The countless articles on the Web about finding time to write started me thinking. Instead of shoving aside writing in order to do laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, etc., what if we flip-flop that idea and shove aside those household chores in order to write?
Ignore Those Chores!
The heck with laundry. Wear those socks two or three times - you take a shower every morning anyway, so how dirty can they be? And speaking of showers, do you really need one every morning? Try every other morning (or until your partner complains!).
Why do you need to go grocery shopping today? Surely you can find some crackers hidden at the back of your cupboard from the last time you had the flu, and I'll bet there's an old can of Cheez Whiz there, too. Do you have to feed your kids a full-course meal? Heck, break out the capers, make a face in the Cheez Whiz, and convince the kids it's a special treat! They'll have what they need-protein plus vegetables. Aren't capers a vegetable?
Now sit back in your chair and write! Just think of how good you'll feel when you say, "I never have time to grocery shop. I'm too busy writing."
Okay, okay, so it's not going to happen. I hear you. Then let's look at other ways you might be able to eke out a few words to satisfy your nagging muse.
What are you doing with your time? Watching TV? Knitting tube socks? Scrutinize your time and find out where those precious minutes are going. It's a common practice when beginning a diet, to spend a few days writing down everything that you put into your mouth. This can be very revealing. Try the same practice with your minutes. Write down how long it takes to wake up, perform your personal ablutions, eat, work (your day job), run errands, sleep. If the results show a big slug of time dedicated to watching TV, playing computer games, or dawdling on the Internet, think about how great it would be if you didn't do those things for a week and you wrote instead. Now, stop thinking about it. Write.
Do you bring home work from the office? Do you really need to do that? Don't forget to include all those nights out on the town with friends. Granted, we all need to socialize, but perhaps you could do it two nights a week instead of every night. Decide that your writing is worth the simplification process. Then do it!
Every creative person loves spontaneity, but in order to commit to your writing seriously, some planning may be in order. Perhaps you aren't able to find a block of time to write because you aren't looking in the right place. If you think you'll write for an hour in the evening, but you never seem to find the time, would getting up earlier in the morning and writing for 15 minutes allow it to actually happen? How about 15 minutes during your lunch hour? Plan for it. Set that clock early. Go back to your desk before lunch is over. Pick up that pen. Put your fingers to the keyboard. Write.
Eliminate distractions. Is your desk a mess? Clean up the area during a non-writing time, so you're ready to write when it's time. If that's impossible, find another place to write. Your writing time is not the time to clean your computer screen or your mouse. This is the time to write.
Before you begin writing, make sure that you have all your character notes, timelines, maps, outlines, whatever you need. Have them open and ready to go. Don't set yourself up for distraction. Don't put yourself in a situation where you write a few sentences, then when you have to look something up, you stop your writing and dig through papers or files to find what you need in order to continue.
The first part of your plan should be quantitative. How long will you write? Or how many words will you write? Your plan should be realistic. If you only have 15 minutes to write, make that your plan. If you have the entire day to devote to writing, you may want to write 3000 words. If you finish your 15 minutes or your 3000 words, and you want to write more, you can either set a new plan or you can consider the additional words / time a bonus. Either way, you'll feel great about what you've accomplished.
Once your story is completed, you may want to plan editing by quantity of pages or chapters. "Today I will edit 20 pages—or—Today I will edit 3 chapters." No matter what, be realistic so that you can actually accomplish what you plan to do. If you have an hour to devote to editing your work, you may not want to commit to editing 10 chapters.
Athletes train, musicians train, magicians and even dogs train. Remember timed essays? It's a skill you learn to develop. Set a timer. Write for 15 minutes. See what develops. It's a great way to silence your inner critic. "It's just for fun," tell her. "It doesn't need to be perfect." Then set the timer—and write.
Writing for 15 minutes will train you in many areas. Most especially, it will train you to get into your stride more quickly and keep the momentum going. Admit it; a 15 minute vacation from your inner critic is something to look forward to!
The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo - http://www.nanowrimo.org ), where aspiring novelists attempt to churn out 50,000 words in a month is a great way to challenge yourself. It's about setting goals, albeit aggressive ones. If you sign up and you only get 30,000 words written, is that so bad? It may be 30,000 more than you would have written. This is also addressed in the next section on commitment. NaNoWriMo is for seasoned writers as well. It gets you writing. It gets you accomplishing your goals.
If you have trouble committing to your writing sessions, start telling people that you're writing. You'd be surprised how much that will motivate you. Tell them that you've set a deadline for yourself (unless you're lucky—or unlucky—enough to have one imposed upon you by an editor or publisher). Learn how to say no if it will interfere with your writing time and it can be postponed. (If your partner says she needs you right away and there's blood involved, perhaps you should forego that writing session.)
If you keep trying, and failing, consider the reason. If other things seem more important than the time you've set aside to write, then maybe those things are more important to you right now. Perhaps it's just not the right time in your life to pursue this goal. Just be sure that it's not just an excuse to fan the flames of procrastination.
In addition to telling someone your general goals, set more detailed goals in writing. In a previous Gallimaufry, I wrote about keeping a dedicated journal for your novel. You can access this article in the archives of Just About Write by clicking here. A journal is a great place to keep track of your daily or weekly commitment to the number of words you intend to write and to document what you've actually accomplished. If you decide you want to write 500 words a day and 2000 words a week, reward yourself when you've accomplished your goals. This might be the time to take a night off and celebrate with your friends. Just make sure you get back to your writing routine.
Remember, you have to decide what works best for you. Your commitment must be tailored to your own needs and desires. Not everyone is a nighthawk or a morning person. If you aren't one, let's hope you're the other. Some people select certain days of the week to write. If you're not writing at all now, and can only see your way clear to writing for one evening a week, that's still 4 or 5 days a month more than you're writing now. If you can write for 15 minutes every night, that equals almost a whole day a month dedicated to writing. Figure out what's best for you, and then get to it. Write.
Lesbians are not known for their fear of commitment. We have only to look at our U-Haul-on-the-second-date syndrome to see that. However, fear of failing may be something with which we all struggle in our writing. In that case, let's move on to dealing with it.
Some things will never change. If you don't have the luxury of quitting your day job to write full time, you will have to deal with it. However, this shouldn't be an excuse to say: When I retire, I'm going to write. Why not write now? What's stopping you? If you wrote for 15 minutes a night, that's at least 12 days of writing every year before retirement.
Is fear of failure the real reason that you have 1001 excuses not to write? This is something you should face head-on. Deal with it. Then pick up a pen or put fingers to keyboard and start writing. Write in the name of practicing so that you will improve over time. Don't think about writing the great American novel only to have it rejected. Write. Practice. Grow. You'll feel a lot better for having written something. Even if it's something that no one else will ever see. Do it anyway. Make a start.
Don't fall prey to the misconception that writers need the muse to appear in a pillar of fire before us in order to write. Practice. It is from writing words that the muse materializes, not the other way around. Don't wait for a block of time. (Does "when I have a full day...when I have a week...when I have a month..." sound familiar?) Write. Write something brief if you only have 5 minutes. Write a sentence. Write another. Keep writing. Soon you'll have a paragraph. You might even have a mini-story. When you have another 5 minutes, perhaps you can expand on what you wrote initially.
So, formulate your plan. Start working on ways to simplify your life. Make that commitment to your craft. Start writing and your writing will improve. Be realistic in the goals you set. Then stick to them. Maybe one of these days you'll hear yourself say, "I don't have time wash my car. I have to write!"
Well, what are you waiting for? Go write. The kids can put Cheez Whiz on crackers by themselves.
©2006 Anna Furtado — Author of The Heart's Desire
Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles
Finalist—Golden Crown Literary Society "Goldie" Awards 2005
Distributed by: Starcrossed Productions (www.scp-inc.biz)
Web site: http://www.annafurtado.com