day we all see new books released – dozens, hundreds of books in the self and traditional publishing worlds. While I or you sit in a cafe and momentarily feel glum and worried about how on earth we’ll find the time without guilt or stress or neglecting another part of our lives – somebody somewhere else is actually writing their book or script. Somebody else is managing to find the time.
I turned to one of my favorite clients, Ben-Tzion Spitz, a rabbi living in a small village south of Jerusalem. I know what you’re thinking – oh boy, a rabbi, he must have a long, grey beard and tiny wire rim glasses and a deep voice… Nope, Ben is none of those things. Well, yes, he does have a neat beard but that’s where the stereotype ends. Ben has been not only a delightful client (I have been his story editor for his 80,000 word novel Warrior Prophets) but a source of counsel when I needed it and a huge source of inspiration. You see, Ben not only is a rabbi and a consultant, he not only wrote Warrior Prophets, he also writes a weekly newsletter and he has written a series of short stories, Destiny’s Call, available on Amazon. And Ben does all this as the father of SEVEN children. When I think about how productive Ben is with his writing and then my own worries about time management, I blush. I just had to ask Ben how he does it. And this is what he shared with me and with the readers of Just Effing:
I write because I have no choice. Once I started writing fiction (a little over three years ago), once I got into a rhythm of a story a week or a chapter a week, I found I couldn’t stop. I didn’t matter that I have seven children at home. It didn’t matter what hour of the night it was. It didn’t matter if I would accidentally bite my fingers as I ate my lunch in front of my computer typing madly as if the minions of hell were chasing me. I can’t stop. Sometimes I think that if I stop writing, I’ll die. For me, writing is like breathing. I’m often writing in my head even if I’m not putting pen to paper or pixel to screen. I get the children to bed early, not only so they can wake up for school on time, but to give me more time to write.
A self-imposed weekly deadline helps. A readership that gets anxious when I delay an installment helps. Finishing an installment early in the week helps, as otherwise I get crabby and agitated as my deadline looms closer and the pressure to write increases. It is a battle to squeeze the minutes and the seconds to think of images, scenes and stories and then to give them a voice. I sweat blood and tears, literally (mostly from the accidental biting episode), to get a story out. I joust with time, work, family, words and the universe to craft a story. It is my biggest priority of the week and the one with no time scheduled. I carve out time. I’ve stopped watching TV and minimize my attendance to social affairs. I’ve stopped pouring over the news and caring about all the nonsense that the rest of the world seems to follow. It’s a battle that I emerge from bloody but victorious week after week as I send my story to cyberspace and feel the momentary triumph of accomplishment only to start the cycle again.
But it is also a joy. It’s a joy when the words type themselves. It’s a joy when characters find their own voices and take you on unexpected twists and turns. It’s a joy when a new character comes on the scene and fits so well that you can’t imagine why you didn’t imagine him in the first place.
After more than three years of constant writing I’ve finally taken a break to do some much-needed editing. I’m starting to feel withdrawal from the writing, but am holding myself back to focus on editing and other neglected work and projects. But my palms are itchy. Characters are bouncing in my head with no concrete outlet. Plotlines come and go without being articulated. Worlds are created and destroyed in the synapses of my brain with no record being made. I can only hold off writing for so long.
Ben’s reply to my question about what motivates him to write as prolifically as he does lifted my spirits. If Ben can do it, so can I. And if I can do it, so can you. I want to remind you, dear readers, that while I am experienced reading your scripts, and teaching about screenwriting and being your cheerleader and your school marm and your Mary Poppins – I am also just like you. I am a writer. I wrote ten feature scripts before I began to put more focus on blogging here and at the Huffington Post as well as consulting and teaching. I wrote a book about screenwriting (Just Effing Entertain Me; publication put on hold when I lost my brother to suicide in 2010 but back on track for publication in the first half of 2013) and I wrote a book about grief. And now, I am writing a memoir. Everyday, a little bit.
So here’s to all writers out there, who struggle with the sometimes conflicting and competing urges to write but also the obligations we have to our families, our relationships and our mental and physical health. It’s not easy being a writer! But we do it. We find a way. Yes, we sometimes miss softball games or cut back on television (as Ben has done) and yes, sometimes we have to tell our significant others that we need another 3 hours alone please – but they understand. We have to write in the same way that we have to breathe. There is not a schedule crazy enough to hold us back from scratching that itch.
Happy holidays, Happy New Year and if you ever feel overwhelmed by trying to find time to write, know that you are not alone and that you CAN find the time. Let’s take the gloom out of time management and instead, let’s just do what we love to do as often as we can do it. Ain’t no mountain high enough. Love to you, my wonderful readers. You inspire me.