How does a writer find the time to write when she has a significant other, kids, pets, appointments, service clubs, meetings, night classes, cooking, yard work, aerobics classes, not to mention a day job?
Most of us have max'ed our schedules already. Expectation levels are the highest they've ever been with regards to jobs, rearing children and personal goals. Everybody strives to have it all and some experts say we are even giving up our sleep time to do it.
So How do we find time to write?
I was peering into one of my patient's mouths last week--my day job is practicing dentistry. He broke off a large cusp on a back molar. An important chewing tooth, I added with professionalism. Then, I told him he needed a crown. After removing my gloved fingers from his mouth, he said, "Just do it, Doc. It must be done."
My favorite quote about writing which has been attributed to Red Smith and others is: "Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed." Writing is bleeding. I can honestly say it is the hardest thing I have ever done. It makes me reach down deep--real deep inside--and pull everything out that I have learned from every experience I've ever had. Dental school was tough, but writing taxes my mental and intellectual capabilities, and my heart and my soul. It puts me on the line and demands that I shake off all of my inhibitions to allow the characters to tell their story. If writing was easy, everybody would be doing it. But how many people take the whim of an idea or the passion of their dreams to paper? And if they do, how many people actually finish their story?
Each of us writes for different reasons. Most start with the image of a character or situation that we feel strongly about. But in order to get that idea onto the paper, or a blank computer screen, we must have discipline. We must make the job of writing a priority--a goal--and move it from the bottom of our list of things to do and put it at the top.
Contrary to some popular opinion, we can't have it ALL. We must decide what is important in our lives and how we want to divide our precious discretionary time. We all have family goals, job goals, and personal goals. Most of us start out with writing being one of our personal goals. The most effective way of finding time to write is deciding which things you want to cross off your list in order to free up the time. Easy things to cross off the list are sitting in front of the TV, shopping, talking long hours on the phone and volunteering for things that you really don't have the time to do properly. For me, there is dust gathering under the futon in the basement, but that untouched dust represents some wonderful chapters in my latest endeavor.
Enlisting the support of family members is a must. If you don't get the support you need, then the background noise of complaining won't let you hear your heart and soul when you write. Talk about writing with family and friends so they respect your drive and goals. They may not fully understand what it is you do, but at least they can see your passion for writing and allow you the time to pursue it.
Family duties do come first. Usually, job is second. The rest is up to you. Be selfish when it comes to your own personal priorities and goals. A selfish writer is a prolific writer.
Okay, so you've reached a point that you have the time. The house is quiet. The dishwasher is loaded. The kids are busy playing outside and hubby is tucked peacefully in front of the TV, channel changer in hand. The dust is building up under your futon. Now you're sitting at your computer, ready to write. Your hands are poised. Your gaze is fixed to the screen. You're waiting for that magic surge.
But nothing happens. Nothing clicks in your mind. So, you don't write. You put it off for another day.
If you wait for the magic moment when the planets are aligned, sending off pulses of inspiration directly into your writing soul, you might be waiting forever. Some of us think we don't have time to write when we are really putting off our writing because we can't get moving in the right direction, or feel uninspired; a symptom of being mentally blocked.
I usually divide my writing moods into three categories: 1) Creative flow days, 2) Mental preparation days, and 3) 'Just do it' days.
You know the creative flow day when it hits you. You can feel the hot excitement running through your veins. Every key you tap on the keyboard transforms into snappy dialogue, compelling exposition, and characters with flesh and blood, ready to jump off the page and into your heart. These are days that just click. Creative flow usually happens when you see the scene as a picture in your mind or your idea is fully developed. Once the idea is in your head, your fingers can dance across the keyboard.
Mental preparation days are where you have a glimpse of an idea, but you aren't sure how to execute the scene--you know what you need, but don't know how to get it. On these days, I usually type what comes to mind. Snippets of dialogue or the image of a scene. I might write down the conflict that must be shown, or what I need to do in order to accomplish the scene's goal. Sometimes, I will research the setting, or reaffirm my character's motives. I often read old scenes and chapters and reorient myself. If I'm starting a new project, I may write out a character biography and physical description. Mental preparation days involve a lot of thinking, with slow typing as I rough things out. Usually the words come very hard, but I keep pushing because good mental preparation may take me straight into creative flow.
The 'just do it' day is, of course, the day that you face that blank screen and nothing is in your mind. You don't want to be there. You'd rather be anyplace else. You start thinking of excuses. You even have an insane thought that you might like to see just what the hell is under the futon. Don't give in! When you're faced with a 'just do it' kind of day, start with a writing exercise. Pick any topic, or write a snapshot. Ann Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, talks about writing snapshots to stimulate creativity. You might even start with something silly like writing about why you have a red toothbrush instead of a purple one. Or, if you are daring, you can imagine what you would do with the lawn boy if the two of you were stranded on a deserted island. Sometime stream of conscious writing will lead you to a thinking mode or plunge you into creative flow. Don't discount doing stream of conscious exercises because they can be liberating. You may go someplace you've never gone before. A writer isn't afraid to try something different.
Another rule of finding time to write is always--ALWAYS--find the time to finish your story. This is like the rule ALWAYS brush and floss your teeth EVERY day. Here again, finishing a story involves discipline and grueling hard work--the guts of any achievement. Once you've finished a story, you realize the work has just begun as you go back and start putting it all together. Reworking a story can plunge you straight into your creative mode, which is easier than starting with a blank page.
After your story is polished, get right into the next one, and the next one, and the next one...
Focus, focus, focus. When you focus, you don't notice the time you've spent. Having focus means you are in the 'present moment.' The real joy of writing is being in that one moment in time where it's just you and your computer with your imagination wedged in-between. The challenge of a compelling idea urges you to get started. The passion you have for the characters drives you to tell their story. It's just you. Your thoughts. Your images and emotions weaving together in an exciting journey. You have the freedom to go anywhere, and to explore anything imaginable. Your fingers start to move, the words start to flow and you are lost in the time.
TIME--a priceless commodity to be spent on those things which will bring us joy and a deepening sense of accomplishment. Once you make the commitment and find the time to 'just do it,' the triumphant words will ring out: I DID IT!