wasting time

I went to the Printer’s Row Writer’s fest this past weekend—specifically to see Anne Lamott speak. Whenever I want to do something for myself, like see a great writer speak, it becomes an ordeal. I had to take my toddler to the suburbs so grandma could babysit. Then drive back to the city to the event. When all the highways are wrought with construction and twenty-four hour traffic, it’s an impossible task. It took me twenty minutes to move two feet on I-55. The free ticket said they give away your seat if you’re not on time. As my car crawled along the highway, I felt defeated. Even with an extra hour of travel time, I’d never make it on time.

My GPS and I found side roads that got me to LSD. I parked in a lot and ran the two blocks to the Harold Washington Library, 15 minutes late. The ticket taker smiled and said there are seats in the front row. I made it.

Lamott read from her latest novel and answered questions from the audience. As she spoke I took mental notes.

She spoke for an hour and had time for one more question. An elderly gentleman explained that he recently decided to become a storyteller. He asked, How do you know what goes into a paragraph? How do you decide what details to keep?

Her face lit up and she said, I can handle this one. She mentioned the basis of the writing advice from her book, Bird by Bird. It might take several pages of writing to get to that paragraph. Her next suggestion really made the entire event worthwhile. She said, Insist on the right to waste more time.

So simple and so true. Waste time.

Her words immediately made sense. Telling a writer, like me, who feels guilty to take the time to write, to waste time.

But wait. If I need someone to tell me it’s okay to write, then why do I write?

Payment for all the work I do would help me prove myself to the doubters, but I don’t do this for the money. Even if I published a million articles, it wouldn’t please the people I care about the most. As Lamott said, they won’t say, “oh, we are thrilled that you are going to be a writer, well done!”  So this isn’t about validation.

I write because I have to. It’s in my blood. Sometimes I need a reminder because people like to pelt their ideas of what I should be doing at me. I want to hold up a sign that says, stop making my decisions for me. I am a writer.

Lamott said writing is a privilege you have to work at. By wasting time.

As she signed the book I purchased, I thanked her for all the inspiration. With all this new-found motivation, I plan on wasting a lot of time this week!

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