07 April 2008

How do you keep from not writing?

I remember when I was in college and working on my senior thesis (in my over-ambitious mind, I thought it a brilliant idea to write a full length novel during my senior year of college to be due during finals). Being young and full of life, I was able to write for three days on one night's sleep and a bag of coffee. Being a senior I had a relatively easy course load, and was able to write often, and for long periods of time.

And still, I wasn't able to finish the novel I started the summer before.

Since then I've matured a bit, and become much more fastidious in my professional and personal lives. In hindsight, I'm envious of Younger Me for having so much time to write, and angry that I wasted so much of it on mindless escapes from reality. Now that I'm out in the "real world" (or whatever reality a paradise landscape and M & M Mouse as neighbors can provide), I would love to be able to have as much time as I did to write.

Over Spring Break last week I stood on the edge of a stage and let myself fall into the pit. Metaphorically. In four days of writing, I finished 103 pages of a stage play. I've been elated that I was able to keep the TV off, set my class projects aside, and sit in front of my laptop with nothing more than a cup of strong tea and an idea for so long. It was reminiscent of November!

This weekend, however, as I was preparing for this week's classes, I found myself swallowing a hard knot of dread in anticipation of days away from my beloved book, and had visions of drowning under an insurmountable mountain of ungraded essays while my laptop was decorated with dust and cobwebs.

After a day and a half of wondering how I would meet my deadline (June 30th) for the coffee house book I'm writing, I was finally able to summon sense enough to smack myself with an inkwell (yes, I have inkwells lying about for smacking) and remind myself that while it is, in fact, April, I need not imprison my "make time to write" attitude to November. If I can write over 50,000 words in one month while giving unit tests and getting ready for my first Thanksgiving as a wife, why can't I finish my book by June 30th during units that involve considerably less grading? Silly to think I can't!

As a result, I've created for myself a handy-dandy daily writing schedule to ensure I maximize the free time I thought didn't exist due to being masked in procrastinating the grading process, watching television, and personal hygeine. Granted, I will still be showering, but with a specific writing schedule, I find I already feel much better about my writing life.

I know Younger Me would cringe at the thought of a strict writing schedule. "Just write, man!" (Yes, Younger Me is a bit hippy-ish.) But as I've graduated from late-night runs to Steak 'n' Shake and marathon Mario Party 6 competitions to renter's insurance and a pension plan, I've decided it better to graduate from writing sporadically to a real writing schedule.

Having a writing schedule doesn't mean my writing is taking on some strange heretofore unknown appearance of being confined. Instead, I'm able to use the time I have in a more productive way to increase my writing output and still have time to play with the slightly demonic cat who gnaws on toes if left to her own devices too long. And because I'm more definitive in my starting and stopping times for my writing, I find myself planning ahead for what I intend to work on during each session, which just adds to my productivity.

I have been told many times by many writers that being a writer is about making time to write, and using the time you have to write. Everyone has 24 hours in a day. It's what you do with those hours that makes the difference.

Creating a writing schedule might be a good idea for you if you feel like you never have time to write. Even if you manage an hour a day, that's an hour more than you thought you had. But there are a few things to keep in mind as you're creating your schedule.

Be realistic. Sure, it'd be great to write eight hours a day, never need a bathroom or coffee break, and have the first draft be final draft quality. It'd also be great to have a huge beach house and get paid to look at the view every morning. Unfortunately, life isn't always like that. So when you create your writing schedule, remember that you may actually have to go to work, eat dinner, and do laundry once in a while. Try to give yourself as much writing time as you can, but don't sacrifice the rest of your life, either.

Be flexible. While it is helpful to create a writing schedule to help keep on track and ensure you have as much writing time as possible, sometimes it's not always possible to stick to your schedule. NaNoWriMo is a great example of this. Being in November, there are a couple of days of writing that conflict with Thanksgiving and family time for most people. This past year, I purposely wrote extra for a week leading up to Thanksgiving Day so I wouldn't be conflicted between reaching my word count and spending time with my family. When I created my schedule, I left room on both sides of the block of time to give me some flexibility. Things come up, and you have to be willing to work with it.

Remember: life comes first. This goes along with being flexible and realistic. While I love writing and would gladly give up doing anything and everything unnecesary to progressing my plot in favor of scribbling, I am also aware (somewhere in my ink-addled brain) that I do, in fact, live in the real world (see above), and I can't keep writing while the cat is triumphantly clinging to the curtain rod and crying for me to come rescue her from this new, scary spot in which she's gotten herself stuck. Life comes first. I, for one, am not willing to neglect my husband in favor of writing.

Set a minimum writing goal. My current writing goal is to finish writing my coffee house book by June 30th. With my new writing schedule this is very doable, and I find the goal is helping to keep me motivated as I write. This is also the intention of things like NaNoWriMo and ScriptFrenzy: to give writers something to work toward in order to prove to themselves they can do it (whatever "it" happens to be). When you set a goal, it gives you something to look toward, something to work for, and helps remind you of why you've set up a schedule in the first place. I could go on and on about writing goals, but that's another blog entirely, so for now, you'll have to settle for this. And this. And this. And this.

Whether you create a strict writing schedule or not (and whether you stick to that schedule or not), just keep writing when you can. Every day I have about half an hour of lunch time that I often use to scribble or research at work. It's not on my schedule, but I've gotten a lot of great work done that way! And even if my schedule went up in flames tomorrow, I'd make time to keep writing, and somehow, I'd finish my book by June 30th. And with the passion for writing I know is somewhere inside you, you can achieve your writing goals, too.

Happy scribbling!

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, great inspiration, and I know you can do it!

    So does this mean I get a manuscript on July 1st? ;-)


Add a little caffeine to my life...