Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Every Second Count

Since we are one day away from the middle of NaNo, and I as went from a gorgeous surplus of words to scrambling to catch up to my daily word goals, I started thinking about how I’ve been spending my time. Some days it seems easy to crank out 5,000 words and other days I can barely write 50. So I looked back through my files until I found this little article I wrote a year or two ago on How To Find The Time To Write to see what on earth I used to do to get everything done. It seemed particularly relevant with NaNo goals looming over our heads :)

I have lost track of how many people have asked me how I find the time to write. The answer is easy….I just do. It’s a struggle. It’s not easy. There are some things I have to sacrifice. But it is doable.

The key for finding the time to write, at least for me, is in a little bit of organization and prioritizing. I have been lucky enough for the past couple of years to be able to stay at home full time with my kids, though when I began writing "for real" that wasn't the case. And I am very lucky this year because both of my kids are in school full time. So, I try very hard to make sure I’m not on the computer when my kids are home and awake. Which means once they are home from school during the week, and on the weekends, my time belongs to them.

So, the following are a few things I do to help make sure the time I do have during the day is spent wisely (we’ll talk about how often I really do these things and how often I waste whole days staring off into space relishing the silence another day *coughcough*)

1. Carry a notebook and pen, a recorder, laptop, etc.
One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. Story ideas, conversations between characters, ideas for scenes…these are always running through my head. I tend to get epiphanies when I’m in the shower or doing the dishes. I may not have time in the middle of a load of dishes to rush to my computer and write a scene the moment it occurs to me, but if take a second to jot down a few notes, then I have something to work on when I can sit down at my computer. This both saves me the frustration of trying to remember something I really wanted to include in my book and the precious minutes of think time when I am in front of my screen.

2. Get chores and errands done in a timely manner.
If my husband read this, he'd be laughing so hard he'd be choking. Our house usually looks like a small nuclear device went off in at least one part of it. But hey, I try. Most of the time :D This is something I struggle with, but if I can get my household chores and errands completed early in the day, then whatever spare moments present themselves can be used to write. I can concentrate on my story instead of feeling guilty that I should be doing dishes or laundry instead.

3. Treat it like a job.
Author Rosellen Brown spelled it out perfectly. She said:

It’s a job. It’s not a hobby. You don’t write the way you build a model airplane. You have to sit down and work, to schedule you time and stick to it. Even it it’s just for an hour or so each day, you have to get a babysitter and find the time. If you’re going to make writing succeed you have to approach it as a job.

Just like a “real” job, writing is not always fun. It’s work. It’s HARD work. Editing, critiquing, rewriting, researching, replotting…this stuff all takes time and can sometimes get downright tedious. This is why treating writing like a job can really be helpful. You don’t always like your job, but you still have to do it. Approach your writing like you’d approach your job. Just Do It! Agatha Christie said:

Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.

It is not always important WHAT you write – that is what editing is for. What is important is that you sit down and DO IT. Butt to chair, fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper). When you least feel like writing is when you need to do it the most.

In an effort to do this, I do two things.

• Make a writing schedule.
My children get on the bus at 8:00 and get home at 3:55 (this is the first year they are both in school full time and I’ve just got to say, even though I do occasionally miss their adorable little faces during the day…’s HEAVEN to have my days to myself again :D) So, I try to do my housework/puttering/what have you in the morning so that by 10:00, I can be at my computer, ready to work. Some days are spent writing blog posts, answering emails, doing editing work for my brother’s company or anything else I need to work on, but for the most part, I am doing something productive by 10 am. I will squeeze in writing any other time I can, but I schedule my set writing hours while my kids are out of the house or asleep. Fridays through Sundays I try to write for at least an hour after everyone has gone to bed.

• Set goals.
In addition to having my scheduled writing time, I set a word count goal for each day. My goal is to write 1000 words a day (or edit 10 pages or a chapter or finish one section in my NF proposal – just some sort of solid goal). Sometimes I am on a roll and can get that done in half an hour, and sometimes I will write for two hours and only get 500 words out. Sometimes I meet my goal, sometimes not, and sometimes I exceed it. I can almost always get 1000 words written in about an hour – which means an hour and 1000 words a day, five to seven days a week, and I’ve got a finished novel (first draft) in three months. Regardless, it gives me something to shoot for. You can set your goal higher or lower, depending on the time you have available, but give yourself some sort of objective to aim for.

4. Prioritize your activities

We all have spare moments in the day. What we do with those moments is what is important. If you truly want to find the time to write, you have to be willing to sacrifice. I have a lot of television shows that I love. I love to read. I play the piano and cross-stitch. I have children that want to play with their mommy (although I would like to note that time with my children is NOT something I sacrifice in order to write…most days…I have definite Mother Fail days, but I try :) ).

This is where having a writing schedule really helps. My writing time is scheduled while my kids are at school or in bed. That means when my kids come home, I can play with them, do some chores, spend some time in the afternoons reading a good book (if I am lucky enough to have the time), and watch my favorite shows in the evening. And I can spend my time doing this because I know I have already met my writing goal for the day.

If you work full time, you can try and squeeze in some writing time on your lunch break, or wake up a little early or go to bed a little later in order to get your writing time in. It IS possible to find moments to write, no matter what your schedule is….but sometimes it requires a bit of sacrifice. I wrote my first novel while going to school full time to get my master’s degree, working part time, with 2 kids under 2 – it was ridiculous, I never slept, but I did it. If you really want to do it, you’ll do it. Plain and simple.

During the summer when my kids are not in school, I tend to DVR whatever shows I want to watch and write in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed. I'll also do this on normal days and watch my shows while folding laundry - multitasking at its best LOL Or I’ll write in the afternoons instead of reading or playing piano, or choosing some other activity. And very often (because Real Life has a funny way of intervening and throwing all my well-made plans out the window) I sacrifice sleep in order to write.

When I was finishing my first novel, I was waking up at 4:30 in the morning and going to bed at midnight because the only time I could sit down and write, uninterrupted, was when my family was asleep. That is not something I could keep up indefinitely, but in a pinch, I am willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to write.

Now, let’s face it, Real Life is going to get in the way sometimes. It’s going to laugh at your carefully crafted schedule and stomp all over it, probably on a daily basis. But it shouldn’t matter. If you want to write, write. Find the time. Eat dinner a little faster and use the three minutes you saved scarfing your meal to write a few lines. Carry a recorder around and dictate your book while you vacuum. Scribble on Kleenexes while you wait at the doctor’s with your sick child (just be careful not to use said Kleenex for said sick child’s nose). The time is there…you just have to find it and use it.

Author Kenneth Atchity said:

Every human being has exactly the same amount of time, and yet consider the output of Robert Louis Stevenson, John Peabody Harrington, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury,William Goldman, Neil Simon, Joyce Carol Oates, Agatha Christie and John Gardner. How did they accomplish what they have? They weren’t deflected from their priorities by activities of lesser importance. The work continues, even though everything else may have to give. They know that their greatest resource is themselves. Wasting time is wasting themselves. When people ask them, “Where do you find the time?” they wonder, “Where do you lose it?”

When do you write? What are some things you do to make sure you can get your writing time in?


Unknown said...

Great post. Since starting NaNo, I've come to discover that I can get almost 2000 words written in an hour if I can put my headphones on and just listen to good music while writing. I think the music and earphones just keep the world in my head separate from the world outside.

Great post.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Wow. This article gave me all kinds of new respect for you, Michelle. Working on your master's with two little kids PLUS writing must have been a real challenge.

Thank you for sharing your secrets of success. I admit, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the kids/housekeeping/writing goals spinning around in my head, but you reminded me that just an hour a day can go a long way toward writing goals--and priorities can be balanced.

Fabulous post!

Kell Andrews said...

Nice window into your process, Michelle. I'm home with my kids, but I always have at least one of them home and they don't nap, so I write and critique at night. One to three days a week, I get a bigger daytime writing block when my mom or husband takes the kids, and I find that I need that time to get the momentum to carry me through the evenings.

Over the summer I had more trouble getting work done on the weekends. And now, thinking back, I don't regret that time spent one tiny bit. Nothing could be higher priority than taking my daughters to the beach. (I never feel that way when I think back to housework. So there are my priorities;))

Julie Hedlund said...

What a great post! And I watch T.V. while folding laundry too, which actually makes me look forward to doing it!

Michelle McLean said...

Kelly, yep :) that first book was hard - always had to write at night. My kids weren't big nappers. My daughter quit napping before she was 2 - so having them both gone all day long is just sooo nice. But I really did get a lot done just in spare minutes here and there.

Clarissa- I've just started writing to music...usually classical or film scores - though I still mostly write to silence :) Non-fiction I can write to anything, music, kids, tv LOL but fiction requires a bit more attention :D

Julie LOL I still don't look forward to it, but the shows definitely help :D

Katrina - I always feel overwhelmed LOL but it does help to prioritize things - and I try to have my house at least straightened before I sit down to write. Otherwise, I just feel totally guilty instead of focusing on my words LOL And usually Monday's are cleaning days - the house is always trashed after the weekends, so if I take one day to get it pulled back together ,then I can usually keep it decent with quick pick ups through out the rest of the week :D

Unknown said...

Loved the post, it's the chores that are the problem, the writing no problem at all, just need more time to do it.. sigh..

Emy Shin said...

I have so much love for this post, and so much respect for you for getting everything done along with writing. I'm definitely keeping these advice in mind. :)

Donea Lee said...

Hi Michelle - this is some awesome advice and probably exactly what I needed to read! I work full-time and have an only child who I want to give all my attention. And then of course there's everything else, housework, tv, reading, visiting, blogging, responding to e-mails, the list goes on and on and on. I never feel like I have the time to write - but, I need to do it. I WANT to. I guess I just need a new my whole day (whole life, sometimes!) Totally taking this post into consideration of how to do it all. Thanks!

Angela Ackerman said...

I think that often we can do more with less time because we know that if we want to get writing in, we can't afford to procrastinate on twitter or FB or wherever else we like to go.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse