How to Date a Writer
Take yourself on a writing date during Grace Talusan's upcoming online course, "6 Weeks, 6 Essays," beginning July 26th!
Monday: Sabina, bagel shop, Andover
Tuesday: Lee, Cambridge Public Library
Wednesday: Rivka, Starbucks, Medford
Thursday: Morgan, Tufts University Library
Friday: Natalie, Starbucks, Medford
As much as I enjoy teaching, I needed a break from the year-round grind. I took a bunch of extra jobs and saved up for a year to fund a DIY sabbatical from January to July 2012. I haven’t been able to do this for a decade.
I thought I’d start my sabbatical by easing into my writing projects and doing some research. I made my way through “best of” lists of award-winning novels and memoirs on a book a day diet. For some reason, I thought I needed to watch entire seasons of The Office (both UK and US versions), Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and Downton Abbey. There went two weeks. I convinced myself that everything was research. My physician brother warned me that sitting still too long would make my blood congeal so I looked up articles on video gamers who died sitting in the same chair for three days. That would make a great short story. And then I realized that one of my characters was from the South so I made traditional red velvet cupcakes with vanilla bean cream cheese frosting (this took about 5 hours). My husband returned from work that evening and asked, “So how was the writing today?”
It was time to make a change and commence writing dates in earnest. I needed to fill every weekday with a writing date. I’d been meeting up with other writers at least once a week for the past few years for writing dates. Sometimes this was the only time all week that I wrote.
I’d sit across from another writer at a library or café (preferably not a place we’d run into people we knew). We’d briefly state what we intended to write and then we’d leave each other alone for the next hour or four hours. We did not break the silence even to tell the other person we had to go the bathroom. The other person just knew they should watch our stuff.
After the agreed upon writing session, we’d briefly tell each other how the writing went. On rare occasions, my writing date would want to read aloud from what we just wrote. Depending on how much time we had, one of us would go on to our next thing or we’d hang out and have a meal together.
You don’t need long periods of time for this to work. Recently, my 7-year-old niece Mia requested a writing date with me so we put ten minutes on the timer, a shockingly productive amount of time, and she wrote a letter to her mother and I wrote another paragraph of my novel.
There’s something motivating and supportive about sitting across from another person who also thinks the act of writing is one of the most meaningful ways to spend time. You feel safe. You realize the other person thinks the best of you and those nagging critics in your head that say that writing is a waste of time and no one cares about your stories takes a break. The container of time — 10 minutes or 4 hours — is also useful. There’s a beginning and end. For those of us working on long projects, it can be hard to know when to stop.
When you’re on a writing date, you’re reluctant to squander your writing time. You understand how hard it is to get writing time. My writing date might be paying someone to take care of their toddler or they’ve talked to their boss about a flexible work schedule so they can write more. Both of you have fought for this time and you’re not going to use it to write emails. One time my writing date broke the silence to say, “It looks like you’re correcting papers. Are you?” I nodded sheepishly and got back to my writing project.
Anything is easier than writing. But if you want to write, you’ve got create the conditions that will help you succeed. That writer sitting across from you is also struggling to make their dreams come true. Help each other get there.
How to Have a Writing Date
- Find someone who says, “I wish I could write more, but. . . .”
- Ask them to meet you with their writing project for an hour and a half in a café or library.
- Chat for 15 minutes about life, get your drinks, and set up your workstation.
- Decide on how long you’re going to write together.
- Brief each other about what you’re going to work on.
- Set the alarm.
- Ready, set, write.
- When the alarm goes off, let each other finish the last thought or sentence.
- Take a few minutes to talk about how the writing went.
Grace Talusan lives in Somerville and teaches writing at Tufts University. She has published essays and stories in Creative Nonfiction, The Boston Globe, Brevity, Buran, Tufts Magazine, Colorlines, and other publications. She earned an MFA from the University of California, Irvine and a Massachusetts Artist Grant in Fiction.See other articles by Grace Talusan