Tips on Carving Time Out for Your Writing When Life Drags You Down
by Marie Lavender
Life can get pretty crazy sometimes. Just when it seems normal, then there’s a curveball which knocks you completely off that axis you got so comfortable with. And, more often than not, life gets in the way of writing. About when you’re ready to sit down to the task and focus, something comes up. There’s an emergency, or maybe not. Life happens. The kids need to be driven somewhere. Before you know it, a whole day has flown by and you’re not only exhausted from the ride, you’re disappointed that you couldn’t get any writing done. And especially around this time of year, the holidays make it all worse, right? There is so much to do. Well, what can be done? It’s not like those million things you do every day will go away. How can you fit writing into your incredibly hectic schedule?
1. Just breathe.
“What? You’re crazy, Marie.”
No, I’m saying this for a reason. Take two minutes and concentrate on breathing. Slowly. Inhale, exhale. Set a timer if you want. Easy, right? There, you did it.
“I did what exactly?”
You took a moment to breathe. This is something all of us naturally do, but we never even think about it. Well, unless you’re lucky enough to be into meditation. And I’ll bet most of us don’t even take full breaths because our lives are too hectic. But, think about it. Don’t you feel calmer, more relaxed? Can’t you think better now? And for those two minutes, I bet you forgot about the rest of the world.
“What’s your point?”
If you can take a couple extra moments to focus on deep breathing, then you can certainly turn your attention to your current writing project as well.
“How do you figure?”
Well, isn’t writing as natural to you as breathing? For most of us, the art of writing is like an extension of ourselves. It’s something we do, or find ourselves doing whether we’re prepared for it or not.
And yet, carving the time out for it can elude us. So, I’ll make it simple with some other steps.
2. Make lists.
Yeah, lists just aren’t for Santa’s nice and naughty lists. Lists will keep you organized on what you need to get done on your current manuscript. And the more specific, the better. Need to research a certain detail regarding your character or his profession? Maybe you want to learn more about the setting, the city in which the story takes place? Make a note of it somewhere. For me, post-it notes are a godsend. They are a constant reminder of what I need to do, and the bright colored things are annoying enough to spur me into action. LOL. My family thinks I’m crazy for using them around my computer, but honestly they help more than hurt. And once that task is done, the note gets trashed. Yay! You accomplished something for that day. Doesn’t that feel great?
3. Work a little on your current manuscript every day.
“Easier said than done, Marie.”
Maybe. But then, you’ve more than proven that a couple of minutes of deep breathing is doable. How about five or even ten? Is that manageable in the span of 24 hours?
Believe me, every little bit of time you devote to your writing helps. Try to do something associated with your writing project each day. Editing, researching, even write a paragraph or sentence if that’s all you can do.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a story idea or the answer to your current manuscript, a niggling sense that won’t leave you alone? Don’t ignore it. Write no matter the time. And if you’re too exhausted, take some notes and work on it the next day. Even if you think you’re too busy one day, try to carve out a small amount of time to simply “think” about your work in progress. Just ruminate a little. A lot of plotting happens in your head when you’re doing a mundane task like washing dishes or folding laundry. Don’t tell me you’ve never caught yourself thinking about your story in that manner?
“But, Marie, I’m a pantster.”
Oh, so you write as you go along, and the story unfolds naturally? Great! Believe it or not, your subconscious is still working on that manuscript, toying with new ideas. Think of it as a jumble of noise that eventually makes sense. And if you do this kind of extemporaneous writing, just launch into it when you get a moment to yourself. Even a paragraph at a time, as aforementioned.
But, at least you took some time to devote to your story or novel. That brings me to my next point.
4. Trust your instincts.
Is that character nagging at you? Do you have an image of the scene in your head? Is some plot element drawing you away from another task? Well, why not give in? There’s a reason this happens. The muse is trying to tell you something. Even if you can only jot down a few notes, that’s a step in the right direction. Take it from me, though. The fresher the idea is in your mind, the better.
5. Give yourself a break.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and we’re all our own worst critics. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get a chance to work on your manuscript one day.
Also, don’t be afraid to take breaks to unwind. Go shopping. Visit a museum. Head to the beach. And if money is tight, take a walk around your neighborhood or go to your local park. Do something a little different than usual. It may help you recharge your batteries now and then, and that change in scenery can fuel your creativity in different ways. You may take away from it a new experience, and recall details that you’ll include in your current work, or one down the road. I still recall all the times I spent on the beach, and I use that when writing ocean scenes.
A brief time away from your novel may give you the perspective you’ve been looking for to finish that manuscript. Maybe that break allowed you to see a great plot element. Go with it. Fuel your mind for your work in progress by giving yourself an occasional break.
6. Learn how to say ‘no’.
Know your limits. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, or you’ll get so overwhelmed that you will eventually find reasons to stall or stop your project entirely. And you don’t want that.
Learn when to say “no” to yourself, and to others. Know when your writing takes priority and when it doesn’t. Most likely, those who aren’t writers won’t understand the extreme drive you suddenly have to finish your manuscript. For them, life goes on as it always does. Nothing has changed. Choose your battles wisely. Some authors I know have miraculously managed to train their families (“If Mom is in her office, she’s busy!”). Most of us have to try to balance everything. Utilize step #3 and “give yourself a break” if you can’t figure it all out right away. Just take it one day at a time.
7. Cater to your own methods.
Know what works for you, and what doesn’t. If you’re at all like me, then maybe sometimes you need to see a printed page to spot something big. Do you have large spaces between your scenes or chapters, or you sense a weak spot somewhere? Consider printing the pages around those sections. Perhaps that will be just the motivation your creativity needs to jump into writing.
Diversely, don’t be afraid to try new things either. If you usually write everything by hand first, try composing directly on the computer. And vice versa. This gives your mental focus a bit of a challenge, and a fresh perspective on everything.
8. Writer’s block.
We’ve all heard the term and nothing makes you cringe more than seeing it. All writers dread and try to avoid getting it, as if that’s even possible. If you are a victim of this horrible, debilitating syndrome, consider these two options:
1) Distract yourself.
Embrace this “break”, if you will. Distractions are just what the doctor ordered. Do anything except writing. Are you allowed to think about your story? Sure, I won’t stop you. But, it’s probably only helpful if you’re entertaining possible routes the story could take. In the end, the most natural writing experience is the best choice. Don’t force it, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself either. So, distract yourself as long as necessary.
Having said that, you’ll soon be fed up with the distractions and you’ll want a real cure.
2) Ignore your writer’s block.
“How can you ignore it, Marie? It’s pretty obvious.”
Well, try pushing through the block by doing the grunt work of writing, the bare bones of the process. Work on character worksheets. Learning more about your characters can only help your story in the long run.
Also, consider doing research when you’ve hit a writing plateau. Who knows? Maybe a tidbit, some random fact, can be just the spark you needed to launch back into the storytelling routine.
Another thing I would suggest is writing exercises. Maybe focusing on another project entirely or starting a new one can distract you long enough to clear your head. Here are some tips in that regard. And here are a few links to good writing prompts:
Yes, I have had writer’s block before. It was the darkest time of my creative life. Eventually, I had to quit stressing about it. That’s when the ideas came back.
Some people only make writing look easy, when in truth, it’s not. A lot of us struggle with various aspects of the process. Heck, with one novel, I didn’t even realize my character’s basic motivation until I’d already sent the manuscript off to beta readers! Creativity works in mysterious ways.
9. Remind yourself (and often) why you’re doing this crazy thing called ‘writing’.
Why? Just do it. You’ll thank me later. LOL. But seriously, this will save you a lot of heartache if you often reconnect with your writing motivation.
If you’re doing it for the money, then I’d say you’re in the wrong profession. A reason like that won’t keep you warm on the long, cold journey of publishing. And it won’t save you while you’re trying to make a name for yourself. But, if you have a deeper reason, it’s gold.
Most of us have no choice. Our characters call to us, and the exciting path of the story is why we put ourselves through so much, through all the obstacles a writer encounters. That calling, that desire to tell a story, to give voice to the characters in your head? Now that’s a reason to keep going. And it’s good to remind yourself of it now and then.
10. It’s not a race.
Really, it’s not. I can’t stress that enough. Though having a sense of focus may help you write a tad faster, life will still happen. You can bet your car will have a flat tire. You’ll get a toothache. Somebody will get a minor injury from a harmless roughhousing incident. Your kid will need a ride to band practice. And you can’t predict how long the writing process will take.
That being said, every project is different. Though I’ve written stories nearly all my life, my first full-length novel took nine years to write, and a whole other year to perfect. No joke. The second book in the series took a year to write. And the sequel? A year and a half. Other manuscripts took only months to compose. How do I account for my nine-year novel project? Life got in the way, but I know a part of the delay was seasoned by fear, fear of taking the steps that come after you finish a project. Hey, we’re only human, right? But, I also know it was meant to be. I wasn’t ready then. At some point, a writer wakes up and decides, “Now is my time.” But, I digress.
Your project will take as long as it takes. You may look at the progress of other authors, at their long list of accomplishments, and feel you’re lagging behind. You’re not. We all go through the same struggles in the writing process. Your manuscript is yours, to put it plainly. It is as unique as your identity. And the time span between when you start and when you metaphorically write “THE END” is dependent upon the characters, the story and you as the writer.
Relax. It will be done when it’s done. And when it is finished, you’ll just feel it. You will know, like all your other writing instincts.
I hope I’ve helped you to navigate this crazy world. Hmm…well, at least with regards to finding some time to write every day. Remember: even a sentence or paragraph helps. Every little bit gets you one step closer to fastening that last piece of the puzzle, to finishing your work in progress.
Trust me. When that moment comes, you’ll see the journey was all worth it. That’s part of the beauty of writing, isn’t it? The satisfaction you get from finishing something? And the rest? When a reader reads it, of course! But, one step at a time, remember?
So, get back to that project of yours. I know it’s waiting for you on the page, daring you to try. What are you waiting for anyway? Go ahead! You won’t regret it.
Speaking of, I’d better get back to mine as well. Duty calls. The muse never rests.
As always, happy reading, readers! And I hope you have a lovely holiday season! :)