When I left my job at the end of June, I had all these magical visions of entire days spent writing, where tens of thousands of words would appear effortlessly on the page, and completed manuscripts would pile up faster than I could submit them.
Now here it is the middle of October and I have to say that pretty much the opposite is true. I’ve written maybe 4,000 words total since the beginning of July. I’ve missed several blog post deadlines. I haven’t even opened the file for the project I’d hope to complete in July.
How is that possible?
While I was working, there was no question in my mind that it was my job taking up my time and energy and preventing me from writing, but if that was the only issue then I would have a lot more words on paper than I do right now.
First, I have come to realize that there are always distractions waiting to rush in and fill the gap when you manage to clear one off your plate. Suddenly it’s the TV show I have to catch up on, or the reading I’m doing in preparation for book club, or the extra long walk I’m taking rather than work, but they’re just as effective at eating into the time I have to spend in front of the page. That doesn’t make them bad things, but left unchecked they can take over and make writing that much more difficult.
Second, I may not have a job, but I still have a Critic. I still have that voice inside me pointing out that the sex scene I’m writing really isn’t that sexy, or that I’m not nearly as clever a writer as that girl in the Wordstock workshop. In fact, my personal Critic has an even easier time in some ways, because I’m alone more often and that much more vulnerable to its insidious suggestions.
So what do I do? How do I defeat the distractions and send the Critic packing so I can be as productive on the page as I’d like to be?
There is no one right answer to those questions, but here’s what I’m trying to do right now.
1. Schedule writing time.
When I just let things happen, I never had any time to write. I had to take control of my time, consciously set aside time that is devoted entirely to writing, no matter what.
To help myself be more accountable I created a calendar that clearly marks the dates I’ve set aside to write, as well as any deadlines I have, and I posted it where I can see it every day. That is not to say I’ve been one hundred percent successful at sticking to the schedule, but I did better this week than I did last week, when the schedule was a mental decision and not a physical piece of paper clearly reminding me where my focus is supposed to be.
2. Remove distractions.
My writing used to happen at the dining room table. Every time someone came over for dinner I’d have to pack up the computer and then set it back up again the next day. I was sitting right in front of a large window and the sliding door. The natural light was great, but I’d look up every time someone walked their dog past the window, and that led to a drink or a snack or a stretch and suddenly I’ve killed 20 minutes not writing. And then the next person walked by.
Now I’m writing at a small desk. It had to be small, because my apartment is tiny, but I now have a permanent place set up to write. And I can see the laptop from anywhere in the house. I still get the light from those windows, but those dog walkers are much less distracting from the corner of my eye than they were right in front of me. And the pretty flower-shaped lights and candles give me plenty of ambiance.
3. Tell your accountability buddies.
Once I made my schedule and set up my desk, I told my family and friends about it. I confess this was more about keeping them in the loop than an attempt to garner their support, but that’s how it worked out. The potential is there for the people in your life to abuse this knowledge, to deliberately sabotage your plans, but hopefully that will not be the case.
I have been fortunate. If I talk to my family on a Tuesday or a Thursday they ask me what I’ve been writing, because they know those are the days I’ve scheduled to work. My friends call me to chat on Mondays and Wednesdays so I can have a break from job hunting and my writing won’t be interrupted. It has been an unexpected, but awesome reinforcement that has helped keep me on track.
Ultimately I’ve come to realize that I write when I’m focused and prepared, and when I’m not, I don’t. Writing is never going to be something that magically happens, even if I become lucky enough to support myself by writing full time. Opportunities to write come because we work at that them, because we carve out that space and time and make it happen.
What worked for you? How do you make time for writing?