Three Hours

Three hours.

Every weekday I drop the little dude off at preschool, come home and have three hours before pick-up. Three hours to spend focused on those adult-only tasks that are done so much more productively without interruption or carousing  children running about the house. Three hours for writing. Three hours to take care of busy work. Three hours for a kid-free grocery stop. Three hours for neighborhood committee work. Three hours for school volunteer tasks. Three hours for errands. Three hours to start a load of laundry. Three hours to wash dishes (damn the broken dishwasher). Three hours to straighten up. Three hours to email a friend. Three hours to schedule appointments. Three hours to get to those appointments. Three hours for quiet.

Three hours.

If only one of those tasks were on the docket for any given day, three hours could be ample. But let’s face it. Who in this non-stop world of life, not to mention parenting, has only one task on their to-do list? Inevitably, I am forced to choose. Forced to squeeze, manipulate, compromise.

Typically, I block out writing time. I may run a quick errand on my way back after carpool drop off, but I try to treat my writing time as sacrosanct. The errands book end the writing time. The tough days are when I can’t do that. When an errand takes longer than a quick stop. When planning for a neighborhood event takes more than just sending an email. When volunteering and morning dinner prep because of a late afternoon baseball game collide.

Three hours.

I used to think that I needed to be in the right mood to write. The “write mood,” you might say. If the “write mood” wasn’t available, the words weren’t either. I’m not sure what the “write mood” is anymore, other than a procrastination and avoidance technique. I will always be too tired or too hungry or too distracted. There is no perfect storm that allows the muse to appear, holding your mind and fingertips in creative ecstasy so that the words just flow and the story just builds and the brilliance descends onto the page. There is no music or candle or writing position that will make me a better writer. Only the writing. And so I have learned that the only true muse is my ass. And a chair. And putting the two together. Once they are connected, creativity is available. You can’t force creativity, they say. Well, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. You practice it by just doing it until finally your creative muscle is like any other and responds more willingly, more eagerly and with more strength each time.

Three hours.

I don’t have time for perfection. I don’t have time for inspiration. I only have time for writing. For sitting down. For dedicating. For forced work. Today, I had 50 minutes. That’s it. And I knew it was the only dedicated time I’d have. So I sat down. And I hated it. I didn’t want to. I tried Facebook and Twitter for a few minutes before I turned them off. Before I forced my ass into the chair and my fingers to the keys. It wasn’t pretty at first. There was a graph that was instantly deleted. A mental reboot. Although I was short of a typical productive word count day, what I wrote wasn’t half bad. It was progress. It was another step forward on the path to completed manuscript. It was a step forward in a character’s evolution. It was a step that wouldn’t have been made if I’d waited. For the muse. For inspiration. For time.

Three hours.

Summer vacation is looming in my peripheral vision. With no paying job to help supplement our income, we’ve decided to go summer camp free. The boys aren’t thrilled, but I know it will still be a fun and lazy and adventurous summer filled with pool time and hikes and parks and movies and Legos and neighborhood football games. What scares me is three hours. Where today I look at three available hours to squeeze in carpool volunteer duties, an errand, yoga and 50 minutes of writing as not much time, I see three hours on a summer as a luxury I can’t afford. Literally and figuratively.

So I’m practicing. Practicing to force the work. Practicing working in strange conditions. Right now I’m writing this like my keyboard is on fire while the 5 year old watches a post-picnic-in-the-park-endless-game-of-tag-playdate and just before the 8 year old’s bus completes afternoon dropoff. I could be reading a magazine or getting those nasty baseball pants out of my sink and into the washing machine or working on background for a possible upcoming project, but instead, I’m practicing. Practicing writing under pressure. A different kind of pressure. A noisy kids, spontaneous availability pressure. Can I write in the park while they are playing? Can I write while they play Legos? Can I write during screen time? Can I write at night (trust me, I’ve tried this one over and over and it never works but perhaps I need to try again)?

Three hours.

Fitting in time for our passions shouldn’t be a luxury, but as a parent, I understand that sometimes it is. Particularly when I have chosen a path that doesn’t pay immediately and therefore requires certain responsibilities and sacrifices. The fact is that I am the at home parent. I am the designated chauffeur, cook, nurse, teacher and playmate. I am also a wife and a friend and a thinker and a reader.

I’m not sure if I’m a believer in “making time.” I think that concept insinuates too much, requires us to take on too much, to stay up too late, to multitask to the point we are merely competent instead of excellent. I think we have time already. I think we need to find time. Time we’re simply using in other ways or afraid to use for our passion purpose. Time we think isn’t appropriate for the muse. Right now I have three hours to spend on whatever I decide. Three hours to work, whether on my manuscript or on our family life. This summer, I may have three minutes. The big question will be how I decide to spend it.

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