One thing I’ve found over the years, if I want to get something done, I need to plan and I really need to manage my Time. As a writer, this is extremely important. No Time equals No Writing. Unlike the writers of the last century, writers in the present not only have to write, but they must also have some kind of media presence, even if it’s responding to emails or posting an occasional blog post. And what about research? I’m always getting distracted doing research: verifying a place name, defining a geography, fact checking a myth (if that’s possible), and, and, and… A writer’s life in 2016 is full of distractions.
Most of the writers I know also have families, jobs, and other activities and hobbies, not to mention everyone needs sleep. Fitting it all in a 24-hour block can be challenging. So, how does one fit it all in and still write?
To start, I find it good to do a reality check. I have to be honest. I look at myself, my laziness or distractions, and my use of Time. Almost always, I find an hour or two that I’m wasting, sitting around, watching television, surfing the net, mindless solitaire, or just doing nothing. Now, it would be really easy to say to myself, “here’s an hour or two that isn’t being used, I’ll just write!”
It isn’t that simple, as most people know or quickly discover. These hours of distraction are seldom connected to a set schedule that one can plan on or around or the preposition of choice. That’s okay. The reality check is mainly to give one an idea of not only what Time is available, but how one is using his or her Time.
A related question I ask myself on a regular basis is am I serious about my writing? This is usually followed by a stinging self-critique that can be summed up as I suck, or the longer version, I’m never going to get a novel published. That’s needed, but not for very long. Dwelling for more than a minute or two on the negative is unproductive and can even become a distraction in itself. I already know I’m serious, but sometimes I have to satisfy my doubt: I am still enjoying writing because that’s what I do. Publication, an agent, and a six-figure book deal will come (two of the six figures can be on the other side of the decimal – I’m okay with that!).
I think the real question that I ask myself is am I fitting my writing around my life or my life around my writing? Not a trick question, just a trick answer – yes – both. Here’s a story:
When I first started writing, I was a young father in the Air Force with a wife, two young children, and a dog No Time, right? Wrong! I could usually depend on Saturdays as my writing day (Saturday mornings) and I carved it out, made it important, and looked forward to it every week. Sure, I would fit some proofreading and various types of editing/rewriting in where I could, even some drafting, but Saturday morning was my Time.
I would get all the household chores done before, or plan them after my writing. I would go to the public library, find an empty, quiet space, plug in earphones with instrumental music (Mozart is great, sometimes Metallica is better), and write for five or six hours. That worked well. I finished a 300-plus-page novel in a year, as well as some short stories, and the beginnings of several other novels. I looked forward to Saturday, I had fit my writing into my life (into my reality). Then, 9/11 happened…
Things changed, deployments increased, I started a grad degree, and, and, and… The only thing that is constant and consistent in this life is change. I needed another reality check. I could not let life get in the way of my writing. It wasn’t going to be an easy, scheduled kind of thing, or was it? I needed to change my paradigm, the way I looked at things. Instead of planning one day a week, weeks and months in advance, I was going to have to plan 15 or 30 minutes a week in advance, maybe a day in advance, or even an hour in advance. I had to keep my goal in mind, my desire, my exercise in staying sane. I had to write.
That was a long Time ago, I’ve written several novels, published several short stories, been part of two publishing projects – five or six volumes of flash fiction and a couple volumes of horror. Am I still writing like I’m going to be the next J. K. Rowling or Stephen King? Sure I am. I’m a writer, that’s what I do, but back to Time. I still have regular reality checks; I can’t let my life get in the way of my writing.
I’m partially retired now, and one would think it would get easier: just block out several hours to write, put it on my phone calendar, and the phone reminds me, and I just do it. It never goes as planned. I have to make it happen. (Sometimes, I think I was more productive when I wrote once a week at the library). Reality check, daily, weekly, monthly…
How about a challenge? Right here, right now, you and I will make plans, set a goal, and stick with it. What do you say?
Goals, you know all about them, right? Do you know how to accomplish them?
First, do that reality check and see where you can write – not just a time, but a place or even a state of mind.
Second, set a small, achievable goal: I will write everyday, Monday through Friday, for 30 minutes.
Third, at the end of each day, evaluate your performance – write it down – I did good, I did bad, I did ugly – and add the why, good, bad, and ugly.
Fourth, when the weekend comes, evaluate your week – if it didn’t go well, you have your good, bad, ugly and why – what do you need to change? Were you honest in your reality check? You may have to adjust or even set a new goal.
Finally, once the small, achievable goal is complete, you can make it habitual, or you can set a bigger goal. Maybe the small, achievable goal is all you can do at this time. That’s okay. You’ve made it and you are writing regularly and life is not getting in the way.
If you take up this goal, this challenge, I would really like to hear how you do. Those of you already on track with a consistent writing practice, let me know about that too. Please post your experience here as a comment or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.