Many writers suffer from this affliction–myself included–surrounding the idea that we could make monumental progress on our short story/novel/non-fiction project if only we could have some long uninterrupted days. My perfect day involves a cabin in the woods with an incredible mountain view, something I am unlikely to experience since I live in Texas. It includes meals magically appearing without cooking, coffee all day long, and, and at the end of the day, a review of several thousand words, all perfectly placed and paced.
My reality is, like many others, one that is full and fragmented. Yes, I work from home, which allows me to handle client projects with some flexibility. I also have three children who play year-round sports, a husband with a demanding career (read: no schedule flexibility), and it seems most evenings are spent at the soccer field or volleyball games. A night at home after 6:30pm feels luxurious. And I know I’m not alone. Most people who strive to make fiction a priority have lives bursting with responsibilities and commitments. So, how do we finish our fiction in the midst of this realization?
I still struggle with this issue, and at times, catch myself lamenting the idea that I would get more done if only I had more uninterrupted time. While that’s true, it’s also completely unhelpful. Some days I have several hours in a row and other days I’m running from morning until night. I’ve decided that I need to make the most of what I’ve got, which means letting go of the idea of the ‘perfect writing day.’
This one decision has proved to be quite freeing because there is no one perfect writing day. Each one of us has to figure out how to fit our fiction into the demands of daily life. I am by no means an expert here but here are a few tips that have helped me make the most of the time available:
Track Your Schedule: Let the eye-rolling commence, but I promise this works. If you can track your day (or a few days) in 30-minute increments, small pockets of time will reveal themselves. Granted, these times may not be ideal but they are available, so if you can seize even one or two blocks per week, you now have momentum on your book. It’s also important to make peace with whether you are an early bird or a night owl. Don’t force yourself to write early if you prefer to start your day late. Find your flow and grab a small slot of time when you feel you’re most likely to take advantage of it. Early morning, after midnight, whatever works best for you.
Touch Your Project Every Day: I’m not suggesting you need to write 1,000 words per day. I do believe, however, that spending even 15 minutes at a time reviewing your outline, reading a scene or pondering a plot problem helps you remain connected to your work in progress. And this connection stays with you, rolls around in your brain, helps keep your head in the story. I don’t follow this advice as often as I should, but when I do, I notice a huge leap in weekly word count and productivity.
Stay Connected to the Creative Life: Writing is often a solitary endeavor, so it’s important to find ways to stay connected to other writers and the writing life. For me, listening to writing podcasts and, when I am surfing online, I’m directing my attention to sites related to reading and writing. An evening at the soccer fields allows me to walk a few miles while listening to a writing podcast, an activity that has helped me transform unproductive time into something that helps me both physically and mentally. TedTalks remain my favorite source for writing-related podcasts: https://www.ted.com/topics/writing
Take Note (cards): A confession first–I have an office supply addiction. Apparently, it runs in my family and there is no cure. I’m fine with that. In fact, I’ve found that notecards and a pen are my best friends when it comes to working on a project when I only have a small snippet of time to spare. I use them to write down issues with my book such as understanding a character’s motivation. Sometimes I use cards to outline scenes and sometimes I write down research topics. The most important thing is that notecards help me capture issues related to my novel, and the fact that the notecard is only 4×6 in size helps keep the intimidation factor down.
Fill Your Feed: This is a strategy for those who run to social media as the perfect temporary distraction. My twitter and Facebook feeds are filled largely with posts from writers and people in the storytelling space. This is intentional because, if I’m compelled to kill a few minutes while standing in line, I’m still staying connected to the creative life I wish to live.
Being Prepared Helps You Be Flexible: Consistency is key when it comes to writing, but let’s face it, kids get sick, you end up driving a last minute field trip, or your work day ends up longer than you expected. Even in these circumstances, you may find yourself with small fragments of time you can use. Having notecards or a journal with ideas to explore can help you make the most of whatever minutes present themselves. These stray moments can add up, like pennies in your pocket. You collect enough words, and soon enough, you’ve got a finished novel.
Start Saying No: This is a tough one for me. I’ve been accused of having lousy boundaries when it comes to volunteering or taking on local projects. I would have to confess that to be true, but this year, I decided to severely limit how much time I would spend on other people’s priorities. I still help with school dances and other volunteer activities but I am far more selective because, by saying ‘yes’ to others’ requests, I’m saying ‘no’ to my own projects. There are times when we can’t simply steal time or find time. We only have so much, which means we sometimes have to put our own priorities first. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s even better than okay.
Take (or Leave) Any or All Writing Advice: How many times have you tried to follow some specific writing advice from a best-selling author only to have it become more hindrance than help? If that’s the case, let it go. Take what you want and leave the rest. You get to stock your own writing toolbox with the tips that help you move forward. I’m including all the tips I just listed in this post. Helpful? Awesome. Not Helpful? No problem. Skip them and find something else. You know what works best for you, so let that be your guide.
My contention is that there is no perfect day to write, no perfect hour, no perfect moment. We only have today, which may or may not look anything like tomorrow. Letting go of the belief that we need four hours per day to write means that, instead of being imprisoned by an unrealistic idea, we are now free to pursue our projects, even if it’s only a half hour at a time.