by Jim Denney
“Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived near the English village of Porlock on the Bristol Channel. He became addicted to the opiate drug laudanum after his doctor prescribed it for an illness. One evening in 1797, Coleridge took a dose of the drug while reading a book about Kubla Khan, the thirteenth century Mongol emperor. Under the drug’s influence, he experienced a vision. Line after line of epic poetry sprang into his mind.
He shook himself to full consciousness, hurried to his desk and began writing down the poem that came to him in the vision—
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea… .
By Coleridge’s own account, he had written fifty-four lines when he heard a knock at the door. Answering the door, Coleridge found “a person on business from Porlock.” Coleridge invited the unannounced visitor in and they chatted for about an hour. When the person from Porlock left, Coleridge returned to his desk—only to find that he couldn’t remember the rest of the poem. The fifty-four lines he written before the knock at his door are the only lines that remain. So Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” remains unfinished.
William Goldman, screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, once stated what could well be the moral of Coleridge’s story: “You have to protect your writing time. You have to protect it to the death.”
You must respect your writing time because no one else will. If you’re a part-time writer, people will impose on your time because they think writing is your “hobby.” If you’re a full-time writer, people will impose on your time because they think self-employed people have nothing but free time. They won’t understand your need for quiet, focused, uninterrupted time to write—and you’ll never be able to explain it to them.
Writing is not like other jobs. Don’t expect other people to respect your creative process. Don’t expect other people to respect your time. Whether you are a full-time or part-time writer, whether you are multi-published or aspiring to be published, you must respect your own writing time. You must keep regular hours and treat those hours as sacred and inviolable. You must be ruthless in defending those hours.
Most of us are like Pavlov’s dog, conditioned to respond to a ringing bell. The phone rings—we answer. The doorbell rings—we drop what we’re doing and dash to the door. To achieve your goals and dreams, you must turn off the phone and ignore the doorbell. Close the window shades and face the blank wall. Ignore emails, texts, and social media. Keep your writing time sacred. Just write.
The profession of a writer is an honorable one. If you respect your writing time, you will teach others to respect it as well. Sit down with your spouse, children, parents, siblings, cousins, and friends, and tell them how important your writing time is to you. Any so-called “friend” who treats your writing with disrespect is not a true friend—and may actually be jealous of your self-discipline.
Each of us only has a limited number of years on this planet, a limited amount of time to write. When our time is up, we’re done, period. Patti Digh, author of Life is a Verb, said it well: “Just write. Write like you are dying. You are.”
Ray Bradbury understood the need to guard his writing time—and the need to make the most of his limited time on earth. His biographer, Sam Weller, explained:
Ray Bradbury lived his life in a race against time. He had so many things to do and to say, and he felt he did not have enough time in which to accomplish them all. Perhaps that was why he so often wrote of time machines. … To Ray, time represented mortality, an end to his creative output. He did not fear death itself; instead, he was frightened of being unable to write. … Ray Bradbury wrote as if he were making up for tomorrow’s lost time.
[Sam Weller, The Bradbury Chronicles (New York: Morrow, 2005), 183.]
Practice the ruthlessness of writing. Don’t let a “person from Porlock” sabotage your dreams. Commit yourself to your writing time, keep it sacred, and make your dreams come true.
“You can write any time people will leave you alone. Or rather you can if you will be ruthless enough about it.”
Jim Denney has more than 100 published books to his credit, including the Timebenders series for young readers. He has just released two inspiring ebooks for writers, Writing in Overdrive and Write Fearlessly. He has written books with supermodel Kim Alexis, Super bowl champion Reggie White, and Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams. Jim is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Follow Jim on Twitter at @WriterJimDenney and follow his blog at http://jimdenney.tumblr.com/.
In what ways do you protect your writing time?