Ah, the first week of a brand new year. When the landscape before you seems ripe with potential and promise. Tacking a new calendar onto the wall can make you feel like you can conquer anything, can’t it? Like, for example, those writing-related resolutions you made. Perhaps you’ve set a minimum daily word count for yourself, or a deadline by which to finish your revisions. Whatever it may be, you’re energized by this new goal, committed to setting aside the time you need every single day. You’re gonna make 2016 your most productive writerly year ever. Am I right?
Except once week two rolls around, that little annoyance called “real life” starts to get in the way of your dreams. Suddenly, the nice hour of uninterrupted writing time you’ve carved out for yourself every evening after the sun goes down is getting harder and harder to keep up with. Especially when your boss asks you to stay late for the rest of the month, right before your toddler comes down with a cold, at the same time your hot water heater explodes all over your garage floor, and oh good the cat just puked on the carpet again… it’s enough to make you want to throw in the towel.
But you won’t, because you love this too much.
So how do you keep making progress and moving forward?
Traditional advice tells you that your writing time is sacred, and you should protect it at all costs. So for crying out loud, STOP MAKING EXCUSES! GO IN YOUR OFFICE AND SHUT THE DOOR! But what if you don’t have an office? What if all you have is a corner of your cluttered coffee table, right next to the puddle of cat puke? How do you protect your writing time then?
I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have some ideas that have worked for me.
- Stealing moments. Think about all those short bits of unoccupied time you experience in the course of any given day: standing on line at the pharmacy; sitting in the lobby of the dentist’s office; leaning against the kitchen counter, waiting for the kettle to whistle. If you always keep your story at the forefront of your mind, you can easily snatch these minutes for your writing. Some examples of five-minute tasks: developing a plot point; determining a character motivation; smoothing out a clunky piece of dialogue that’s been bugging you for a while. Make a habit of keeping a notebook and pen on you at all times so you can capture the words as they come to mind. (If you’re a techier person, like me, you might use a note-taking app on your phone instead. My personal favorite? Google Keep.)
- Getting organized. When you’re writing in five-minute increments at various locations, it can sometimes be hard to keep all your snippets of literary genius straight. So come up with a system of organizing your story that works for you. Personally, I like using Scrivener; whenever I get a chance to sit down at my laptop, I’ll copy my handwritten and/or phone-dictated notes into the binder for my project. A caveat: don’t allow your organizational system to become so complex and time-consuming that it usurps the moments you should be devoting to your words. Keep it simple and make sure it supports your writing goals.
- Reevaluating priorities. Sure, you might have a good time knitting that king-size afghan or binge-watching Sherlock (for the third time this month…) but do these things really matter to you more than your writing? As the credits roll on the final episode of the final season, will it bring you as much joy as typing “The End” on the last page of your finished novel? If not, then maybe you should cancel your Netflix subscription.
- Adopting a mantra. Silly as it may sound, motivational mottos tend to ground me when I’m flailing around. I’ve got a couple pasted up on the wall next to my desk, and I’ll look over at them when I’m in most need of inspiration to keep moving. My favorite is a Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” Progress is progress, even if it’s an inch at a time. Put one word after another after another, and you’ll eventually have a whole story.
What about you? What are some strategies you employ to protect your writing time when the pesky needs of real life get in the way?