The fallacy of "busy"

"Gosh, I'd be so much more prolific as a writer, if only I weren't so busy!"

Have you ever uttered that sentence? Of course you have! Almost everyone has said, thought, or implied something along those lines.

The problem with that sort of thinking is that it removes your agency. We know that most writers have day jobs now, so it isn't the "day job" that stands between you and writing greatness.

You are standing between you, and if not greatness, then at least competence.


Because you have fallen prey to busyness. ( Tim Kreider took on this issue in a NY Times blog post .)

You erroneously believe that other things keep coming between you and your writing. You know why? Because YOU put those things there.

Are all of those Facebook updates really more pressing than your writing? Because that's where you've chosen to spend your time. And it isn't just social media, although twitter, Facebook, MySpace back in the day, Instagram, foursquare, Tumblr... They all take time. Blogging takes time. And you've chosen them over the creative work you claim to love.

It's natural, though. We are under tremendous pressure to appear busy. We "need" to be involved in book clubs, family functions, work-related activities, and all the other "obligations" that we've taken on.

I do it, too. However, I'm trying to change. Here's my example: for the last six weeks I have been enrolled in classes and teaching at the same time. Not much of a summer break for me.

So my backyard grass got out of control. My house was messier than I like it to be. And, not very surprisingly, I wrote nothing.

Do I blame the classes for making me "busy"? No.

I chose to take those classes--and I chose to take them for good reasons, to further my career. As a result, those classes and the class I was teaching became my priorities for six weeks. If I had chosen to prioritize giving my yard a high and tight, then something else would have suffered: my schoolwork, my teaching, spending time with family and friends, or some other thing that I chose NOT to give up. The point is that I take responsibility for my busyness. I owned it. I intentionally prioritized my friends and work, and I deprioritized lawn care and fiction writing.

So many of us act like our busyness is, to quote John Malkovich, "beyond my control." Unless you are working in a sweatshop, it isn't. It really isn't. You pick your job, your social obligations, your freelance projects... And you may have good reasons for prioritizing that other stuff over your writing at times. There's no shame in doing what's needed when it's needed.

BUT don't *blame* a bunch of other stuff in your life for why you can't get writing done (or you can't find a new job, keep a girlfriend, or have more fun, or read for pleasure...) Remember that you largely set those priorities. Figure out what is truly important to you-- not what is important to your spouse, your mama, or Sister Maryellen who taught you in the third grade. Stop worrying about what is supposed to be important. Figure out what is important to you, and then prioritize it. Then, own the choices you make.

If writing is one of those things, then it should fall somewhere in your top 3 to 5. If you need to take a temporary break, there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you're aware that you need to reshuffle your priorities at the end of that temporary hiatus.

And so if I ask what you been working on lately, don't throw up your hands as you lament that you've been "too busy" to write. Because we both know that isn't true.