Ah, free time. The term is generally used in reference to leisure, hobbies, and merrymaking, but for many artists, our free time also counts as work time.
Most everyone knows that artists–with the exception of some teachers, professors, and, of course, celebrities–have day jobs. Those jobs, while they can be fulfilling (I love my day job working with infants and toddlers! Those kiddos lit up my gloomy Washington winter), are also energy-sucking efforts that can really drain a person’s creativity. By the end of the day, when that precious free time is available, do I really want to spend my precious hours typing away at the keyboard instead of, say, playing Animal Crossing, or eating dinner with my husband, or watching a cool new movie?
The answer, for me, is generally NOOOOOO way. Back in high school, when I first wrote and published Happenstance, I would work in the evenings near my family, or on bored weekends, but, back then, time was endless; I mean, I got home at, like 3:30. These days, I’m lucky to get home at 6:30.
College was a difficult time for writing, mostly because I was working my butt off to graduate early because, well, I was poor; the thought of an extra year of loans weighed on my soul heavier than having to wait to write my next book.
Moving out and living a post-grad adult life has given me opportunities for a lot of things, but writing has been something I’ve had to force into my schedule. I’m a tired person, usually, so waking up early or staying up late is out of the question. And when I spent all day changing diapers and making sure no toddlers were practicing their WWE skills in the classroom, I was always mentally and physically exhausted by the end of the day.
But now I have a lot of free time. Notice how I said that I spent all day taking care of children–with COVID 19 raging here in the US, and all over the world, many childcare facilities have been closed for the time being. My place of work was included in those closures.
I have the privilege of being able to stay home without financial strain–my husband is able to work from home during this time–and I mean it when I say that is a privilege. But this post is not about how the government is failing the citizens of this country during such a trying time (even though it needs to be said; maybe a later post.) Instead, I want to write about my second book.
I’ve been inundated with an abundance of free time. Oh, Lord, do I have free time. Nowhere to go, no one to see. A Zoom meeting every now and then, a few things to do at school every now and then, so long as nobody else is there. My cat was sick for a few days, and that took some time up, but she’s better now. And, in the three weeks that I’ve been at home, I’ve not even finished my second book.
HA! Bet you thought this would be inspirational, huh? No, no. I put it off, played video games too much, slept in, took walks–and I was stressed and anxious. For me, anxiety makes me pace around, shortens my attention span to almost nothing, and absolutely does not give me mental space to write. No, for the first week, I wrote about 1,000 words.
Since then, I’ve settled into more of a groove, and–yay!–nearly finished the second book. I’ve been totalling around 6,500 words a day for the last week. To be clear, this is the final draft; I’m rewriting from a previous draft that had a lot of fun notes, such as “This is too hard, do it later” and “lol I have no idea right now.” Well, thank you, past Abby, for allowing me to really inject some present Abby flavor into this book.
I’m glad that I have the time and peace of mind to work on the book–the second installment of the Happenstance series, called Incident–and I can’t wait for my characters to once again grace the printed page. But I also felt a lot of pressure to start writing now that I have all this free time, and, wow, that did not inspire me at all. Who needs pressure? I need support! I’m like a delicate flower, grown only in the sunlight of compliments and kindness. And the dirt of critiques, yes. Gotta have the dirt. And the water of, uh, water, I guess? Stay hydrated.
There is a push these days for people to pick up something and do it. I agree that keeping busy can help during trying times like these, and art is therapeutic! It feels good to create, especially without any boundaries! But writing is more than just a hobby for me, and, with such a push toward productivity, I started to feel like a real loser when I wasn’t writing, which made me not want to write, ’cause, wah wah, real writers write everyday, and then it was all downhill from there. Cue sad slide whistle sounds.
It only took one day of me complaining about needing to write, and my husband, Nelson, telling me to take the chance to relax for me to actually chill the heck out. Play a game, he said. Eat a snack. It’s okay to relax. That’s one of my favorite things to say, so he really turned the tables on me there; another thing about my anxiety is sometimes ignoring my own advice. Whoops!
I relaxed. Every day since, I’ve played games when I woke up. I ate lunch, and I hung out with Nelson. Then, I wrote. At first, it was maybe 2,000 words a day, sometimes less. But the number climbed; I got back into my own story, and I got excited! I wanted to have finished by the end of March, but that’s obviously passed, and now I’ve added nearly 12,000 words to this draft, meaning the book is even longer than I planned. Yay! Big yays all around!
The world is in a panic right now. Things are different from what most of us are used to, and it can be draining. For those of us at home, know that you can relax in your free time. There are so many things to criticize now, and how someone chooses to spend their free time is not one of those things.
Look for Incident on Amazon within the month. I’ll also be looking into sending out digital ARCs (advanced reader copies) to allow readers to review, so sign up for my newsletter for updates about that. If you haven’t read Happenstance, pick up a copy here, available in paperback or digital (only $0.99!)
In the timeless words of Natasha Bedingfield, live your life with arms wide open; feel the rain on your skin. (But don’t touch anyone!!!! Hands to yourselves!)