The Draft

Why Endless Free Time Can Be a Curse for Creativity

If you want to write, give yourself some constraints — and, maybe, a day job

Eileen Pollack
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readMay 13, 2020

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Photo illustration; Image source: Colorblind/Getty Images

This is The Draft, an advice column about writing and life from Eileen Pollack, former director of the University of Michigan MFA program. We’re here to answer your questions about storycraft, writing, and telling the truth.

Have a question? Share it with us.

Dear Draft,

Can you talk about how to best manage writing with a day job? I’m just starting out as a writer, and I don’t see how I can ever get anywhere if I need to work this stultifying office job every day, full-time. I’m not looking for practical tips as much as perspective and helpful mindsets.

Signed,
Yearning to Write Free

Dear Yearning,

Given that you wrote to me before the pandemic hit, I hope you still have a day job. If you don’t, I might not need to convince you that staying home all day isn’t the godsend you once thought it might be.

Until recently, few writers except Stephen King, in The Shining, would even hint that too much time to write — without outside commitments to structure your day and provide you with immediate satisfaction, an identity, and contact with other human beings — can cause you to lose your mind. (No wonder so many jokes about “all work and no play making Jack a dull boy” have been popping up since we got quarantined.)

When I directed the MFA program at the University of Michigan, I worked hard to gain funding to provide a third-year fellowship for our graduates, which enables them to stay in Ann Arbor and finish their novel, short story collection, or book of poetry. Most of the recipients make excellent use of this opportunity, especially those who need to stagger their writing with caring for their families. (When I gave birth to my son, I wondered how I would ever find the time to write another word. But knowing I had only an hour to write while he napped made me accomplish more than when I could procrastinate by reading the entire New York Times.) And yet, many of the younger writers find that creating — and sticking to — a schedule isn’t as easy as it might seem. They are…

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Eileen Pollack
Human Parts

Eileen is the author, most recently, of Maybe It's Me: On Being the Wrong Kind of Woman