Monday, February 24, 2014

Finding Time to Write: Block it Out

“Brick by brick, my citizens. Brick by brick.”—Roman Emperor Hadrian

Waiting for inspiration is a waste of time. Creativity doesn't really work like that. You don't wait around for it to show up, and then get to work. This puts the process exactly backwards, and is detrimental to a developing writer. You sit down to write, and as your brain bangs ideas together, interesting things happen. So sit down already!

When you're learning this craft, your writing time can and will be frustrating, difficult, slow, and exhausting. This makes the prospect of sitting down to write each day that much more daunting. It becomes oh-so easy to find something else to do with your free time if you are feeling at all unmotivated to write. You make deals with yourself. You procrastinate. “Oh, I'll write some later when I have more energy, more time, when this show isn't on T.V., after the Olympics are over, it's not like I’ll get that much done anyway, I'm not in the right mindset,” all that crap.

How do you overcome this impulse, reliably sit down, make progress, improve your writing, and feel better about the whole process?  Try this:

Block out time, and stick to your schedule.

You can not improve and you will not finish projects without sincere effort. Sincere effort starts with time management—getting your butt in that chair. But don't fret; you don't have to kill yourself slaving away. Anyone with an artistic disposition is likely taken with the idea of working only once the sun goes down and toiling through the night fueled by little more than coffee or alcohol, and passion. If you're struggling to meet a deadline, you may have to burn the midnight oil, but otherwise, write when you would normally be awake. Writing is thinking. Every person I know thinks better an hour after breakfast than they do at 3 am.

One to three hours regularly set aside to write pays dividends. 1½ to 2 hours is probably a sweet spot for most people, but if all you can spare is 45 minutes, then get your 45 minutes. My first semester in college, I would wake up at 6:30 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so I could write for a little less than an hour before class. It was not much time, but I always felt better about the rest of my day knowing I had put it in, even if I didn't get another chance to write.

Decide ahead of time when you will write and for how long. Write it down if you have to, but when the appointed hour rolls around, no matter what you're doing, get your butt in that chair and get to work. Don't let yourself be distracted. Don't pop online for a few minutes here or there. Concentrate. This is your writing time. Use it to write, even if you're just writing ideas. It doesn't have to be the same time every day. It doesn't have to be the same duration. If you have to skip days, that's fine, but write when you can. I know this sounds overly simple, because it is, but it still works.  

Start promptly and, just as important, stop when the time is up. Finish your thought, save, and get on with the rest of your day. You'll feel secure in the knowledge that however much you wrote, and however good it is or isn't, you were there and you were working. You put your time in, and you'll be back tomorrow. Now you're free to do whatever you want, guilt free. By the end of the month, you'll have real progress that you can be proud of.

Pick a time, sit down, and do it.

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