A couple of days ago, I wrote a post titled, Where Do You Get Bogged Down? I wrote about how there are several potential landmines on the way to getting words onto the page. Bursting with excitement for writing, you schedule a session, but somehow it never gets done. Because one of several things might happen:
- You get sidetracked before you get to the computer. Suddenly it is imperative to clean out that closet. Or you simply must watch the Netflix movie you’ve had for months.
- You get yourself in front of the computer, but the words won’t come. Frustrated, you give up before you have even begun.
- You start writing, and all is well, except something doesn’t feel right. You’re not writing the way you think you should be. It just isn’t working.
I’ll write individual posts about each one of these stages in the Not-writing process, also fondly known as the Writing Bogs.
But first I want to address another issue. After I wrote that post I got a couple of very thoughtful comments, both of which had a similar theme: the commenters never even had the luxury of getting to one of the above writing bogs because they simply didn’t have time to write. Period.
I wrote a long comment in response, but it felt glib and facile to me and I knew I’d end up writing more about that specific issue. So here goes my attempt to help you find time to write when there simply isn’t any.
First of all, disabuse yourself of the notion that you need a long, uninterrupted stretch of time to get any significant writing done. Yes, it would be ideal if that were the case. But, honestly, most of us simply don’t have that luxury. For many of today’s novelists and screenplay writers, the work gets done in short stretches of time–the 15 minutes you have while in the car waiting for you daughter to be done with soccer practice, or the 10 minutes you wait at the dentist’s office.
I sometimes think that having only short bursts of time actually forces me to get the writing done. I’ve had the experience of finally being able to set a whole day aside for writing, only to end up wasting half of it. When you have more time, it is easier to waste it. It is human nature to revel in all the time you have to write and end up reveling so much you don’t get any words on the page.
In order to take advantage of these short spans of time, get in the habit of carrying a journal or notebook with you at all times. And keep plenty of pens in your purse, or in your back pocket, or in your car. (For some reason I am forever running out of pens, no matter how many of them I buy. And buying pens is one of my favorite addictions.)
The other issue that goes hand in hand with needing time to write is needing time to think. Writing requires a clear mind (if you don’t believe me, just try writing when you are hungover some time). When you are working on a longer project (and even a short story can seem long when you are writing it in short spurts) you need to be able to hold thoughts about it at least somewhere in your brain. You need to be able to mull over character motivation, and ponder story arcs. Having the psychic space to think about writing is nearly as important as the writing itself. And one of the best side effects about writing every day is that you keep the thoughts about the work front and center.
Fortunately for you, your brain is always with you. Nobody can take away your thoughts. And you can build in time to think even more easily than you can carve out time to write. It is a matter of making it a habit to think about your writing project in odd moments. Ponder it on your morning commute, for instance, or while you are exercising. Think about plot while you are vacuuming or doing the dishes. Instead of designing the absolute best way to kill your boss, put that energy into something positive and figure out how to off the villain of your novel. When a brilliant thought strikes you, note it in your journal. Or carry a little digital voice recorder with you and talk into it. They are inexpensive and easy to use.
A great way to facilitate thinking is to get in the habit of reading over your pages or even your notes. Glance at what you wrote today before you get into bed. Your subconscious will work on your plot problem for you while you sleep. (For more on this process, see my post titled, amazingly enough, Writing While You Sleep). Read a few pages of your chapter before your morning commute (I know, I know, you don’t have time–but honestly, glancing over it ought to be enough to imprint it in your brain) and then put on your Ipod and think away while you are on the train–or scribble notes.
Now I’m going to risk sounding tres judgmental, which is not my intention at all. However, it is my duty to remind you that the way we use our time is a choice. If you decide to watch American Idol instead of taking that time to write or go to sleep so you can get up early to write, that is a choice. If you decide to take lunch and eat it at your desk so you can edit your most recent chapter, that is a choice. If you decide to release the words and stories within so that the world can share them, that is a choice, just as turning away from your talent is a choice, also.
So I hope you will choose to write, even if it gets done five minutes at a time. I want to hear what you have to say. The world wants to hear what you have to say.