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The Daring Writers Guide #3: I Have No Time

To the vexations of matching creativity and thought-work with the ticking clock of daily life I have two things to offer. 

The first is a gentle organization of what we know about this conundrum.The second is a way to frame it so that we can see ourselves in a broader lens, amid a long history of women, women writers and daily life. The problem of time’s scarcity is not a solo problem. This offering can’t claim to be an answer. It’s only a suggestion, a talk-back to the frustration of time that invokes an even bigger march of time, that is, history. 

Number 1, Then: What We Know.

What we experience, what we know well:

Frustration. A sense of scarcity. Not enough hours to write. 

Hours that feel like battlegrounds. Littered with other people’s claims. The demands of paid jobs and unpaid home labors. Surrounded by a culture that assures us if we only organize ourselves better and root out enough minutes of clutter we’ll be just fine. 

Scarcity is a tough clime to write from. Creativity wants spaciousness. The time conundrum is especially difficult for women writers with young children, especially hard when the writing, the voice we are searching for is not commercial, when it doesn’t come with a salary or with enough pay that provides, that reassures, that says to the woman writer “It’s okay to trade more hours for more childcare so your creative spirit can grow.”

When I had a decent book advance, I hired babysitters and could write. When for an earlier book I had a very low advance, writing the book waited until my then-only daughter started real school. 

We know a great deal more. I am sure we will discuss it in the comments. Pooling this knowledge is a special gift to women writers who feel alone, stuck in those years, wanting several things at one. It also is a gift of friendship to women writers, older now, but still trying to figure out what was so unrequited about those years, what they were about, why everyone else now seems “ahead.”

Number 2: An Offering, Intervals of History

What I can offer is a reframing, a contextualizing of our frustrations with time, by starting with a single historical statement. 

There have never been as many women writers as there are now. 

It’s true. In the first century, maybe a few women wrote, and even fewer women’s words were preserved. Same for the third, sixth, ninth, twelfth and fifteenth centuries. For most of those women, in most of those centuries, daily life was a grind of taking care of children, taking care of elders, procuring food, preparing food, cleaning house and completing all the other tasks that made up daily domestic life. 

For centuries, the labors of everyday life were a no-brainer. Women didn’t escape them to write. They were silenced by them. When women wrote, it was because they had managed to fully escape the burdens of other daily labors.  The few women born to the even fewer wealthy families could skirt domestic work, and with vision, could seek a life of words. The early modern period saw more women with pens. The nineteenth century became the first golden age for women’s writing.

Skip ahead a century, slow down as the decades approach our own. There you find all of us. Standing on the shoulders of giants. Wondering what to do with our own shoulders, what to do with the shoulders of the little people in our lives, the ones whose presence brings with it the ambivalence of time. 

What’s new, and what is ours, is the way we write, mindfully, from within our lives as women, and often, from within our lives as women with families, women with daily cares. 

So yes, more women now than ever write, in actual numbers and percentage-wise: who are literate, who are well educated, who write and who publish. Women who feel entitled to have a voice. Women who struggle with whether they are entitled to speak, to dream, to write. Women who wonder, still, whether their voice matters, yet still push hard to hold on to their passion, their purpose amid the scarring conundrum of time and the economics of creativity. 

I offer this telescoped view of history because it is very nearly the only thing that energizes me through this, aside from more childcare, and children advancing to school age, and the every-so-often solution of being paid decently for my writing. Connecting to the longue durée of women writers counteracts that pervasive sense that somehow, we might be, if not failing, then at least, flailing, that sense that so many women writers with children describe. 

We have more than we had, and less than we need. 


The frustration with time, we know, is code for a frustration with culture, its values, its pace, its timelines and its preference for the unencumbered artist, the writer with no other cares in the world.

It is code for the frustrations we have with the big structures of sexism, the ones we aren’t supposed to mention in polite company, the ones that polite company insists are invisible if not inoperative, and which impolite company does not particularly see as a problem. Nowhere is left, it seems, for such a discussion to take place.

It is code, and it is also mystification. The time conundrum poses as something that could be solved by a well-organized individual, which is not possible, because it is a structural problem, and those sorts of things are never solved alone. 

The daring writer’s contribution to time’s scarcity is not to let the truth of this conundrum remain invisible, to not succomb to thinking of it as an individual matter. To articulate what it means to be a woman who writes from amid all this, who knows what is happening, and who somehow, still, finds ways to give written voice to her passions.

The thing is to think big, to unearth that ineffable quality of being big and dreamy and daring, even when the whole thing is wearing us down. 


She-Writers, I know others need to hear your story about writing and time. Let’s go at it. What works, what doesn’t, what have you learned?


Read more in the Daring Writers' Guide >


* This post was originally published in April 2011.

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  • Sandra L Campbell

    I have learned to manage my time with anything I do.  Time management.  I care for an elderly Mom, get my chores completed, meals prepared, care for the cat, I crochet, I maintain 4 blogs, participate in blog hops, have 2 websites. 

    I hurry to get my priorities to my Mom for the day completed with love and care, then I have time to sit down and blog....where I am at with learning.  I don't feel squeezed with time....just wish days were longer, but they are not going to I make the most of each.  All you can do.  Thanks, Sandy

  • Widdershins

    I think I'm going to print this out and stick it on my wall next to my computer ... beautiful.

  • Caryl

    My kids are out of the house and my husband was transferred to Canada. I know few people here in Calgary, I don't need to work and we're living in a tiny, furnished apartment. Suddenly my committments are few. And I'm STILL not writing.


    I've always mangaged to bang out small articles and blog posts. In fact i wrote a humorous column for seven years during a particularly rough time in our household. I still write short pieces for Yahoo but I need to be working on a book. I've written a few chapters but I should be working on it for hours a day. I'm not.


    I think I'm still having a problem justifying the time it would take. I feel like I'm supposed to be volunteering somewhere or taking a cooking class to improve my poor kitchen skills. That goes to show you that even with a vast expanse of time, we women still feel our writing is unimportant. In fact when I told my husband i wanted to write a book, he rolled his eyes.


    Everyone in my world would be more supportive if the work guaranteed some cash upon completion. I know I need to be stubborn, tell everyone it's important to me and just do it. 

  • Teresa K. Thorne

    A great post, thank you.  I write in snatches and occasional long presses when I have rare time (a weekend away, a weekend at home without commitments, other than the normal time-eaters).  I often wonder if I would be overjoyed without my day-job where I could have (the illusion?) of endless time to write.  Or would I so miss the interaction with people and the stimulation of life that actually feeds my writing?  Is it a necessary thing to feel constantly like there is too much to do and without that, I would wander in a fog?

  • I'm on the verge of an empty nest, only one left and he's gone in 2 years.  Regardless, I STILL find my life littered with other people's/thing's claims: husband (one I adore), family, church, customers and co-workers and ironically, my own body because it needs to move.  I'm learning that when I leave the house, computer in hand, shut off the phone and every other manner in which people can reach me, I get the space and silence I need to let my mind go where it will and to write about what I find there.  I understand that the word 'No" is not as available to other women as it is to me at this point in my life - after all, one doesn't say "no" to the hungry, tired toddler or the teen who needs to talk or needs to be sent to his/her room - but is available in some forms. "No, I'm not driving you to Suzie's house again today." "No, I can't have lunch today Mom, I have plans (to write!)."  "No, Johnny can't come over today."  And, it seems the older I get, the easier it is to say "No."  At 45, I'm acutely aware of the days swooshing past, of how precious time is and how with each one that passes I have one less day to speak something into this world, something that perhaps will be meaningful to someone, somewhere.

  • Diane Amento Owens

    Love your comment about failing/flailing. I've found that the solution to both problems is to join a women's writing group. A writer's group gives a woman accountability, support and a deadline. And the other women understand when a writer shows up with what she acknowledges is a very rough draft because of soccer schedules, sick kids, etc. But at least she shows up.

  • Elizabeth Young

    Taking the phone off the hook works.