Five Ways to Find Writing Time

Lately, I just cannot find the time to write and it’s making me crazy because if I don’t write, I don’t fully enter into my inner reality. I live a shallow, surface, running around being busy kind of life. No month is busier than December and no time in recent memory have I been more occupied with everything except writing than these last several months.

One way I worked around my hectic schedule was to write, if nothing else, morning pages every day. They save me when I just can’t find more than a few minutes in my day  to write. It’s like exercise, even 20 minutes with pen and paper (or on the yoga mat) is enough to keep body and spirit in tune. Only just, but some days that’s got to be enough, and it is. I still follow Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” directions: three pages uncensored first thing every day. It works. It has worked for me since 1992. Here’s what Cameron says about morning pages in The Artist’s Way: “There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art.” That’s key because my “real” writing needs to be polished and shaped and pretty. So this takes the pressure off thinking about what word to use or if I went off on a tangent  or didn’t add enough detail or any of that other stuff revision requires. Revision takes time. Lots of time.

Two things I never thought I would say “I can’t do lunch” and “I don’t have time to read.” When I first read a writer talking about not going to lunch with friends because it disturbed her writing flow, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. That was before I was published. I didn’t know then what I know now. When you are writing one book, correcting proofs on another, and promoting a third, it takes time and skillful management of your day. For me, I began to notice that writing, real writing–which for me right now is revising a novel–came in dead last. “Promotion” on Twitter and Facebook and even here on the blog is fun writing. It’s interactive. I don’t go deep into the writing cave all alone for hours at a time. Putting a stop to clicking around the internet is just another way to say “writers can’t have lunch.” At least until the days’ writing is done.

Three books are currently on the go in my Kindle. A novel, a non-fiction, and a book of short stories. I used to read books for a living and became a very fast reader as a result. These days even that doesn’t help as I struggle with my twin loves of reading and writing. I have heard MANY published writers say they don’t read at all when writing a book. This used to astound me. If I had to choose one, I’d choose…well, thank stars I don’t have to, because I became a writer as a result of my love of reading. So to hear a writer say they don’t read … it’s like a sin or something. Or so I thought. Until I took a look at my schedule and saw where my time was going.

Four things occupy the greatest amount of my time these days: teaching, home-making, socializing, and shopping. It is December, which accounts for the shopping. Also the decorating and baking  puts “home-making” higher on the list than usual, and socializing means cooking more for my own parties and for other bring-a-dish type events. I have one Saturday and one Sunday. Would have had a lunch here on Tuesday but I fell Monday and had to cancel. And then school…just like any day job, it takes the majority of time. But the end of term is in sight. Sigh of relief.

Five ways to find more writing time: Put writing first every day, stay off social media until after the real writing is done, promote your writing after the actual writing is done, don’t do lunch, and take calendar in hand, look at how you manage your time, and then rearrange your schedule so writing becomes a daily priority.

This isn’t easy to do. My day gig is about to end, so that won’t be an issue, but Christmas will. I’m not canceling anything already on the books. Neither am I adding anything else. I’m just saying no. And I have started telling my friends that January is my writing month and I will not be available for visits, lunch, shopping, or anything at all from 6 am until 2 pm Monday – Friday.  Since most of my friends are not writers, they do not understand this at all. They might even be upset with me for putting writing before time with them. They might think “it’s just one day out of the month” but what they don’t think about is that I am blessed with many friends. And once they figure out I’m done teaching for the winter, I will receive many lunch invitations. I’m just going to say no.

My novel was due in OCTOBER. If I say no to lunch in January and get down to serious work, it WILL be finished and on my editor’s desk by February 5, when I leave Detroit for Seattle to cuddle my grandson. My friends know how much writing means to me, but my motto has always been “people first, writing second” and I lived by that. Now I’m changing. Now I’m putting my own desire to write ahead of everyone else and finally am determined to be there for myself and my heart’s desire.

If you want to write more than anything, if you finally want to finish that novel or memoir or book of poetry, then you may have to make some difficult choices. Yours may differ from mine. But one thing I only recently learned is that is okay to put yourself, and your own special dreams and desires, first. Writing doesn’t consume my entire life: I take the weekends off. When I finish a book, I take a month or two to play and travel before I start the next story. When I’m not on deadline, or past deadline, I play with my week sometimes.

But when it comes down to finding ways to write, if you want it, you will do it. I have found ways to write all my life. The ways constantly evolve depending on my life stage. Being a mom and wife came first for a long time. I still wrote, but family came first. Always. Now my children are grown and have families of their own. My husband still needs me, but weekends are our time. Writing is what I want to do with my time right now, and I have a simple plan to make it happen.

Cake

reception_049Americans are busy people. One of the things I dislike saying is “I’m too busy” because I know my busy is relative to your busy. Sure, for me, I have more than usual going on right now. More tasks to complete on a daily basis. At first this worried me and upset me. I miss my friends on Twitter. I miss reading my favorite blogs. I miss WRITING my own blog. But I’ve had to cut corners, so I do what I need to do for now.

Except. This morning I got up at three a.m. to work on my novel. Five days a week, for the last week or so, I have been faithfully writing a chapter or scene every day I don’t have to get up and physically get myself to school. I move forward. I do this first; I do this for myself because I’m convinced that it is even more important to do things for yourself when other forces pull at your time. After a non-stop day yesterday, I fell asleep about 8 p.m. so even getting up really early,  I’m not losing sleep. I got 7 solid hours. Good enough. Especially when today is again a day full of activities, some fun, some not so much, but not horrible either. 

For busy people who think they have to give up all their pleasures and time with their loved ones, I gotta say, it’s just not true. What is true is we make ourselves as busy as we want to be. We choose what we want to do. Yes, sometimes things start to stack up a little faster and louder than we’d like, but maintaining a soft response and a slow flow is the best way to make it through, at least for me.

I have one more assignment to complete this week for my online class. It’s a blog post reflecting on the webinar I watched yesterday while outlining a speech I was giving in a few hours. As I gathered my notes for the assignment, something in my rebelled. I have not posted a blog to my own site in a week. I took a few breaths and settled it. I’d write my own post first, then the one for class. It made me happy to free up my ingrained habit of work, work, work, and just play a little bit. Play and work are interchangeable to me, because I enjoy my work, most of the time. If you can find things to love in your work and slowly start to turn your life and career toward those parts of the job, you’ll find play at work. And it will make you better at your profession.

Then there’s the play outside work. Relationships. I continue, even in the whirlwind, to nurture my most important friendships and family ties. Later this morning, I’ll be baking a cake for my dad. In my “busybusybusy” mode, autopilot says “buy one” and I almost did, but my dad loves yellow cake with chocolate frosting and they don’t have those in the bakeries anymore. It’s all carrots and ganache and red velvet. So … dad gets his homemade cake and I get to bake, something I love to do. 

My day job is important to me. I always do my best, never skimp on any part of my work. So I have lots of papers to check today before dinner with Dad. I’ll continue to check them into the night after I return from dinner with the family. As long as it takes.

And, as mentioned, just now I have another blog to write to complete my own class assignments for the first week of being a student again, but that will be a piece of cake.

Finding Writing Time

photo-8When I asked for help with my writing dilemma in my last post, the online response was quick and effective, from comments here to email to Twitter to Facebook. And then I had a terrific session with the writers and instead of deconstructing my pages, we talked about the overall picture of how this last part of the book is going to play out. My critique group, Tom, Bob & Vernie, plus a bunch of other people, handed me back my happiness yesterday. Thank you!

Right away the group figured out that it’s one book, not two, so whew, although they are in favor of me putting the murder plot first. Surprise! My reunited high school sweethearts as subplot? They are almost fully written and I’m just now getting into the murder plot, wrote a scene yesterday morning instead of moaning in my diary again. Personal life sorted. At least for now.

Suggestion from a reader: “Write first thing”  is something I have always done but just lately I’ve been writing a lot of journal entries. Some personal turmoil has me questioning everything about my life (even writing!) and my private diary is the place I take that kind of problem until I can resolve it. In the past six months I have probably written a novel’s worth of journal entries. Yeah, 300 or so pages. I’m ready to stop now, or at least defer writing in the diary until I get the novel pages written FIRST THING.

Sometimes I know stuff, but I just need someone to remind me. I love a Facebook friend’s suggestion: hire someone to clean my house until the book is done. Why didn’t I think of that myself? I’ve done that before when life got super-busy. I’m doing it again now for sure.

Other suggestions:

Figure out what I can stop doing just for now, not forever. Right now, I can stop journaling so much and get back to the novel. And hire a cleaner.

Keep dance and meditation because they are important and will help the writing. Too many times I’ve let important things like mind/body health issues fall by the wayside as I push through a particularly busy period of my life. Not this time. The writing will be better if I feel good.

Make writing top priority just for now, not forever. I like to say “people first, writing second” but right now the people in my life are my students. I’ve got 60 of them. I’ve got the people first thing covered. More than. So I can take the first hour, at least, of my day just for myself.

Consider writing at night.  Never say never, especially if I write longhand in a notebook.

Butt in seat, baby. Basic writers’ mantra. Our “just do it” slogan.

Get rid of the idea that the story needs to have a happy ending. Switch it up! The day before this suggestion came in, even before I wrote my post asking for help, someone sent me an article about the different ways that stories can end. It was fascinating, and I’ll post more about it soon, but the synchronicity of it coming in at the exact right time feels like a blessing.

So I’m all set and thank you. Hope some other writers searching for answers found help here, too. And yes, wrote my pages first thing this morning. And  yesterday morning, too. There’s always time, if you make it. Knowing that people want to help, that’s happiness knocking on my door.

Stranger To My Happiness

unnamed-1Sharon Jones’s song lyrics deal with how another person can steal your happiness, leave you in misery. I know that’s true, but other things bring me down. Well, mostly one thing: no time to write my novel. And it’s almost finished. First draft, but still. So close … a million miles away. “I feel like a stranger to my happiness.” That’s it, exactly.

I always have time for a blog post, which is good as a stop-gap measure, at least it’s SOME kind of writing, but not even that happened yesterday. Opened up Mac to write this post and up popped an email saying “before you start your online certification training, you need to complete these tasks…” and five hours later, I finally did. This is BEFORE class begins. I complain but I want to do it, I signed up for it. Teaching online is handy in Michigan winters. 

Also, then there’s, you know, life. I get so involved in writing real life feels strange to me. I wake up from the “vivid continuous dream” that is my book, which runs like a movie in my head, and look around my house thinking where am I? Who do these things belong to? What am I supposed to make for dinner?  

For a while now, I have been immersed in reality, some of it really icky, like a car accident and other stuff, some of it necessary, like my day job and the extra training. And I’m still taking Mac classes! My whole way of being in the world has flipped. Which might be healthy, but the fact remains: I gotta write or I’m just not happy.

Blog posts and diary entries are well and good, but what’s really stealing my happiness is not being able to come up with a good, sustainable plan to work on my current novel-in-progress. It’s all fits and starts, an hour here, a few pages there, and that doesn’t work for novels. You need consistent hours and days, or I do. So, looks like that’s just not gonna happen for awhile and I have to accept it.

I knew this was coming and I thought I was prepared but I’m just not. So how do I steal back my happiness? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of dancing. And then I meditate and that clears my mind, which allows me to come up with creative solutions to problems that seem unsolvable. 

For one thing, my WIP has some issues I need to work out in my head. Right now it feels like I have two stories and they are not embracing each other, which is fine at the beginning and even in the middle but somewhere around the last third of the book the strands need to come together and I’ve been wondering if what I have is really two books because I’m not sure I see how this coming together business will happen.

I’m okay with breaking the book in two. I’m even okay with writing a murder mystery. But it will take time, I’ll need to learn some new things, because mysteries involve more time than my usual books: contemporary fiction with current social themes, a juicy love story and a HEA (happily ever after) ending.

I can’t figure out how I’m going to make this current work end on my usual HEA note. Sister Issues, my first published novel, was a “happy for now” ending, and I liked that okay, because my protagonist solved her biggest problems. But the end for my murder girl, I just can’t see it. When that happens I usually just write and the words come and if they are not good I fix them.

Maybe I can use this “not working on book” time to think about some of these things. My critique group meets tomorrow and they have the murder/mystery first pages. Right now it’s the subplot of the book, so they’ve read the first plot, a love story with a twist. They’ll tell me if they think the two work together.

Happy about that, but circling back around to, okay, when I figure out the answers, or want to try a few things, where’s my writing time?

First papers are coming in on Monday (before I’m finished with the term I’ll be reading and grading more than 500 essays) I’m also taking a class with tons of work, so I see that wave and there’s just nothing I can do but stay on top of it. While my novel floats to the bottom of the ocean and dissolves.

Or, I can find a way. Got any ideas?

 

Getting Into It

“If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” Great quote from The Happiness Project that feels like the story of my life right now.

I recently got out of two huge time commitments: I resigned as secretary to the board of my writer’s group and I quit my twice-monthly book club. Why? Mostly because I can’t quit my job, I don’t want to quit writing, and I had to find time to really “get into” both.

Then there’s physical therapy, vegetarian cooking, yoga and my not-so-secret pleasure: reading. With my lit heavy teaching schedule (Keats this week! And Alice Munro!) I just couldnt’ fit in the book club’s reading choices. Not if I wanted to read for pleasure, books I choose just for me. Like The Happiness Project and Becoming Jane Eyre.

BJE is the best book I’ve read this year. As a writer who always wonders where other writers’ inspiration comes from, I loved Sheila Kohler’s take on the Brontes, especially Charlotte. And I wouldn’t have had time to read it if I’d tried to keep up with my book group.

I didn’t quit all my groups. I still have my romance writer’s group once a month. And my small critique group once a month. Also, I didn’t quit DWW, just resigned from the board. All so that I could clear the decks and get this final polish finished. Worked on the first chapter today. Another chapter tomorrow.

Yesterday I figured out a couple of things I need to do to get my 7000 words. (I got 1000 from the expanded love scene). First, I need to deepen and expand my main characters’ encounters. Not just the love scenes, but any scene I can exploit to show them getting closer. I also figured out (from my study of Jan Hudson’s structure) that I can add a bit more from the hero’s POV. Also add a bit more of the family thread. 

Giving myself six weeks to do this final revision. Meanwhile, new book ideas are knocking on that door in my mind marked “story.”