In the last issue of my newsletter, I included a post on achieving balance between your writing life and the crush of holiday festivities and responsibilities. But what about other times? Don’t writers need balance in their lives during the rest of the year?
The answer is YES! The larger question, however, may lie deep in the “how to” part of the balancing equation.
Much like the gymnast in this image achieving balance is no easy task. For the gymnast, it means hours of training, concentration on each move, and maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle. This adds up to total commitment on her part.
To stay healthy in body and mind, our gymnast likely still has a life outside gymnastics. So her commitment is to balance both in the gym and away from it.
Here are a few ways that we as writers can create balance in our lives like our focused gymnast friend:
Begin now reviewing your accomplishments in 2014. Follow that up with establishing your goals for 2015.
Once you have your goals established, fill in an editorial calendar with blog posts, podcasts, guest posts and interviews, and whatever applies to your writing.
As part of your editorial calendar, be sure to leave some time open for social networking, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. This time should also include reading and commenting on blog posts by those you follow regularly.
Now it’s important to insert time for working out, going to the gym, taking a walk with the dog, yoga, whatever you use to relax and get your mind and body in a state of contemplation for writing.
Don’t forget to plug in some time for your family or friends. This is all important for you as much as it is for them. You can’t be a writing hermit forever, although those days when you can it feels really good, doesn’t it?
I can hear what you’re saying: “She has no idea what I have to do every day.” “When am I going to get the grocery shopping done?” “What about the laundry and taking the kids to after school activities?” And more!
I know what you’re saying. I used to work full-time and more, am a mother and wife, participated in volunteer activities, and ran the ever popular athletic bus route. And I know the sense of pressure the every day demands of life can bring to your already packed schedule.
Nothing I suggest here is written in stone. These are just that … suggestions. Massage them, manipulate them, keep what you can use, and toss the rest. Add your own ideas. What I have offered is how I manage my time and calendaring.
For example, as I’ll be sharing in a post coming up in a few days, I set a goal for myself that by the end of December 2014 (only a few days away), I would have finished my memoir manuscript. I cannot mark that off my goals or to do list as completed. Why?
In December 2013, my husband injured his back and was completely disabled until surgery in March 2014. At the same time, I was suffering from a respiratory issue, and life around home got miserably behind.
I had to clear my calendar, push things out, forget about deadlines and guest posts, etc. I had only one focus and that was taking care of my husband, myself and our home.
Adjustments can and often are made to anything we set up. Do not think that any calendar, goal list, or deadline is always firm.
The following post first appeared at Sowing Seeds of Grace and recounts the results of my one-week withdrawal from social media a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to share this post here because it also relates to my writing life.
Our hope reached to the edges of seeking to hear God in the silence when free of iPhones, tablets, laptops and other devices connecting us to a world filled with frenzy and constant news from family, friends and the world at large.
Today I am sharing what I heard in that week of silence.
Most of all, let me tell you: It. Was. Awesome!
My days felt free and my own. No “keeping up with” everyone posting on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t get me wrong. I love connecting with family and friends and learning what’s going on in their lives. But I don’t really need it 24/7, nor do I need to sit down at the computer and before anything else, check in to see what’s new in social media.
In a perfect world, our days would be filled with limitless hours of writing time. However, ours is not a perfect world. At least mine isn’t.
Despite living in retirement, my days are still filled with what seem to be unending household chores, yard and gardening chores, errands, maintaining a small business other than my writing, and more.
I am not an expert on increasing writing productivity. Perhaps like you, I struggle every day trying to find the time to write.
If you look around–in books, on the Internet, magazine articles, there is a plethora of advice on how to increase your writing productivity.
Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found:
1. Eliminate Distractions.
As difficult as it may seem, sitting down to write means limiting distractions and interruptions. One easy tip is to close all open tabs on your computer and have only your manuscript or working document open. If you are still tempted to hop over to Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest, perhaps an app like StayFocusd to limit the time you allow yourself to visit social media sites would help. StayFocusd is free to Google Chrome users. Other such apps include: Freedom, Anti-Social, RescueTime (my choice), and ColdTurkey. A search for “social media blocking apps” will offer a longer list.
2. What is Your Process?
Do you have a process for writing? Or do you sit down and just start writing? Are you enjoying the process of writing? Or have you started something that doesn’t please you or feel right?
Remember, you don’t have to be what everyone else is–historical novelist, memoirist, chick lit writer, biographer. You don’t have to write the same way every other writer does. You can be whomever you want to be as a writer.
Look around your space. What books do you see that you’ve kept after reading them? What fills your shelves? If those are the books you’ve enjoyed as a reader, maybe they fall into the genre you will enjoy writing. Take a good look at the process these writers chose. Discover the writer you want to be. Know yourself, and try to forget the critics.
3. Set a Daily Goal
Determine a daily goal, either by number of words or pages or choose a time increment, such as an hour or maybe two. If you choose to follow a time increment system for daily writing, set a timer for the amount of time. Then write until the timer goes off. A handy app for accomplishing this is Pomodairo, a Pomodoro time-based timer and task management app.
4. Give Yourself Breaks
After you’ve accomplished what you sat down to do, give yourself a break. Take a 10-15 minute walk or stretch, have a cup of tea or coffee, do something to move out of your chair and breathe fresh air. Perhaps you have a note or personal card to mail–write it and get it ready to go in the mail. If that load of laundry is ready to be folded, that will only take a few minutes. Do that. Just do something to refresh your mind and body.
5. Devise a Method to Follow Productivity
I did not realize how important this could be until I signed on to Jeff Goins’ Facebook group, My 500 Words. The goal in this group is to write 500 words each day on something you’re working on or using the provided prompt. It provides accountability, support and encouragement. The accountability is what I was searching for when I signed up. In the process of organizing the group, Jeff mentioned the importance of accountability, including following your own productivity. Not long after, I came across a link to a writing progress tracker developed by author Jamie Raintree. Simple to use and handy in an Excel document on my computer, I can easily log in the number of words I’ve written each day and on which blog or project. Jamie has entered all the formulas to calculate the daily, weekly and monthly word count. Thanks, Jamie!
6. Read Less, Write More
This is an area I need to improve on. I lose writing time each day because I think I should ready everything I find on becoming a better writer, how to write memoir, and more. I can’t resist the idea that someone has a better idea about how to write. Slowly I’m learning that I must stop reading what others think and get on with the writing. As I look around my writing space, there are dozens of books and articles on writing that I have yet to read and in that state they aren’t supporting my writing efforts. I’m finding I tend to learn more by doing than reading about how to do it. If I encounter a problem in my writing, then I’ll go look it up and see what I’ve missed in the doing.
7. Read Your Genre
There is one area you’ll want to read, and that is books in the genre you’ve chosen to write. From these writers, you will learn more about your chosen craft. Watch how they open and close chapters. See how they have developed their characters. How do they use dialogue? Then see if you can apply them to your work. This is not plagiarism as you’re not copying what they wrote–you are modeling the principles of writing they used.
8. Set Goals
Some of us are goal setters, and some are not. If you are so inclined, set large goals first. Then work backward from the deadline established for that goal and set smaller goals along the way to help in accomplishing the larger goal on time. For instance, if you want to publish your book after the first of the year, you will need to have it edited and revised in October or November to leave time for edits and rewrites. What this means is that the book needs to be finished in late summer. This is an example of how you need to set your goals in order to timely complete your project.
Accountability needs to be worked into goal setting. Perhaps there is someone you can tell about your goal(s). A critiquing partner, a writing group member, or a close friend or family member. You’ll note on the right sidebar I have a countdown set. Believe me, I see that more often than is comfortable these days. You can also set the dates on your calendar and set up pop-up reminders for each one.
9. Work When No One Else Is and/or When You Feel “On”
How do we know the best time of our 24 hours each day to write? Some writers wake early in the morning before their family members wake up, and they get in an hour or more of quiet writing. Young mothers who are writers wait eagerly for nap time. I read a post recently by Ellis Shurman on how he found an extra hour in his daily schedule of commuting, working fulltime, parenting and more. Others establish blocks of time on a calendar and then tell their family members they are off to write and are not to be bothered. (Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn’t!). Actually, for you it might be looking at what you have to carry out and doing that during the part of the day when feel your best, really “on.” Suit yourself. You are the writer.
10. Write Now, Edit Later
You have all heard it. Write until the first draft is completed. No stopping for edits, errors, corrections, rewrites–just write. The temptation for some of us who are Type A personalities to make that first draft perfect is overwhelming. I have finally taught myself to write, write, write–don’t stop. It hasn’t been easy but it does go faster when you’re not continuously stopping to make corrections. Once you’re finished with the draft, then you can sit down with a copy, or maybe you like to do your editing on the screen, and make the necessary corrections, perhaps a little rewriting here and there. I think we may all be familiar with Anne Lamott’s quote on this subject.
11. Bottom Line–Write Your Story and No Harpies Allowed
In your writing, be yourself. Be honest. Tell your story. It is after all your story. Yours to tell, and only you know it and can tell it. If you don’t write it down, how will anyone remember it after you’re gone? How will anyone ever read it and gain any perspective from your life experiences?
We mustn’t let the harpies get in our way. When one settles on your shoulder, close your ears to what you hear: “You can’t write.” “Who is going to read this garbage?” “What makes you think anyone wants to now what you think or feel?” “Get over yourself–you’re not a writer.” remember you are the writer, you own the story, and you can write it without any outside help.
This is not an exhaustive list. If you search the Internet, there are so many ideas about what we writers should do or not do in order to be productively producing our books and essays, our poetry and rhyme. Yet it all boils down to how it works best for each of us individually, doesn’t it?
Do you have a process that works for you? Are you willing to share ideas with the rest of us? Leave comments, ideas, questions, criticisms, etc. in the comments below. Let’s discuss!
Often I find myself pondering what has affected my ability to allocate specific time periods for my writing. After all, as much as I’d like to dedicate 24/7 to my writing, life has its other demands. Once I reach the point of sensing the tsunami-like after effects in my day, frustrations and emotions overwhelm any sense of remaining order in any so-called schedule.
Recently I’ve been reading about writing habits of some of our writing greats — Hemingway, Fitzgerald, King, Oates, and others.
Today I’m sharing the “Work Schedule, 1932-1933, –Henry Miller Miscellanea” I have strategically pinned above my computer.
His own writings in Henry Miller on Writing show Miller’s stringent writing schedule during the writing of the first of his many novels, Tropic of Cancer. Hoping to give momentum to his writing, Miller developed a writing schedule that included the following tenets:
When I first came across this list of Miller’s “commandments,” I placed it in a prominent place near my computer hoping it would give similar forward progress for my writing. Most days, I glance at it more than once. Not all of Miller’s “commandments” are easily applied to my writing life, but some have made an impact on thoughts about my writing habits.
No. 1 — Write on one thing at a time until finished. I am notorious for beginning projects. If I grow bored, I’ll start another and another and another until I have several unfinished projects. This isn’t limited to writing. This proclivity for beginning multiple projects extends to quilting and knitting, and perhaps is the reason behind a habit of reading multiple books simultaneously. Note to self: Need to work on this!
No. 3 — Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. Another of Mr. Miller’s commandments I need to heed. Often I sit down to write and it is not so much nervousness as fear that comes and sits on my shoulder. Like a harpie, fear sits there and taunts me with images of failure, mistakes, less than perfect work product and more. Another note to self: Stop it!
No. 9 — Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.I’ve pondered what Mr. Miller means in this “commandment,” and I’ve come to the conclusion that “Discard the Program” doesn’t necessarily mean to walk away from your work, but to allow yourself the freedom to write, write, write and then the next day return to the plan initially drawn out for your book. Self, remember this!
No. 11 – Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards. Mr. Miller did not have email and social media calling his name first thing each day, so perhaps this was easier for him. However, I find myself drawn to checking our personal emails, then our business emails, and lastly Sherrey’s emails. Then I move to doing a little sharing of what my good writing friends have posted and shared. All of this before I’ve written a single word. One more note to self: I need discipline in this area.
Bottom line: No one writer has all the answers. No matter how famous, how prolific, how stringent his or her work method was.
Your work style and scheduling method is yours and yours alone, as is mine. However, some gems can be found in Mr. Miller’s “commandments.” It isn’t lost on me how my eyes fall to the same ones on his list each day. Somehow, however, those daily glances and self-admonitions don’t seem to be changing how I write or who I am.
How about you? Do you have set ways in which your day must play out? A daily writing schedule? Are you easily distracted by interruptions or can you allow yourself to float in and out of your writing?
Share your own thoughts on Miller’s “commandments” and share your own work style with us below.