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  Beating Procrastination - Squeezing Time to Write
by Lee Masterson


~ "I'm too busy to write today."
~ "I'll write later."
~ "I'll get around to finishing my novel eventually."


There are thousands of writers with this same lament. And they're right - life is busy. There is never enough time to get everything done. But if you truly want to succeed at writing, you'll find the time.

I have a personal friend who has been writing the same novel for the past 13 years. I don't think he'll ever finish. He's too busy.

Finding enough time to write seems to be such a major issue with so many writers - new and pro alike - that I felt the topic should be explored further.

As a member of many writing groups, I hear so many people say "I don't have enough time to write". What I believe some of them really mean is "I don't have a big enough span of time to sit down and get everything out all at once".

This point was once a stumbling block for me, too. I was working up to 15 hours a day in my "day-job", coming home to check emails and then updating the Fiction Factor website, all around running a family. My life left me with almost no time to do the one thing I love the most - write!

One day I finally realized I didn't need an entire free day or an entire week just to get all those ideas out of my head and onto paper (or onto the computer - as the case may be). A spare moment during my lunch break was all it took to get a great fight scene down on paper. Talking into a voice recorder in the car on the drive home from work gave me precious time to complete a short story. Getting out of bed an hour earlier for a week (Oooh, I hated that!) helped me to puzzle my protagonist out of a sticky situation. A polite "no" to a dinner party gave me the time to edit the final draft of a novel.

We all have many spare moments in every day that we could put to better use writing. Unfortunately, not many of us use them well. The television, the internet, email, friends and family, work, chores, social activities - so many things tempt us to put away our Muse and walk away from the chore of writing.

There are, though, many writers around the world who utilize those spare moments to their advantage.

Here are some tips to help squeeze more writing into your day:


Multi-Task

Learn to do more than one thing with your valuable time. Do your planning and problem-solving at the same time as completing chores that don't require you to be using your creativity.

Washing dishes, taking a shower, walking the dog, digging the garden, riding the bus - all of these activities and more could become valuable "plot-planning" times. If all the difficult parts are sorted through before you begin, then the process of writing becomes more efficient.

Angie Ledbetter of Writer's Gumbo (http://www.writersgumbo.com) writes: "Write while you ride the bench. I've gotten some good stuff done while stuck at little league games, practices, and try outs. Car pool, doctor/dentist appointments are also opportunities to write. Reading through those old magazines while you're stuck can get you good article ideas, new markets, and a bit of time studying the publication for future submissions."

Alice Wisler of Daniel's House Publications (http://www.mindspring.com/~wisler/danielshouse.html) writes: "Organize your thinking so that when you pick up the dry-cleaning (I don't use the cleaners, but it makes a good example), you also remember it's time to return the rented video and buy stamps at the post office. Make one trip out instead of three at three different times."

Peg Russell writes: "A writer's best friend is a three or four hour sit at a desk beside a phone which never rings. Wednesday afternoons I'm a volunteer at Community Policing #6, where nothing happens, no one calls, and I can revise, write, and critique for three hours. At our hospital, the open heart floor reception desk has similar long stretches of inactivity.


Distractions

The biggest bane of creativity is distraction. A ringing phone can send a Muse into hiding for hours. A hectic work-schedule can kill creativity. The lure of the television can tempt any writer to laze on the sofa for hours. Screaming kids can jangle even the most tolerant nerves (I've seen our wonderful Managing Editor, Tina, try to write in this situation - not good!).

When you are writing, limit the opportunity for distractions to interfere. Take the phone off the hook. Close your email program. Write at a time when the world around you is less likely to intervene. If this is not possible for you, then select a location that will discourage distraction. A library is great for this. A quiet park or reserve can inspire wonderful scenarios. I personally write with a set of headphones on and the volume turned up. The only things in my world when I write are the mood-music I've chosen and my screen/notepad.

Lilia Westmore suggests: "Find time to write from 10:00 in the evening (when the children have gone to sleep, when husband/wife has retired, when housework is put to sleep, when peace has settled in the household!) and 3:00 a.m. By that time, your mind is clear of problems that present a hindrance to your artistic instincts. The early hours are a boon to thinking deep, and the tendency to write is aided by the quietness that surround the universe. The silence also brings out the purity of emotions that is an added zing to the creation of either fiction or poetry. Staying up late each day is a courage you must brave in order to stay physically fit!"

Alice Wisler suggests: "Cut off the TV. Is there really anything good on anyway?
(Unless it is you being interviewed about your current book). Learn to say no. You need to make writing a priority. As exciting a person as you are, every Tupperware party does not need you there."

Angie Ledbetter suggests: "Trade off a couple of hours of baby-sitting with a friend. Two hours of silence is worth a week of hit and miss time."


Procrastination

Let's face it - writing is a chore!

I can't think of anything worse than spending a day scrubbing the toilets or shower stalls. And yet, when faced with a choice of writing a particularly difficult scene or cleaning, I used to get the gloves and scourer out first every time. My biggest fear was that if I sat down to write, I would have to stop before I'd finished. So I never started.

Many writers put off writing , waiting for the "perfect time", or - worse - waiting for ENOUGH time. The myth for many writers is that a novel should be written from start to finish in a frantic two-week straight sitting.

The truth is, most writers write what inspires them in whatever order they feel necessary, in whatever time they can find.

Angie Ledbetter suggests: "I realize that if I'm not finding time to write/read/work, I'm making excuses and procrastinating. It's all in the mindset! I let the dust bunnies breed in my house in order to have a little more writing time."


Schedule

Although this tip is the one that every writer's manual contains, it is the one least writers DO.

How many of you have a specified time set aside just for writing? More importantly, how many actually use their allocated time to WRITE? It's awfully tempting to check the email.

Set aside an allotted time specifically for writing. Don't allow anything short of a major crisis interrupt this time. Do not use this time for thinking or planning or plotting. Write.

Jenny Mounfield of Reject Writers (http://www.rejectwriters.com) has a thought for those parent-writers, frazzled by children: "Not quite this desperate yet, but as a mother of 3 kids, I'm seriously thinking about it. A great way to get some more free writing time: commit a moderately serious crime, something that'll get you, say, a year or two in jail - preferably solitary confinement."

Hmmm... Maybe just stick to the spare moments you have.


Opportunity

So many writers miss the writing opportunities presented to them because they were unprepared.

Alice Wisler writes: "Always carry a pen and notepad with you for jotting down traits and descriptions about your characters. You never know when a fantastic bit of dialogue for your characters will hit you as you wait in traffic."

Imogene Grantom writes: "I spend my time with my coffee at the computer logging my taped messages and small notes I made through the day before. I carry a tape recorder and a small writing pad with me at all times. All through the day when a thought about my novel enters my head I record or write it, depending on where I am. In the morning sitting at my computer with my coffee I type them into a Writers Block program. This is a good software, if you don't have it then I strongly suggest you buy it. www.writersblocks.com. I spend one hour at night organizing my blocks into a chapter. Then on my day off I create a chapter, without editing, and add it too my novel. I manage to create a chapter once a week like this. For somebody as busy as I am this is a great accomplishment."

Angie Ledbetter writes: "Never be caught without notepad and pen. I keep one in the van, in my purse, by the tub, and all around the house. Time-crunched parent writers need to write their nuggets down on the run before they (ideas) fly the coop. Voice activated tape recorders are also available for $50, which are great for spur of the moment interviews also."



You will almost never hear a writer say "I wish I had never written that book". Yet you may often hear writers lament "I wish I had made the time when I had the chance."

Which of these would you rather be saying a few years from now?


Copyright 2003 Lee Masterson. All rights reserved.

This article was written with the kind help and the invaluable comments from the following people:
Angie Ledbetter of Writer's Gumbo (http://www.writersgumbo.com)

Alice Wisler of Daniel's House Publications (http://www.mindspring.com/~wisler/danielshouse.html)

Jenny Mounfield of Reject Writers (http://www.rejectwriters.com)

Special thanks go to Imogene Grantom, Lilia Westmore and Peg Russell.

 

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