How We Spend Our Days: It’s Never too Late to Decide

I’m writing this post late on a Sunday evening because my wife and I spent the afternoon traveling from our home in Ohio to her hometown (a mere five miles from my hometown) in southeastern Illinois. We were supposed to make the trip tomorrow, but we decided to beat the snow that’s forecast for later this evening and on into the morning.

It’s cold out here on the prairie. At the Casey’s convenience store, men in Carhartt overalls pump gas into pickup trucks. Somewhere down the street, a dog barks, agitated by who knows what. The strangled voice of a man comes so sharp and clear in the cold air I don’t even stop to wonder what misery haunts him. I simply believe it—whatever it is—as much as I believe my own name. Here we are in small-town America, our country’s oft-ignored landscape, on the eve of another work week.

I remember winters when my father chopped ice on our frozen pond so our hogs could get to water. My mother milked cows in the cold pre-dawn hours, their breath and hers steaming in the lantern light. Years later, when my parents were in their sixties, my father walked two miles with my mother in deep snow because she had to be at work at the local nursing home and my father couldn’t get our car out of the driveway. Never once did it cross their minds that she wouldn’t go to work that day.

Work was sacrosanct out here in the country. Work was what we had if we were lucky. My parents and so many others were children of the Great Depression, and they passed their work ethic down to me.

Which brings me to my point. It’s never too late to begin to write. The work itself doesn’t care how old you are. Readers don’t care how old you are. No one is keeping count. If you want to write, write. It comes down to this. How do we want to spend our days? As Annie Dillard tells us in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Tomorrow morning, here in the Heartland, people will go to work at Walmart, at the Toyota factory, in the oil fields, on the farms. Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how we spend our days. We have to labor to put food on the table, make the house payment, pay the doctors’ bills. If we do have that choice, we shouldn’t fear it or squander it. We should embrace it and move bravely forward.

If you’re like me, there’s more of a life behind than there is ahead, but time is time—each day breaks down into each hour, each minute, each second. And each second we can ask ourselves how we want to spend our lives. Do you want to write? Find a place and begin.



  1. Deni Naffziger Hackworth on January 15, 2018 at 11:36 am

    This is exactly what my 2018 is dedicated to, Lee. This is the semester I said no to teaching, which is a huge shift — but yes to a daily writing practice. Happy New Year, my friend. And thanks for these fine words.

    • Lee Martin on January 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm

      Hooray! Good for you, Deni. I hope 2018 is prosperous and fulfilling!

  2. Ellen Keim on January 16, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    I thought I’d given up on writing and in a way it was a relief. No more beating myself up when days and weeks went by and I didn’t write. No more feeling like a coward because I couldn’t face my fears. I was too old, I told myself. Nothing felt the way it had when I was younger. My chances had passed me by.

    But lately I’ve been wondering if it’s really all over for me. All I’ve ever really wanted was to be a writer. Why give up now, when I still have words that need to be written, thoughts that need to be expressed? As long as I’m still alive, there’s still, not just hope to inspire me, but also a reason to keep on trying.

    Thanks for such a simple and eloquent reminder that my work here isn’t done.

    • Lee Martin on January 18, 2018 at 3:07 pm

      Our chances have never passed us by, Ellen. Do what you love to do.

  3. Lynn Lipinski on January 18, 2018 at 12:11 am

    Beautifully written and I couldn’t agree more. As years add up, we sometimes forget that we can still learn new skillls or we can still hone the skills we have. My note to those picking up writing later in life: be open to learning, to starting from scratch. They say it’s good for our brains to continue to learn new things. So try and don’t be afraid to fail a little.

    • Lee Martin on January 18, 2018 at 3:06 pm

      I love what you say about being open to learning, to starting from scratch. Amen.

  4. Irene Hoge Smith on January 18, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I just re-read this and realized how relevant it is to my own life just now, Lee. I am in an agony of indecision about how much to let my therapy practice (my paid work that I’ve gotten really good at over decades), continue to taper off so that I can spend more time writing.

    It took me far to long to let myself take up writing in a serious way—the legacy of a mother who left to become a writer and the father for whom any kind of art-making was not real work. Left with him, I took in the unquestioned assumption that only “real work” makes a person worthy of taking up space on the planet. I understand my mother better now, and I no longer believe my father, but they still cast a long shadow.

    Thanks for the voice of reason and wisdom.

    • Lee Martin on January 18, 2018 at 3:05 pm

      Irene, this is surely what you describe: an agonizing decision. I received some advice once that has always proved helpful to me. Make your small decisions with your brain; make your large ones with your heart. Good luck to you, and no matter what you decide, keep doing the good work.

  5. Sheila Felberbaum on January 22, 2018 at 6:42 am

    What a meaningful essay and Irene’s response is so apt. I too am struggling to attend to my writerly internal voice screaming for more time and attention.the best antidote against writing resistance for me has been increasing communal writing involvement. So as of last year I attended playwriting classes at the Dramatists Guild In NYCity and am also part of a peer driven group of playwrights that meets regularly. My ongoing place at New Directions continues as my writing home base. I will commit to writing regularly,

    • Lee Martin on January 22, 2018 at 10:49 am

      Thanks so much for your comment, Sheila. You’re so right that finding a community of writers can be a way of holding ourselves accountable. Keep doing the good work!

  6. Robert Sykes on January 27, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Happy New Year Lee…remain grateful for foundational inspiration at SUN retreat at Rowe several years the interim I was hospitalized for an arterial thrombosis and injurys suffered in a house fire(including two months in a burns unit…recovery has gone well and recently accepted a position with an area hospital doing medical massage and Reiki with Hospice patients..working on a series of short stories around recovery and resilience…writing practice is a fundamental part of the healing…Blessings and Gratitude…

    • Lee Martin on January 30, 2018 at 11:11 am

      Robert, I’m so sorry to hear of your recent travails, but glad to know that you’re on the mend. I’m sending you all healing thoughts and all best wishes for the days ahead.

  7. Robert Sykes on January 27, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    And then…your new book will be read as recovery progresses…PTSD issues re house fire and injuries sustained are under wonderful care …home has been rebuilt but reentry has challenges!…offering support to police/fire/medical officials as needed…energy levels are normal and the urge to write is profound…Blessings and Gratitude my friend…

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