Finding time to write: Guest post by Alison and Don

I am very excited to have another guest post, this time from Alison and Don who may have created the perfect life. They have an incredible blog I’d recommend to everyone. — 5writer Joe 

Something’s gotta give: finding time to write


Alsion and Don
I am delighted that the 5writers have invited me to write a guest post. They are all wonderful writers, and I’m honoured that they want me to contribute to their blog. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

I’m not sure I actually regard myself as a writer. It still hasn’t quite sunk in. I suppose I think of writers as people who write books rather than travel articles or blog posts, and yet, if I gather all I’ve written over the past several years, I have enough material for two or three books. No matter how busy I get, and there are times when I get incredibly busy, I always make time for writing, for recording the story of our journey.

I always begin blog posts by working on photographs because I find it’s generally easier and more fun than writing. For a long while I viewed writing as a chore, and still do to some extent, yet when I am out travelling and sightseeing I write in my mind almost all the time. I have finally learned to actually write down my thoughts in a notebook as they happen, or at least write notes at the end of the day. It took years for me to learn to do this. Many good articles have been lost because I wouldn’t make the time to write when I felt inspired.

Writing can really be hard work, but I made a promise to myself not to quit, and that keeps me going. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth; sometimes I have nothing to say. When that happens I just leave it alone and trust that the words will come later. And they do. Then there are the days when the story writes itself in my mind as I am out and about, and I come home and the first thing I do is write it down. I love when this happens – this easy inspiration that is the most authentic writing, the most genuine description of how it was at the time.

The blog is my great love that nourishes my soul. It is my creative child that I give birth to over and over again. And it doesn’t matter that the writing is sometimes a chore, or difficult, because there’s always a way through by persevering.

I have a passion for the blog. I can’t imagine not writing it, not producing it. Because of it I want to be a better writer, and I feel that more I write the better I get at it. The commitment is so deep that it will always take priority over other activities such as travel research, social activities, even sleep. Even before I publish a new post I’ve already begun thinking about the next one. It never leaves me. It’s not that I make time to write every day, but I do put some thought, some energy into it every day, whether it’s editing photos, making notes, writing down paragraphs that have sprung to mind during the day, or keeping alive the connection with other writers.

No writing lives without readers. No blog is alive without people who are interested in it, and absorbed enough to comment. Whether writing a book or a travel blog, I understand that I must reach out to others, either online or in person, and make real connections. These are the people that become involved in our journey and in the ongoing stories of our travels. It’s the personal relationship that’s important.

A big part of maintaining my online friendships is done through reading and commenting on other blogs. I’ve lost track of how many blogs I follow, but I follow them because the writing, the photography, the intelligence and the resonance impress me. I am frequently moved and inspired by what others write. I do think I’ve become a better writer because of reading the writings of others. There are some brilliant writers in the blogging world. But here’s the thing: I get well over one hundred emails every day because I choose to read and comment on many other blogs. How do I find time for all this and travel planning, travelling, sightseeing, photography, photo editing, and making time to do my own writing? Well ‘something’s gotta give’, and sometimes it’s reading and commenting on other blogs.

The other thing that ‘gives’ is travel research, which can mean we miss things that we learn about afterwards. There have definitely been several brief moments of regret over the years. Don does all the travel bookings. We plan together, we rough out itineraries, we discuss places of interest, then while I’m writing or photo editing he delves deeper into what there is to do and see in each place we go to, and begins the process of searching for accommodation and transport. Until you have actually planned an overseas trip yourself, covering all the details of creating a viable itinerary, transport, accommodation, activities, transfers, and the best time to be in any particular place, you cannot imagine how time consuming it is. This post about planning just three weeks of our six-month journey in South America will give you some idea. It would be easier for Don if I could help more with this, and from time to time I do discover things that he has missed, but again, something’s gotta give. My priority is writing, and Don supports me in this by doing most of the travel planning.

I do find I need to discipline myself to write. There are times when the only Internet service available must be bought from the hotel or hostel where we are staying. I know that if I buy it I’ll spend the evening online playing. Occasionally I deliberately choose not to buy Internet time because without it I’ll then get some writing done. I have to set priorities. If I don’t I can procrastinate with the best. I also prioritize on flights. Flights are usually when I can catch up on movies but sometimes I choose to write instead. That’s always a difficult choice.

There have been times I’ve felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to do to keep up with all that is involved in maintaining a successful travel blog, while travelling. There have been times I wanted to stop travelling so I’d have time to write about travelling! I tell our story chronologically, and I’m constantly two to four months behind. On top of this there’s always some internal pressure to go out and do things. Having paid so much money to travel to a new place it makes no sense to sit in a hotel room writing about our activities of two months ago. And yet I do that quite frequently. Somehow I’ve managed to find a balance between keeping the blog going and actually experiencing the places we’re visiting.

Almost all the other travel writers I know write when they get home. Which is somewhat how it is with us because every place we stay is home. Since we’re on the road more or less continually we don’t have a busy social life. Our evenings are pretty quiet. That’s usually when I catch up on emails, edit photographs, read and comment on other blogs, and write. I also find time to write while waiting in airports, and on long bus and train journeys. I like these times the best as there’s rarely anything else I could or should be doing. I mostly live in two worlds: the travelling sightseeing hiking adventuring world and the writing blogging world.

Occasionally I think of my life without writing, without the commitment to the blog, and get a great feeling of freedom and spaciousness. Of time: time to just be. Time to seek out more social interaction with both the people of the country we are visiting and with fellow travellers. Time to wander off the beaten path more, and more often. Time to really get present with a sunset, to become so present with the sunset that I melt into it. The endless eternal time of being, when there is nothing pressing on me to be done. Most travellers seem to have plenty of this kind of time. I certainly get that impression from reading the blogs of other travel writers. And yet I know I will not stop writing, will not stop producing the blog. Writers know this: it doesn’t matter what it takes, you have to write. This is how it is for me – the writing, the photography, the chronicling of our journey. My passion for it, my commitment to it is unshakeable, and so I do my best to keep that fragile balance, and make some compromises about how much time goes into the actual travelling and adventuring part and how much time goes into the writing and blogging part. It really comes down to a ‘grass is greener’ thing. I think maybe I’m missing out, but the alternative is that I’d miss out on the creative joy that comes from writing and photography and producing the blog.

Some things in life must be done. It’s unlikely anyone can take time from parenting, or working a full time job, or eating, or sleeping, or taking care of the day-to-day business of keeping a life functioning. But all the frills can go. All the frills will go, will just fall away, if your commitment is deep enough, and if your heart wants it enough. I rarely read books although I used to be an avid reader, and I only very occasionally watch TV. I’m a devoted fan of competitive figure skating, but the time I spend following that sport has greatly diminished.

We just recently spent nearly three days in Fiji. After five weeks on a road trip around New Zealand, followed by a ten-day road trip from Canberra to Byron Bay in Australia, followed by a two-week road trip around Australia’s “Top End” we landed in Fiji travelled out. Very near where we stayed are a group of idyllic tropical islands known as the Yasawas. We could have done a day trip to the Yasawas, but we were saturated. Full to the brim. I still have a smidgen of regret that I didn’t make the effort to go, but there’s a rhythm to travel. It was time to just stop and begin to absorb all we’d experienced during our travels in Australia and New Zealand. For those two and a half days in Fiji we did nothing but laze by the beach. Which also meant I had time to write. I polished my latest post on Christchurch and I re-wrote this piece. And walked on the beach. And slept in. And for the first time in twelve months I actually read a book: a trashy novel that suited my mood just fine.

In the end writing is not something I have a choice about. It leads me, and so there’s never a question of making time for it. The time makes itself. There’s an ongoing inner insistence that must be heeded. Although it is usually attributed to Goethe, it was actually W.H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition who wrote: Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

If you want to make time for writing you need to find your passion, your commitment. Find the place inside you where the words that need to be written are leading you, not the other way around. Find the place where your soul will be bereft without it. Then you will make time for writing no matter what.

To write, to be a writer, you need passion, discipline, perseverance, love, and inspiration, but I think even more important is an unshakeable promise to yourself. With this promise everything else follows. For me, commitment, combined with creative love and joy, is the bedrock of producing the blog. This combination means I will always make time for writing.

Writing this guest post has helped me begin to define myself as a writer. I’ve been an artist and have painted on and off all my life, at times seriously. At one point in my forties I suddenly had the clarity that I had an unconscious belief that painting is hard work. It was an incredibly freeing revelation, and my art improved significantly because of becoming aware, and letting go of, that belief.

I have never regarded myself as a writer, although I do remember a high school teacher predicting I would grow up to be one. Writers write right?! I never did, except for long letters home when I was travelling in the days before the Internet. Writing this piece has had the same effect as that revelation about my painting. Suddenly I am a writer and it is inspirational and very freeing.

So once again I’d like to thank the 5writers for inviting me to write this post. It has been a very valuable exercise. It has helped me come to a deeper understanding of myself as a writer, and it has helped me get greater clarity about the internal forces that propel my writing. I’ve been inspired by it. I hope others are too.

*****

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22 thoughts on “Finding time to write: Guest post by Alison and Don

  1. Alison, this is an absolutely gorgeous post — thank you so much for this priceless contribution. I must tell you that it really touched me. You could have been reading my soul. This is exactly how I feel and think about my writing (and, consequently, the reason I have been so desperately uncomfortable and frustrated with myself for the lapse in my own writing regime).

    You’re right that writing is, first, an inescapable creative drive that seeks you out (not the other way around) … and second, a promise you make to yourself in response. Personally, I cannot be happy when I’m not fulfilling that promise.

    I have always thought of myself as undisciplined, even though I ran a nose-to-the-grindstone business for 35 years and made many personal sacrifices to ensure its success. But when it comes to doing things that are “good” for me at a personal level, I’m much less responsible. I put external demands before internal ones, and I reward myself with diversions instead of progress.

    Reading your post has, I think, given me some possible keys to the writer currently locked inside me. You have tremendous strength, patience, and capacity for self-awareness. These are qualities to emulate. I also love that you used this post to examine, and explain to yourself, your own identity as a writer. For me, the act of writing is always one of revelation, and I’m often surprised when I get to the end of an essay at what I’ve learned about my own thoughts and feelings by writing it.

    This is how your post affected me … a kind of “I didn’t know I knew that” moment. It’s the best kind of epiphany!

    • Thank you so much Silk. I’m so glad what I’ve written resonated for you, and even an epiphany moment! Wow! I’m really pleased. It was such a great exploration for me too, to write about writing and my process, and how the commitment drives me. I completely understand when you say you cannot be happy when you’re not fulfilling the promise you’ve made to yourself. For me it’s like being torn in two – well that’s a little dramatic, but I’m always aware of the need to answer the call of writing and creating the next blog post. It is very much like having a job, but one I love to do, and that always nags at me if I get too far behind. I’m less stressed about it than I used to be, and have become better at creating a balance. Thanks for your response.
      Alison

  2. Thanks for your post Alison! Writing comes in many forms and it doesn’t have to be in full-sized books each complete from beginning to end. I can feel your inner drive to write. It’s authentic and strong and your commitment to get your work done has made you an accomplished writer! I thank-you for taking time to read and comment on our blog and to visit our group in person when you return to Vancouver, Canada! Happy and safe travels!

    • Thanks Karalee. I guess it took writing this post, where I began to examine why I write and how it lives in me, for me to get it that I’m a writer. There *is* an inner drive, and sometimes it takes over my life, but in a good way 🙂
      Hope to reconnect with you soon – we’re in town for a couple of months.
      Alison

  3. Alison, you are a role model on so many different levels and this blog post has confirmed it again. Beautiful writing and such wise words and thoughts. It put our recent debate about what makes a good writer into context. I think you cut to the chase when you said, “But all the frills can go. All the frills will go, will just fall away, if your commitment is deep enough, and if your heart wants it enough.” Indeed. This is at the core. And in case anyone should be confused, you have deftly differentiated between those things in life that must be done and those that are optional. Ultimately, the choice to spend time on these ‘optional’ activities, the frills, or else to take time for writing, is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Of course there is a little chaff in all of us for some of the time, but great writers know when it’s enough; when to shed the frills. Thank you for this thoughtful and well-crafted blog post.

    • Thank you so much Helga for your kind words and compliments. Really, I am just starting to think of myself as a writer, and I know how much my writing has improved because of the blog, and the blogging community. I feel as if I’ve really learned a lot from reading other blogs, and from simply writing. I’ve started writing Morning Pages again in the hopes of becoming more imaginative and creative in my descriptions of the places we go and the things we experience.
      And yes, there’s still some chaff in my life of course – I watch figure skating videos late at night before I go to sleep, and now we’re back in Vancouver for a while things are getting very social, but still the writing is always there pulling me.
      I must give some credit to Don who helped enormously in the editing and construction of this post. He’s an excellent editor unerringly picking up on the places where the writing doesn’t flow.
      Alison

  4. Alison (and Don) thank you so much for this wonderful guest post on our blog but even more for being such an inspirational and loyal follower of the 5writers. Reading your blogs, sharing your photographs, meeting with us here in Vancouver last fall and hopefully meeting again now that you are back in Vancouver, how wonderful for us to have made such a good friend through writing. Your post resonated with me, as well, – perhaps the more so as I am always the ‘sure I can have it all’ kind of person. My ‘discipline’ in future will be to try to decide what frills can go, and what routine will help to nurture the creativity that drives both my writing and my desire, of course, to have it all. Thank you for giving us so much to think about, – hope to see you soon!

    • Thank you so much Paula for all your lovely compliments! I’m glad the post resonated for you. There’s been times I’ve tried to ‘have it all’ in terms of travelling and sightseeing and maintaining the blog – it was a great cause of stress, but I think I’ve finally found a balance and settled into doing what’s really important for me. That’s about all you can do really. Except for the first 3 weeks of July we’re here til the end of August so plenty of time to get together.
      Alison

  5. This was a beautiful and inspiring post. I know when I am travelling I can get lazy with my blog, the more that happens, the more there is to write about but the less I end up writing. You are right though there sometimes has to be gives, maybe I should start with less time on Facebook.

    • Thank you so much Carly, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think commitment is probably the biggest thing that keeps me going with it. It takes a lot of time but I love to do it so I don’t mind the sacrifices. Yeah! Less time on FB! 🙂
      Alison

  6. Wonderful insights, Alison. It is a funny thing that bloggers often, like you, don’t consider themselves writers, when that is a large part of what they do. I am so glad to be able to read your blog, and so appreciate all the work that you put into it. Susan

    • Thank you so much Marsha. I really appreciate your compliments and encouragement, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I am slowly getting it that I’m a writer. It’s just taken a while to sink in.
      Alison

  7. I have recently found and started following your blog and I was amazed at the depth of knowledge and descriptions of the places travelled, not to mention the beautiful photography that accompanies the posts.Then to realize that it is all done while constantly on the move is all the more incredible. I think maintaining a blog is even more stressful than any other writing, ie novels, because it is almost an every day thing. I picked up on the fact that you write thoughts and impressions down immediately. I do find that I some times think of a perfect word, but not making a note of it by the time I sit in front of the computer it has gone. So I will now WRITE things down as soon as they pop into my mind… Thank you for this inspiring post….

    • Thanks so much pommepal. You’re right, it is an every day thing. I’m at it almost all the time in one way or another, and now we’re back in Vancouver for a few months it’s more or less all day every day. I do actually do quite a lot of research before and during writing a post, not wanting to look like a complete idiot 🙂
      More recently I’ve started saving the town maps and brochures of places we visit and tours we do because they are always good for basic information. Once the relevant post is written they go into recycling.
      I’ve only in the past 6 months or so really gotten into the habit of writing down thoughts as they happen so they’re not lost. It really helps.
      Alison

      • I keep brochures etc too, but I must admit I then throw them in a drawer thinking they will come in useful next time I go to that place, but I usually forget to dig them out and the drawer is now in need of a serious sorting!!!
        I’m a blogging tragic too, I find myself thinking “will that photo work in the next post”, or how can I describe that, but I don’t often write my thoughts down as they pop in my head, so they just pop straight out again… I must start jotting them down too…

  8. Hi Alison,

    I loved reading this and gaining a little more insight into your’s and Don’s means and methods… 🙂 I also appreciated your feelings about acknowledging you are a writer. You are an amazing writer, and I have very much enjoyed getting to know you through the blog. It is indeed that relationship that I find most satisfying, but that emerges through the writing… I’m kind of in a similar phase of realizing I might one day in a certain setting call myself a writer… Blogging has been a similar “enabling” practice. It hasn’t always felt like a writing practice, because like you I have long viewed writers as those with publishers and agents and columns and books to their name, but I think that writing is indeed what blogging is. Writing is at its most essential simply the raw, vitalizing need to express ourselves meaningfully to others, and in the process the discovery of ourselves… You complete this task beautifully!

    I do so appreciate the time you take to keep your great site going…

    Michael

    • Thank you so much Michael. Your compliments and encouragement mean a lot coming from you who I consider to be an extraordinary writer!
      And you know there’s a more complete answer on the post on my site. 🙂
      Alison

  9. Thanks for sharing! This post truly resonated with me. I hope to take some of the lessons and insights you shared and apply them to my own writing of my blog. Your discipline, passion and self awareness are inspirational.

    • Thanks so much Shellecia. I’m so glad you found some inspiration from my post. It helped me so much to write it. Since I started feeling like a writer I’m writing more, and more easily.
      Cheers, Alison

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