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Writing Wednesday: How to Make Time to Write

a treasury of books, in Strahov Library, Prague

“Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend to them than inspiration.” -Ralph Keyes

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” — Stephen King , On Writing

About seven years ago, I attended my first big writers conference. I remember being so very overwhelmed, as most aspiring writers feel when they dip their toe in the ocean that is publishing. But in my dizzying haze, one particular piece of advice struck me so hard that it has stuck. It was on how to clear the schedule so that you can do what you love — write.

a treasury of books, in Strahov Library, Prague
a treasury of books, in Strahov Library, Prague


Isn’t that the thing all writers struggle with?

Writing is hard work, and for most of us, writing has to happen along with the rigors of everyday life. Finding time to write is one of the most difficult parts of writing.

Usually, when I meet new people, this is how the exchange takes place:

“What do you do, Jennifer?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh my gosh! I’ve always wanted to write a book! I have about five ideas for stories, and my mom told me I should write a book about ____. I’ll do it after … [substitute one] Johnny’s out of diapers, my kids are in school, my project finishes up, when I have some extra time.”

Many people want to write a book. It’s making time and finding the courage to move beyond the blank page that moves the wanna-be’s into serious writers. So, how do we find / make the time to write?

My thought is this: Take a season (say, for the next three months) and take a hard look at your daily schedule and monthly calendar. Figure out what you really want to do, and make the time for it. Clear the calendar. Put the bottom in the chair and type. It will come, and soon the book will be finished. But clearing the calendar is essential.

Tips for Clearing the Calendar for a Season to Write:

  1. Make a short list of your essentials — things that cannot be wiped off of the calendar. For me, this begins and ends with my family, adding in a bit of time to recharge with close friends and a weekly tennis match.
  2. Determine what time of day / night you prefer to write. I’m a daytime writer, beginning as early as possible.
  3. Find a writing time block that can be repeated most days that doesn’t interrupt the essentials. I use every last drop of school-time, when my boys are in school.
  4. Clear off the non-essentials from that time block. This isn’t easy– it’s the PTA volunteering hours, and all of the well-meaning activities that can steal entire days away  for weeks in a row. It’s hard to say no, but it’s also impossible to write a book without the bottom in the writing chair. It’s not a popular thing to say no– I can vouch for that.
  5. Turn off the internet, the radio, the television, the cell phone, and the washer and dryer. Everything that is a distraction will be a distraction. Make a pact, like “I’ll write 500 words and then check my email.” And stick to it. The words add up quickly without distractions!
  6. Evaluate your writing routine. Do you want to clear the schedule for just a season (writing one first draft?) or do you want to make this writing thing a habit, a serious gig?

As with a post from a few months ago, How to Finish Your Novel in 2011, figure out your plan, your target word counts, and stick to it. Because once the calendar is clear, anything is possible. You’ll have your work-in-progress in good shape before you know it. And soon, you’ll hold a finished book in your hands. There is no better feeling.

Bonus: an excellent post from friend and debut author, Sarah Jio, on balancing writing with her three young sons. I love this post, titled, Yes, You Can Write A Novel With Small Children Hanging On You. Her highly-acclaimed novel, THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, came out this month.

Question for you: How do you make the time to do what you love?


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Using Distraction for Good

a Florida Panhandle Sunset
Distraction: /di strakshen/ n: something that diverts attention, something that interferes with concentration or takes attention away from something else.
a Florida Panhandle Sunset
Focus ...

This week, I’ve worked very hard at creating and polishing the synopsis for a novel. It’s been great fun (because I love this stuff!), but also was difficult considering the distractions thrown my way. We were able to buy cars here in the Czech Republic over the past few days, which honestly is an enormous relief and blessing. And also, at the end of our quiet Prague street, a laugh-out-loud situation unfolded involving a neighbor’s clogged sewer line, and the maintenance guy stripped down to his skivvies spraying raw sewage with a pump into the neighbor’s yard. Yes, that was quite a distraction.

These days, surely I’ve adapted to many of the constant disruptions characterizing the life of a mom of three boys. Despite the accidents resulting from being distracted—the raging oven fire, diapers and crayons and other things thrown into the laundry, etc.—our lives haven’t suffered too much from my mistakes.

But on a personal level, I’ve had to deal quite a bit with the long streamer of distractions perpetually stuck to my heel. There are always committees for which I’m asked to volunteer, groups to join, shopping to do, parties to throw. By the end of each day, it would be so easy to miss out on spending time with the people and doing the things that we love. Maybe that is my definition of distraction: those things which take us away from the people and activities we love most. The pieces of life which pull us in a million directions, and lure us from excellence into mediocrity I also call distractions, because our attention is constantly pulled from the main thing.

Each of us has a different definition for the main thing, for mediocrity, for goals, and life, and living, and thriving. And each of us has to find a balance if we want to become excellent at a few main things, rather than spread thin to cover everything. Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald, is a tremendous book for guidance on finding and pursuing the main things, and gaining order in our own worlds.

I think there is one benefit of distraction, however. We are able to long for the main things when we’re distracted. I find when I’m tending to the other things in our lives that need my attention, the anticipation within me builds, waiting for time to immerse myself in the main things, like writing, or spending time with my family.

Life will always be filled with distractions. Perhaps, though, in turning the distractions into good, as springboards into the things in our lives that matter to us most, then we can find peace with the distractions, and harmony with the daily-ness of living.