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Scheduling Creativity

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In talking to new writers, there’s one common refrain that I hear time and time again: I just can’t find time to write!

I see this it on blogs, in the WU Facebook group [1] (you should totally join [1] if you aren’t already a member), and hear it in person. The response to this pseudo-question tends to be one of the following:

Now, those answers are technically true. You do have to prioritise your writing, you may have to sacrifice another activity, you can find time to write, and there comes a time when you just have to sit down and channel Nike. But the problem with those answers is that they don’t speak to the practical side of how to find time to write.

[pullquote]But the problem with those answers is that they don’t speak to the practical side of how to find time to write.[/pullquote]

If you don’t think people need specific, practical advice to succeed at making changes in their lives, just look at how many people pay for personal trainers, gym sessions, and nutritionists when everyone knows we just need to eat better and exercise more.

But before we look at some practical advice, let’s consider why finding time to write can be problematic.

Time is a Vacuum

When we picture ourselves as writers, we imagine spending day after day locked away in a peaceful place — an armchair in front of a bay window, or an austere desk with a typewriter, or our own personal library — with no distractions and nothing else to do but write effortless prose. Even without the heavily-romanticised settings, we imagine a quiet, interruption-free zone where we can commune with the muse for hours on end.

But in real life, we rush pell-mell from one activity to the next, and then collapse in front of the TV (or Facebook) at the end of the day in a haze of mental exhaustion, where we silently berate ourselves because we’re not writing.

So, is finding time to write really just as simple as being better at prioritising? Yes. And, then again, no.

[pullquote]It’s a little-acknowledged fact that, like air in a vacuum, our daily tasks expand to fill all available space.[/pullquote]

Let’s face it: Before we decided we wanted to take writing seriously, it’s unlikely that we spent hours sitting in an empty room just wishing we had something to fill in our vacant hours. It’s a little-acknowledged fact that, like air in a vacuum, our daily tasks expand to fill all available space.

All those things that currently fill your day are important. Earning an income is important. Spending time with your partner, children, family, friends, and people-you-don’t-really-like-but-have-to-get-along-with is important. Your hobbies and interests are important. Exercise is important. Pets are important. Housework is… okay, I hesitate to use the word “important” in relation to housework, but clean(ish) clothes are important, as is living in a house not about to be condemned by the health department. Relaxation and recreation are important.

It’s unnecessarily flippant to say that you need to simply sacrifice one of those things out for writing. Especially when you need to find time to write for hours, or days, at a time.

But do you really need hours at a time?

One Hour a Day

We have a tendency to think that writing takes a lot of time. And, when you look at the cumulative time it takes to write, revise, learn the craft, revise some more, have a mental breakdown, drink excessively, rewrite from scratch, learn more about the craft, realise you’re a complete fraud, buy cheap whiskey, delete everything you’ve ever written, read inspirational blog posts, scramble around un-deleting everything, reread your work and decide it’s not actually that bad, rewrite, and have a drink to celebrate your newfound confidence, it does take a lot of time.

But it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time every day.

So, here’s my simple, specific, practical advice: Write for one hour a day.

[pullquote]If you write for one hour a day, five days a week, you can finish a draft in less than six months.[/pullquote]

Every day if you can. Or five days a week if it’s more convenient.

If you write for one hour a day, five days a week, you can finish a draft in less than six months. If you write for one hour a day, every day, it’s closer to three months.

In contrast, if you sit around waiting for good, solid blocks of uninterrupted writing time to crop up at the exact same time as inspiration strikes, you’ll finish your draft in, oh, about never.

Finding one hour a day doesn’t mean sacrificing your current priorities, but it does mean taking a good, hard look at how you spend your time, and making some adjustments. (Unless you currently spend eight hours a day watching TV. In which case, my advice is: Watch less TV. End of advice.) So, here are my tips on making it work for you:

1. Schedule Your Writing Time

For many people, first thing in the morning or last thing at night are the best times to write — our conscious and subconscious minds are more in tune on either side of sleep. But maybe you have more free time during your lunch break, or while your children are napping. Spend some time honestly evaluating your life, your responsibilities, and your energy levels. And then choose one hour each day — at the same time every day — that you will set aside for writing.

2. Your Writing Time is Sacrosanct

Have you ever woken up in the morning and decided you just don’t feel inspired to go to your day job today? Probably. Have you ever acted on that feeling, choosing to stay in bed rather than go to work? Do that a few times and you’ll find yourself without a job. Treat your writing time exactly the same way. Don’t skip your writing time for anything short of your house being on fire, or a trip to the ER.

3. Rituals become habits

Your goal is to turn writing for an hour a day into a habit — something that comes naturally and easily. The easiest way to do that is to surround it with ritual. (This is why it helps to write at the same time every day.) I’ve found it works well to have a shower and pour myself a drink before sitting down at the computer for my daily writing session. (Thus differentiating it from all those other times when I sit down at the computer and lose myself on Facebook and YouTube.) Other rituals include: Lighting a particular scented candle, playing a particular piece of music, imbibing a particular drink or snack, or performing a specific activity (such as journaling, meditation, or jogging) immediately before writing.

4. Never give up, never surrender!

Especially in the first few weeks, you may find yourself sitting in front of your computer, staring at a blank screen, with no idea what to write. It’s tempting to bemoan your lack of inspiration and give up for the day. Don’t. Don’t check Facebook, or emails. Don’t play solitaire, or whatever game the cool kids are playing these days. Just sit and stare at the screen. I promise you that your subconscious will eventually come to the party.

5. Start at the start, stop at the end

Stop after sixty minutes. Not sixty-one minutes — sixty. Even if you’re feeling inspired. Even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. If you stop when you know exactly what comes next in the story, your subconscious will spend the next 23 hours working on that scene for you, and in your next writing session, the words will flow like honey wine.

And that’s how simple it is. Schedule a regular writing time. Make it sacrosanct. Create a ritual around writing. Write for an hour (even if you’re not actually writing), and stop at the end of your allocated time.

Now I’m not for a second implying that this is the only way to successfully write. Not even close. But if you feel that you can’t find time to write, or you’re putting off writing in favour of more “important” things, or you regularly feel guilty that you aren’t writing, give this a try. The worst that can happen is nothing.

How do you find time for writing? Do you have any other tips and tricks to share?

Don’t forget to take part in the WU Flash Fiction Contest this month — you’ll find the new prompt here [2].

 

 

 

 

 

About Jo Eberhardt [3]

Jo Eberhardt is a writer of speculative fiction, mother to two adorable boys, and lover of words and stories. She lives in rural Queensland, Australia, and spends her non-writing time worrying that the neighbor's cows will one day succeed in sneaking into her yard and eating everything in her veggie garden.

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