A Fine Balance

PhotobucketSo, among the things I have done this morning that don’t include writing: Tweeting, Facebooking, Scrabbling, Scrambling, updating my blog, and surfing through various gossip/entertainment forums in search of…what? Distraction? Yes, distraction. The one thing that I haven’t yet done today? Write. Despite the fact that I have a 1k (minimum) self-imposed word count per day and despite the fact that my manuscript on my fourth book is due in just a few short months.

And because you guys are out there reading this post and responding to my tweets and putting up pictures of your kids on Facebook, I know that I’m not alone. So how do we juggle it all? How do we ensure that this time-suck of social media doesn’t, well, suck up all of our time?

Truth be told, I’m still tinkering with the answers to these questions. I don’t, however, think it’s any coincidence that I wrote my first two books at a much faster pace than I have my second two: back then (in ancient days – okay, four and three years ago, respectively), Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook was something those young folks were doing. In other words: I wasn’t distracted in the same way that I am now. But now, whenever I feel the urge not to write (which, let’s be honest, is more often than I care to admit), there’s always something that can steal away my attention. A Scrabble move that needs to be made, a perfectly hilarious tweet that needs to be posted (and then replied to and then replied to some more…)

So what’s a writer to do? I guess I’ve tried my best to impose limits. I try to set a very strict start time every day for my writing – usually about 11 AM, once I’ve surfed through every last thing I can surf through. And I have to write until I reach 1k words. I’m the type of writer, however, who sometimes digests what she’s working on while mindlessly scrolling through something else, so it’s not uncommon for me to flip back and forth between my manuscript and Tweetdeck while I mentally work out the best way to phrase a sentence. But until those 1k words are met, I don’t allow myself to get stuck there – on Tweetdeck or Facebook or wherever. The truth is, that when I check back in after my designated off-hour or however long it takes me, I discover that I haven’t missed much, if anything at all. I can always scroll down through everyone’s post, and within minutes, I’m caught up in the way that I would be if I’d watched it via play-by-play. I think this is an easy thing to forget: we don’t want to miss out, but really, we’re not missing anything so important.

Writing, in ways that extend way beyond social media and procrastination, is really very much about discipline. Never has this been more true than in our current internet-heavy environment. So for me, I force myself to exercise a little bit of that self-discipline if only for an hour or so a day. After that, I can Scrabble to my heart’s delight. But for that brief slice of time, I have to be what I really am: a writer. All the tweeting in the world, after all, won’t add up to a completed manuscript.

Do you struggle with balance? What borrows from your creative time? How do you manage your day?

Photo courtesy Flickr’s jenny downing

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About Allison Winn Scotch

Allison Winn Scotch is the author of four novels: The One That I Want, Time of My Life, and The Department of Lost and Found, and The Song Remains the Same. She lives in Los Angeles with her family, where she is at work on her new projects.

Comments

  1. says

    My biggest addiction right now is reading blogs (like yours!). I think of it as educational, and I do learn a lot from reading the experiences of other authors. For some reason, I haven’t quite gotten my head around Twitter yet. I’m not old, but Twitter makes me feel old!

    I think it’s difficult to draw the line between those “administrative” tasks that are necessary to being a writer and those that are a pure time suck. Since I teach full-time, though, I have a pretty heavy guilt meter for messing around on the computer when I should be producing pages. However, I think all writers need to be part of a writing community–it’s what keeps many of us going in the face of some discouraging odds. So, Allison, I hope you’ll keep writing your illuminating and entertaining posts while maintaining your 1K goal so you can publish more fantastic books!!

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  2. says

    I don’t have a lot of insight on this issue because I stole my routine from you, Allison!

    I think it was about a year ago, and I was really struggling with a writing routine. I spent far too much time beating myself up for being a failure. I think I thought that writers wrote constantly and since I could barely hang on to “morning pages” or 500 words a day at the time, I thought I was doomed.

    Then I read a post of yours where you said you write fiction for one hour a day. That’s it. Of course you may (and often do) write more, but you only had the one hour minimum.

    That was a HUGE moment for me.

    So now, like you, I have a designated time and word count. On the good days, it is manageable. I get up, drink coffee, do other things for a couple of hours, and then, buckle down.
    .-= Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist´s last blog ..The mixed-up, convoluted reasons why I want to call myself a writer =-.

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  3. says

    It’s difficult to tear yourself away because it’s so easily justifiable. After all, it’s imperative to build and connect with your fan base, right? Well, maybe not with Scrabble, but we all need our breaks. My biggest creativity sucker is my day job. I love my clients, but my muse is very jealous of them and gets all cranky and LOUD when I’m trying to work. And then to get her revenge, she goes away when I finally have a chance to write (after Facebook, Twitter, blog reading and some solitaire…).
    .-= Kristie Cook´s last blog ..Head-Injury Ramblings =-.

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  4. says

    I think most new writers struggle with this. I know I certainly did. I still do, to an extent, but I’m happy to say that it’s gotten SO MUCH BETTER over the past 2 yrs. Yes, it took me 2 yrs, which is probably too long, but still. Now I can be productive and still make time for the internet, my day job, my boyfriend and puppy, and reading. Some days are easier than others, but really it’s about finding what works best for you (disconnecting, or setting time limits, or setting word quotas, or whatever) and then doing it. Day after day after day. Until it becomes second nature.

    At least, that’s what worked for me!
    .-= Kristan´s last blog ..The sun will come out tomorrow today =-.

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  5. Cassi says

    I’m having trouble juggling everything and writing. I have a 250 words, 5 days a week (considerably less ambitious) goal. I think I need to re-arrange the order of doing things at the moment to try to meet this goal. I have a full time job (but live with my parents), 25-30minute commute, blogs to read, long-distance boyfriend, other hobbies & I’m trying to stay in shape. I’ve cut my TV time in half since establishing the goal but sometimes that’s not enough and sometimes after a stressful day of work I need that veg time.

    So I don’t know what to do except keep on keeping home. Wake up 6:45 get home 5:30, eat, read blogs, exercise, write, boyfriend talking, then bedtime is the current routine. I do waste time on the Internet especially during blog time & writing time. I’m musing with the idea of flip-flopping blogtime & writing time but at this point I consider blogs so educational that I don’t want to skip them either.

    I don’t know how other people will full time jobs find the time to write, especially not people with jobs AND kids. I’m always open to tips.

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  6. says

    I’m always amazed the days that I actually — gasp! — close the window with facebook. I get so much done and like you said, I didn’t really miss much.

    Usually I just remind myself that everything will be there when I open it back up. Yes, I miss the live “breaking” news, but I can scroll through and catch up a couple hours after the fact.
    .-= Melanie´s last blog ..Michigan Morning =-.

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  7. says

    The internet and its precious offering of distraction is difficult to refrain from at times. I don’t do Twitter or Facebook because I know it will suck away my limited writing time. For now, blogs and writing communities are my main social media.

    Those aren’t my big distractions, though. I set limits on myself like you do and, for the most part, I’m able to stick to them. I’m almost afraid to admit this, but… I am a YouTube fanatic, specifically, music videos. Sad, I know. I also spend a lot of time on photobucket, if I’m not careful. This is because I’m not just a writer, though. I’m a musician and an artist, too. These are my passions; it’s hard to push them away.

    That being said, the only way I get a substantial amount of writing done is by being strict with myself, and crack the invisible whip. It works. Every time.
    .-= Lydia Sharp´s last blog ..52 Qualities of the Prosperous Writer: Number Ten, Accountability =-.

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  8. says

    “I think this is an easy thing to forget: we don’t want to miss out, but really, we’re not missing anything so important.”

    Oh boy. You are SO right. I resisted Facebook for a very long time – now I am addicted. And really, it’s not important stuff because a lot of it is just inane chattering about life and such. But it is fun and can be very insightful to the human character, I suppose.

    To help me achieve balance in my writing life, I got rid of my t.v. Best thing I’ve ever done!

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  9. says

    I am one of those with a f/t job and kids. I am fortunate enough to work from home so I don’t have a commute. Throughout the day, I’ll check my personal emails and catch up on the blogs that I have RSS feeds for. (Instead of a coffee break – it’s a blog break.) I might also do some research for my WIP or make some notes on my board about ideas I might have.

    However, I find I can’t get into the writing groove until I don’t have distractions. Most of my writing is done in the evening after the kids are in bed. I can usually get in a good two hours, sometimes I sneak in a little more, but need my sleep to function properly when 6:15A rolls around.
    .-= TL Sumner´s last blog ..Second Guesses =-.

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  10. says

    Sometimes I have to go into self-imposed detox by writing in longhand, just to get into the groove of writing again, without the distractions of the internet.

    When I get into my story, it’s easier to ignore the siren call of the internet. I also don’t post as much on my blog so I am not sucked into checking for comments every so often. Or feeling obligated to reciprocate.
    .-= Jewel/Pink Ink´s last blog ..Mo(u)rning Pages =-.

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  11. says

    Allison, you have just perfectly described my morning, except I managed to get my 1K word quota done. But not without every one of the distractions you described (except Scrabble–but thanks for introducing that possibility into my arsenal :) ). Like you, I also wrote books quicker in the past, before I opened the door and invited all these distractions into my office (promoting a new release also takes its toll on writing time). When you–and your blog readers–come up with the answer about how to juggle everything, please let me know. I’ll be the one with twelve windows open on my laptop, checking email, Twitter, Facebook, various ning groups, listservs, and CNN. And now, thanks to you, I’ll probably be playing Scrabble, too.
    .-= Alan Orloff´s last blog ..DIAMONDS on Kindle =-.

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  12. Allison Winn Scotch says

    I’m so glad to see that misery loves company. :) Hey, guess what, I need to be writing but I’m responding to your posts!!

    Alan – you just made me seriously LOL.

    And Rebecca, I’m thrilled that my advice was able to help! Seriously, that makes me so happy.

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  13. says

    Hey Allison, great post. It’s hard to keep on track when there are so many things to pull you away. For me, it’s easier when I’m writing the first draft, because the story is so new and exciting then. And writing every day keeps me in the story, which is a big help. But when I’m having problems with distractions, I close every program on my computer except Word so it’s the only thing I’m doing.

    Also, I wanted to let you know that I awarded Writer Unboxed the One Lovely Blog award today. Thanks for your blog.
    .-= Samantha Clark´s last blog ..I’m a winner, and 15 great blogs =-.

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  14. says

    I think there is a subconscious fear of irrelevance if we are not out there mixing it up on various social media (or at least that’s what surfaces for me). That said, I’ve dialed my use back quite a bit since before the new year and have whole lot of writing to show for it. I’ve decided that I’d much rather be relevant for my writing than for my witty twitter banter or clever facebook statuses.
    Setting limits goes a long way and like you said, you’re not really missing much. You can step away for weeks or months and dive right back in almost seamlessly. Great post!
    .-= Jonathan´s last blog ..It’s a Long Way to the Top =-.

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  15. says

    Allison, I’m exactly the same! I am SO tempted to fritter away time loading blogs, etc. whenever my brain hits a wall during writing time. And I do agree–sometimes you need to process what you’re working on and that internet surfing can free your brain just the right amount. I try to be really strict with myself: no surfing until I’ve started writing, if my brain hits a wall while writing, I can check e-mail and read anything that comes in, but not reply. I shoot for 1 k/day, too, and let myself read “productive” sites like WU at the 500 word mark. Frivolous ones only when I’m done. Anyway, thanks for a great post–nice to know I’m not alone in the struggle!

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  16. says

    I just flipping gave up. I hit my favorite blogs etc. then write a page or two. I’m as slow as a bad book. But since I’ve let go, I’m much happier. And my hope is that page or two is solid.
    Greg Gutierrez
    Zen and the Art of Surfing.

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  17. says

    Hi, my name is Lyn and I’m a social media addict. I’ve had my Twitter fix today, but am sooooo jonesing for a Facebook hit. Haven’t been able to get on there today. yet, my writing addiction is fighting for dominance.

    I haven’t created a formal wrtiting “schedule” yet because my days are so unpredictable, but I have consolidated all of my blogs and RSS feeds into Google Reader which has seriously trimmed the amount of time that I spend going to individual blogs.

    I don’t even want to know about Scrabble…I’m having enough trouble with Mafia Wars.

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  18. says

    Get out of my head. Seriously, are you hiding in my closet watching me? This is freakishly scary.

    I adore you and part of the reason why is your ability to state what so many of us are thinking and feeling so perfectly. Thanks for reminding us we’re not alone.

    Now, about that on-line Scrabble game…
    .-= Debra Schubert´s last blog ..SUBLIMINAL MONDAY: Bring on the Spring! =-.

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  19. says

    Allison, I loved this post! I went out to the cottage to write on the weekend, and my daughter called me from Chicago to tell me to get off Facebook and get writing!! Busted!

    It’s because we write that we suffer from an overactive brain—call it whatever you want…A.D.D.? Well, yeah! No kidding! I try to keep my father’s voice stuck somewhere inside my head when I’ve gone over the limit…”there’s a time and a place for everything,” he used to say.

    So…morning is my time to write. Night time is my time to play on the internet, blog, respond and read all the great stuff about writing out there. Haven’t gotten to the online scrabble YET…please don’t tell me more!
    .-= Gael Lynch´s last blog ..Wading through the Blarney =-.

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  20. George Gonzalez says

    I’m still a wannabe writer w/ 2 out of the house and 1 more to find himself. I fill my creative side late at night after everything else, Home,
    Wife , Kids, U know. My fingers are crossed. It was hard enough to see myself doing the Tweet thing.

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  21. says

    Recently gave up playing computer games such as Solitaire and Bejeweled Blitz–not because they were cutting into my writing time so much, as because they were cutting into my reading/sleeping time. I would stay up much too late playing them. Couldn’t seem to control myself once I started, so I quit them entirely about a month ago. I do Facebook and Tweet, but don’t feel as if those activities are cramping my writing time.
    .-= Valerie´s last blog ..Squirrel Dreams =-.

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  22. says

    Must tell you I thought I was the ONLY one seeing precious time slip through my fingers doing the social media dance. I must tweet, facebook, digg, link and oh so many more that by the time I get to write, it’s time to do it all over again.

    One thing I am truly trying to do is set a timer. I review what I need to…respond to what I have to, etc and when the timer goes off, I bookmark the rest and get on with trying to put something at least relatively coherent into print.

    Sometimes when a truly hard rain wipes out the internet for an afternoon, I feel doubly blessed. Writing is a lot like shopping. You want to do it but you want to come home rewarded with good finds that make the day worth it too. SO…I look at the “necessary social media writing” as the trunk show before the main event. I like what I see, but I still have to find my size.

    http://www.onemoreserving.blogspot.com

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  23. says

    I think for me, I have two major problems: I have this mental ‘time block’ and I tend to get fixated on things.

    My mental time block is this idea I have (and have had for YEARS) that I need to set out A LOT of time to do something. For example, I will be going bowling in three hours and in my messed up time block mind, three hours just isn’t enough time to spend editing my WIP. However, my time block affects me differently at different times of the day. If I had had these 3 hours this morning, I would be right into my WIP.

    I had fixated on things I like. About 6 months ago it would be rare to see me without yarn and knitting needles or a crochet hook. I made scarves, dishcloths, mittens, hats and doilies – I’d spend hours upon hours crafting.

    I had managed to develop a schedule – I’d do facebook, twitter and email and then write from 10-2 or 3 (4k words a day) and then have the afternoon off to indulge in my fixation of the month. I’d go through the blogs I follow in the evenings and also use that time to update my own blog and send emails and messages. My perfect schedule was overthrown! My b/f has his own construction company has needed me to come and help for the past few weeks and after a day working for him I am pooped and just want to lay on the couch all evening.

    So I guess I need to get over my new schedule and mental time block and just start editing in the evenings or maybe early morning.

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  24. Vic K says

    My issue is I don’t like writing in small stretches. And with four young children, I only seem to get small stretches. So then I think to myself, well I’m only going to have twenty minutes so I’ll Facebook and work later.

    Of course as my WB (Writing Bully, aka my husband) constantly reminds me, I have longer than I think. It’s just it starts out as 15 minutes and then the baby sleeps longer, I’ve ended up wasting an hour to facebooking or blog reading that I could have used writing.

    I can’t claim to have the answer yet. However… I have heard about this neat new computer program for Mac users that can be set up to lock you off the internet until you have achieved a pre-set target. I am looking into it.

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  25. says

    Distractions are everywhere, for sure. Sometimes I wonder if i would have been better off writing in the past. Back when there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Netflix. But then I’m sure I would have found something to use as an excuse for not writing. You either have the drive, or you don’t, or, more likely, you have it but you’re too scared to get to work. There will always be tomorrow, right? Yeah right. Keep telling yourself that.

    Spring is coming though. I like to take my laptop to the park where there is no WiFi and dive in. For me, that’s key, writing without internet access. It’s amazing how much work I can actually get done then.

    Does anybody write with pen and paper anymore? I could never.
    .-= Bryon Cahill´s last blog ..Brain Storm =-.

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  26. says

    Love this topic!

    My agent secured me a three-book deal last month, which means I’m now beginning the strange new task of writing a book that’s already sold. It’s also the first book I’ll be tackling since I started blogging and tweeting, which means that in addition to the pressure of producing words I’ve already been paid for, I’ll have distractions I’ve never had before. I like your method of setting word count goals for yourself before you’re allowed to dive into the social media swamp. I’ll have to try that.

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    Tawna
    .-= Tawna Fenske´s last blog ..Brainstorming makes my butt sore =-.

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  27. Kelsey says

    Allison,

    This post really hits home with me. I am a full time student with numerous self-imposed extracurriculars and an internship at a local newspaper, but even they don’t take up the majority of my time. My coursework dominates my free time, and while part of it is creative writing, the other classes require so much time that I still don’t have time to write as much as I’d like to. It’s pretty easy for me to stay off of Facebook when I’m working, but I have yet to discover a way to keep myself away from ESPN. Lately, however, Outlook is my best friend. However much I hate to admit it, I have to schedule each day out by the hour, or I’ll never get anything done. It might be a little obsessive-compulsive, but it’s what works. Now my only goal is to schedule in some free time and some intense writing time somewhere. The worst part is that my best writing comes out late at night, and putting in the hours to write at two in the morning just doesn’t work when you have class at 8:30.

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