As soon as I was old enough for the physical labor, my days revolved around putting up hay, feeding cows and hogs, mending fences (most definitely not the poetic kind), and the other never-ending work required to farm Ozark Mountain ridge ground. My academic abilities were praised, but my muscles were valued--in fact, demanded--on the farm. I enjoyed daydreaming through my assigned chores before and after school while my father worked jobs off the farm, but the actual work was mostly terrible. There always seemed to be more work than daylight. Even during the long days of summer, putting up the last wagon load of hay bales required flashlights. There was no economic room for excuses like running out of day or energy or time, so I learned to work until those jobs were done. Reading and writing were activities left for after the last bale was tucked under the eaves of the barn. Dad still tells people I learned the value of hard work from my raising; I tell people I learned to aim for work that didn't leave me covered in pig shit.
I learned something else from the never-ending work on the farm, something I am less glib to admit. The manure and the hayseed and the sweat from blazing summers wash off with time, but lessons unconsciously absorbed don't leave so quickly. I learned to prioritize "work" over "art." Devoting time to writing for free when I could be working for pay leaves me jumpy even now, worried about impending economic doom because of time frittered away.
I am practiced at making excuses to myself, justifying my time at a keyboard as just a few moments over lunch, or something that I woke up early to do. Somehow, I feel better when the time I devote to this endeavor comes from a column of hours marked "leisure" or "sleep."
I know that I am not alone--so many of us scribblers from a hardscrabble youth struggle against the notion that we squander our time when we write. We justify our addiction to the written word with excuses of reduced play and rest in our lives.
My day job has thus far managed to pay our bills, even with hours stolen from afternoons and mornings to tap out my silly stories. Maybe eventually those stories will pay the bills, but I have ceased to worry about that detail. I write because I write, and that matters more than whether I can tag the endeavor as "work."
I'm going to carry on writing, with no excuse necessary.