If, like me, you have a thousand and one things going on, sometimes it can be difficult to justify spending time on something like creative writing. It’s one of those delayed gratification type things. Positive results – if there are any – are a long time coming.
It’s easy to say “just do it” but things often get in the way. Whether it’s other people, work, commitments, housework, hobbies or even our what’s going on in our own minds, life happens and sometimes that means writing doesn’t.
So how can writers ensure we make (and protect) time to write?
Block off time for writing: pick a time and place to write and make sure that people know you’ll be busy then.
Religiously defend it: that’s your time. It’s not a luxury, it’s one of your personal goals.
Say No: I don’t mean refuse to do anything, for anyone, ever. But if you’re one of those “go to” people who always seem to get the extra demands on their time, you might want to look at how (or if) you say no.
Prioritize: write a to do list for the day and then prioritise the tasks. I love this post over on Harvard Business Review, which recommends writing a list of your top six priorities and crossing off the bottom five. You then have 90 minutes to work on that task, not allowing yourself to be distracted by anything.
Stay organised: have some kind of system in place to organise your background notes and writing books. I’m often accused of being obsessively organised, but sometimes I just stop.
I know exactly where that book I need is, it’s buried under 20 other books and I’ll bring down an avalanche of random objects if I try to retrieve it.
Eventually (like today) it gets too much for me and I have to organise everything again and keep it like that. The point is, it doesn’t matter how you organise your space – it is, after all, your space – but you should be able to access the things you need when you need them.
Set goals: I’m going to guess that most creative writers have no deadlines to meet. No deadlines gives a great opportunity for procrastination. Unpublished writers therefore need to set their own goals.
My main goal right now is to finish the rewrite before NaNoWriMo. That’s great, but it’s still two months away. I know that I need to rewrite one chapter every three days to reach that goal. Having lots of mini goals to hit is a great way to limit procrastination (I say limit because it’s never going to go away).
Mindfulness: I’m prone to dwell on things, or to see or hear something and suddenly remember something else that I need to think about. One moment I can be perfectly happy rewriting a scene, the next, I’m being distracted by lots of unwanted thoughts.
You might be in the middle of writing a great scene, when you make the mistake of rereading your last paragraph. Now you’re not so sure that what you’re writing is any good, and you start to question what you write. This is where mindfulness can be useful. It’s basically training yourself to focus on the present moment, and to view things in a non-judgemental way.
Don’t try to multitask: all it really means is not giving 100% to several things at the same time. Research has shown that we’re 40 per cent less productive when we multitask, and more likely to become stressed.
I’m much more productive when I’m not switching between my manuscript and Twitter.
Look after yourself: yes, you’re excited to get the story written, redrafted and out there – but the thing’s never going to get finished if its creator burns out.
More time doesn’t equal more writing: I’ve scheduled whole days off from work to allow me to concentrate on writing, but that doesn’t mean 5,000 words will magically appear at the end of the day. Yet sometimes I can write 2,000 words in the hours before and after work.
This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.
Writing time can just as easily be spent planning, thinking and taking notes. The important thing is that something has been achieved during that time.