Often, I come home from work believing I will write… something. I end up distracted by one thing or another–making dinner, a message on my phone, my husband wants to show me a silly video–then, suddenly, it’s time to go to bed and I haven’t written a single word. The guilt sets in and I beat myself up for being lazy. Is this counterproductive? Yes, but I still do it. If this is you, practice patience. Be kind to yourself! Ninety-nine point nine ad infinitum percent of the time, your life does not depend on your coming up with a story immediately.
Unless you’re Scheherazade.
Where Does the Day Go?
Don’t just throw in the towel and say, “I can’t write; I’m too busy.” Unless you truly have no desire to write, that is. If you are determined to write, then you’ll need to face your obstacles and obligations squarely and work around them.
Know your personal limitations
Managing your writing time is crucial to becoming a successful author. You’ve heard this advice, I’m sure: have a plan and make a schedule. Protect your writing time. I’ve tried that. I scheduled dedicated writing time on my mobile calendar. And then, I simply ignored the notification telling me it was time to write. Why? I lacked both motivation and discipline. Life distracted me.
Once I start working on a project, I’m rather good at focusing and staying on task–to the point of ignoring whatever is happening around me. However, the ability to multi-task is an exceedingly rare gift that I do not possess. Try to carry on a meaningful conversation with me while I’m driving if you don’t believe me; you’ll receive nothing but terse monosyllables or grunts in reply. I can only concentrate on one thing at a time.
Figure out your most productive writing times. Try a writing stint at different times of the day. Some people are very productive early in the morning, while others are night owls. Still others get the most writing done in the early afternoon, or before eating lunch. Chances are, you already know when you accomplish the most.
Once you discover that sweet spot during the day, determine how long your productivity lasts. Set a timer for fifteen or thirty minutes and start writing. Do this over several weeks and document your findings. How long did you write without stopping and how often? If you constantly desire to go on at the end of thirty minutes, then increase the duration of your writing stints until you hit your wall. You can quantify both ideal writing time and ideal writing stint length by tracking how many words you write during a time period. More words equals greater productivity. Don’t worry about the quality of your work; you can always revise it later. The point is to write down your ideas. For more information on this tactic, refer to author and writing coach Allie Pleiter’s Chunky Method.
Want to know the good news? If you complete this research exercise, then you’ve established the habit of writing regularly. Congratulations–you just tricked yourself into increasing your productivity!
Recognize limitations set by your “season of life”
What “season of life” are you in? This often determines how much time you have available to dedicate to writing. A retired person probably has more “free” time than, say, a mom of three young children (a full-time job in and of itself) who also has a full-time nine-to-five career. Not that the working mother can’t write a novel–I know of many who have and become successful authors–but her obligations set limits on her writing time.
I recommend drawing out a typical daily and a typical weekly schedule. Block out times when you’re completing mandatory tasks such as caring for children, working your day job, preparing or eating meals, or running errands you can’t delegate to others. If you have other obligations, make a note of those as well. Then, examine the time remaining–your “free time.” What do you normally do during this time? Hang out with friends? Go to the bar? Read books or watch your shows? Fart around on social media? Perhaps some of that time could be sacrificed for advancing your writing career. Not all of it–just fifteen minutes per day, or a few hours during the weekend. Surely, you can ignore TikTok for a fifteen to thirty-minute writing stint? Carve out a little writing time in your schedule. Just make sure to communicate your plans with family, friends, and anyone with whom you have obligations. Your writing shouldn’t become a bone of contention among your loved ones. Who knows? Including others when planning your ventures may even spark interest and lead to interesting opportunities.
Unfortunately, you may discover that you need to work your day job during your most productive, ideal writing time. If this is the case, then you’ll need to write on the weekend, vacation days, and settle for what you’re able to accomplish during breaks, or during the off hours. I don’t recommend ignoring your duties in favor of writing, though; that could lead to involuntary termination.
Manage your writing environment
Some people have an office with a door, a computer desk and a comfy chair; others need to make do with the kitchen table and a hard wooden bench. Wherever you write–at home, the library, the local coffee shop–make sure it’s free of distractions. You know what they are, these sappers of productivity. Turn off the television and any social media notifications on your phone. Resort to using pen and paper if the interwebs are beckoning you with shiny offerings on your laptop web browser. Tell your family not to disturb you for an hour and shut the door of your office or other writing-designated room. Wait until the toddlers are in bed before you crack open the laptop on the kitchen table.
Do you need silence, or can you function under normal household conditions? When quiet spaces in your home are nonexistent–and you can’t afford to build or rent an office space–investing in noise-canceling headphones could be a good fix.
You could also find another venue for your writing. An expensive writer’s retreat would be nice, but it’s not a feasible choice for most people. There are plenty of cheap or free options. A coffee shop can be a nice writing environment if you like background noise or listen to music with earbuds while you write. All for the price of a grande caramel mocha that you can nurse for an entire Saturday morning. Or–if you need a quieter place–libraries often have desks or small meeting rooms you can reserve for an hour or two. Before the pandemic hit, I often went to a local coffee shop or the library on Saturdays to write. I may need to resume that practice because household happenings distract me while I’m writing. And as I’ve already mentioned, I need to concentrate on what I’m doing. If you’re like me, then look around and see what your community offers by way of places conducive to writing. Even a picnic table in a park on a pleasant day can be a delightful spot to scribble a few paragraphs.
Are you Accountable?
Let’s say you need a little more incentive to keep going. Time to call in the cavalry! Or, in the absence of cavalry, an accountability partner. Before you begin any writing project that you want to finish, determine your goals and ask yourself whether your goals are achievable based on your current circumstances. Can you write an entire book, revise, edit and publish it in a year? Absolutely; people have accomplished this in less than a year (I know someone who has).
But can you do this without your marriage ending in a divorce or losing your mind? Tweak your plans as necessary. Then, assign deadlines for each part of the process. Write this all down as a contract and then share it with someone willing to partner with you in your writing career–preferably another writer. Sign the “contract” in their presence and have them sign off as a witness. Then, do the same for them and keep in regular contact to check on one another’s progress. Meet for coffee. Schedule writing sessions together. It really helps to have a partner with whom to share encouragement and commiseration.
It’s important to establish clear goals, but it is nearly as important to reward yourself for achieving them. You can designate these in your “contract.” Perhaps finishing a twenty-page chapter means treating yourself to that triple mocha and a muffin the next time you meet your accountability partner at the coffee shop. Or watching a movie on Netflix with your spouse or friends. A hike on a nature trail. Something small and within your means. The size of the reward should be suitable for the goal you achieved. For example, don’t book a Caribbean cruise as a reward for anything less than publishing the book.
If all of this seems like too much bother, then you need to face facts about your writing and its importance in your life. Are you serious or are you just dabbling? What are the consequences if you don’t write? That story will forever burn inside of you, untold, and your dreams to become an author remain unfulfilled.
Can you live with that?
Postscript: Dear writing friends, I apologize for ending this series of articles on such a heavy note. Writing is a significant part of my life and I believe it’s my calling. If you’ve read this far, I assume you’re serious about writing, as well. I hope you gleaned some useful information—or at least some encouragement—from my words.
God willing, I’ll have something more fun on the docket next time!