Poets & Writers

Say Yes to Yourself

IT WAS 5:30 in the morning when I began writing this. Early in my writing career I heard the Puerto Rican writer Judith Ortiz Cofer answer a standard interview question, and it changed the way I have operated for the rest of my writing life. The question was “How do you find the time to write?” and she said she didn’t find the time. She made it. Actually she said, “I have to steal time from myself.” Cofer said she woke up early to write, losing sleep on account of it. She said what I have often heard writers say. (Usually women writers, I have to note. I don’t as frequently hear a male writer say this.) She said that the world would just as soon give her other things to do with her time. No one was going to give her time to write. She had to take it for herself. Sometimes she had to take it from herself.

There are several quotes that I’ve collected over the years and copied on my computer that speak directly to this idea. I am not going to find them right now while I’m writing this, because if I take the time to open my Google Docs folder to locate the quotes, I run the risk of reading a news story that will compel me to pick up the phone and call my senator (a process that usually takes about twenty minutes of dialing, hanging up when no one answers, and dialing again for every thirty-second “Hello, my name is Camille Dungy, I am a voting constituent from zip code X, and I am calling because of Y-issue” conversation I have with a senator’s aide). Then I might fire off a couple of e-mails regarding the headline that caught my eye. And once I log on to e-mail to send those letters, I’d probably have to do something connected with work because someone would have sent me one of those e-mails with an exclamation point. And even if I managed to make it past the headlines and my e-mail, I might remember that I needed to buy those plane tickets, and then I’d end up on my travel search engine of choice, and while I was online I might find myself also buying a new pair of shoes because I am the reason target marketing exists. Or, heaven forbid, I’d land myself on Facebook or Instagram.

Sometimes, when I notice I’ve been on Facebook or Instagram too long, I think of that movie —this, by the way, is what I do when I am drafting something and I don’t know some detail but I don’t want to go online to check the answer because going online to check would put me at risk of all the things I wrote about in the previous paragraph. Instead of going online, I type or put my best guess in bold to remind myself to go back and check my facts—so I am reminded of that movie whose title I will now type in bold, I think it was called . In it one of the characters started out addicted to chocolate, like she loved chocolates so much she couldn’t stop eating them if she got a box and wound up addicted to wine thanks to the man she falls in love with (I think, “I’ll look that up later”), and at the end of the movie someone explains to her that some people can be around things like chocolate and wine and not consume it in excess, but she had an addictive personality and couldn’t, and all I’m trying to say to you now is that I’ve learned from my relationship with Facebook and Instagram that I have a difficult time stepping away from social media once I’m on it.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Poets & Writers

Poets & Writers2 min read
Sharing Poetry Chapbooks Online
The mission of Poets House has always been to make poetry accessible to all. The public poetry library and nonprofit, which houses more than seventy thousand volumes of poetry in its New York City home, recently launched a chapbook digitization proje
Poets & Writers6 min read
Winners on Winning
WE ASKED six writers who recently won contests—from single-piece awards to book-publication prizes to life-changing fellowships and grants—to discuss how winning (and losing) has affected their careers and to offer advice for writers thinking of ente
Poets & Writers4 min read
The Bookshop Band
For two weeks in January and February, English singer-songwriters Beth Porter and Ben Please, who together form the Bookshop Band, traveled across the United States performing their book-inspired music in libraries and bookstores. With their two-year