On Thursday, February 27, 2020, I headed to The Porches. Twice a year, I spend four days at this writing retreat center in Nelson County, Virginia, so I can immerse myself in my writing projects. Having whole days to pore over my pages, or just stare at the wall, feels like a luxury. Yet the alone time also feels essential.
Solitude is something Julia Cameron talks about in her book The Artist’s Way. She says, “an artist requires the upkeep of creative solitude” and views time alone as a gift that replenishes the soul. Deny your need for solitude and see how you treat those around you.
In classes, I call these moments of solitude “Don Draper Moments” after the character from the Mad Men television series who always finds inspiration while lounging on the couch with his bourbon.
Writers need time to stare into space—with or without a bourbon.
Yet, some writers believe these “Don Draper Moments” are reserved for full-time writers.
Two days before the retreat, I watched a video where Elizabeth Gilbert shared the difference between a hobby, job, career, and vocation.Watching that video blew my mind. Here are her definitions:
- A hobby is something you do for pleasure.
- A job is something that pays the bills.
- A career is a job you are passionate about and willing to make sacrifices for.
- A vocation is a divine calling.
My hobbies include painting, yoga, and cooking. While I sometimes do these things well, mastery is not my goal. All I care about is showing up and having fun.
Everyone needs a job. Mine happens to be editor, instructor, and coach—something I see as a career. I’ve also been a baker, assistant to the unit business manager of a university library system, a special education teacher, and a counselor. In each job, I had to find pockets of time where I could be alone and write.
Finding that time often required me to give something up, but this never felt like a sacrifice. Why? Because writing is my vocation. I’ll do it regardless of the outcome.
In two weeks, I’ll share my interviews with working writers who are making the most of their writing time. For now, I want you to ponder a few things.
- What do you want your writing to be—a hobby, job, career, or vocation? There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist. Writing for the joy of writing is its own reward. If you want to make writing a job or a career, find out what’s required then go for it. If you see writing as your vocation, what does this mean to you?
- If you feel called to write, examine your current occupation. If your job pays the bills, gives you time, and doesn’t make you feel sad, exploited or demeaned, rejoice. You’re in the right place. Have a meaningful career that also gives you time to write? Throw yourself a party. If the list above doesn’t describe your work life, consider what you can change. Is it possible to choose a job that’s less fulfilling but requires fewer hours? Are you willing to live in a smaller place or forgo cable TV? If you’re truly called to write, these choices will not seem like sacrifices.
- Carve out twenty minutes two to three times per week to stare at the wall or lounge on the couch à la Don Draper. If twenty minutes feels like too much, find five. No excuses. Forgoing one alarm snooze will give you that time.
- Cut one time-sucking habit in half and invest that time into your writing life. Most of us can do this by limiting social media or other screen time.
- Stop seeing writing as a return on an investment. Do it because it brings you joy and/or you’re called to do it. If necessary, develop or return to your why.
- Notice—and record—when your writing fills you up or when someone compliments your work. Revisiting these moments will remind you of what’s important—the human connections we create with our work.