Staying Motivated When You Can’t Write

Let’s say you’re a writer.  (I’m a writer.)  Let’s say you love to write; nay, you live to write.  Telling stories, it’s part of who you are.  You’ve been doing it since you can remember (I have), or maybe you’ve picked it up recently and it’s infected every fiber of your being.  Maybe you get the occasional recognition for your efforts – no major awards or publications, just the odd nod of the hat – or maybe you’ve yet to make a splash of any size.  Put short, you’re unpublished, but you want to make it in the biz¹.

But you’re in one of those spots in life where you can’t write.  Not because you don’t want to write, and not because you have nothing to write about.  You’ve got ideas you’re just itching to put down on paper.  But you’ve got other obligations, right now, other priorities in life.  You’ve got things you have to do.  And, at the end of the day, there isn’t much time left over for writing.

Last week, I gave you permission, as a writer, to put the pen down and focus on those other things.  Well, that’s a relief.  With all that advice out there thrumming in the background urging you to write, write now, keep writing dangit! – it’s good to know that, well, you don’t have to be writing right this minute, and every day, in order both to consider yourself a writer and to stay the course in your path toward developing a writing career.

Except for one little, niggling detail.  For you (at least it is for me) writing is an existential activity.  It defines you, it’s part of who you are, and you need to do it to feel fully yourself.

There is a lot out there providing motivation to writers.  There’s fellow aspiring author, writer and blogger Ollin Morales’ “Courage to Create“, for instance.  On his site he provides regular encouragement to writers who are in need of motivation to write.  It’s his schtick, the theme of his blog.  There’s also the aforementioned plethora of writing advice telling you to just write a little bit every day – even just a little bit, an hour, a half-hour, 250 words, anything, that’s all it takes!  Most published writers keep their own blogs, and often drop nuggets of wisdom and advice thereon to other aspiring authors.  The internet is virtually awash in advice for writers.

And yet, in all of this, there’s very little advice for those of us in that busy stage of life where we can’t write because other obligations demand our attention.  There’s very little to help a writer stay motivated when what they want to do is write, but what they must do is not write, but something else.

And I’ve been thinking about that a lot the past few days.  I have a half-dozen blog posts I want to write up: ideas for things that are meaningful to me.  I’ve been meaning to write about my choice of genre and the nuance I see in that choice.  There are tidbits and snapshots of my history as a writer that I’ve yet to share.  And, of course, there are these stories burning in my mind that I want to write: another short story that I hope to submit to that contest that I didn’t quite win, and a novel idea where I’ve figured out this awesome opening but hadn’t yet figured out the climax and ending, and of course that other novel project that I’ve been working on since forever.  If you’ve been a writer since forever, like me, you’ve no doubt got a similar supply of projects you want to work on.  Heck, even if you’re new to the game you probably still have a fair handful of ideas you want to write about.  (If you’re out of ideas to write about, well, that’s not the theme of today’s blog.  I’m long on ideas and short on time, so there you go.)  Continue reading

Time to Write, Redux…

In my first real post on this blog I muse about finding time in a busy schedule to write.  I was contemplating all the things I have to do in a regular week, and it was a little disheartening to realize that there wasn’t much room in my schedule to set aside for something that was personally important to me, but which did not figure into the responsibilities I had as an employee, student, husband and soon-to-be father.

But I learned something this week, a lesson taught me by my wife, although it’s a lesson that I will need to practice if I’m going to perfect it.  On one of my last days off from work for the holidays, I asked my wife if she thought it was okay that I spend a little time writing the story I’m working on.  She said “sure”, but then she quickly reminded me of a long list of “to dos” that I still needed to take care of.  I grew momentarily discouraged, and offered to start working on the rest of my list, instead of spending time writing.  But my wife quickly changed my course.  “No,” she said, “Spend a little time writing first.  But then spend time on those other things as well.”  After a little while writing, she turned to me and asked: “So, how much time did you allot to writing, before moving on with what else has to be done?”  I was taken aback.  I hadn’t considered that I ought to set a time limit ahead of time.  But when I saw how long I’d been writing by that point, I quickly realized that I’d given myself more than a fair amount of time to write, and that it was now time to move on to the rest of my list.

The lesson, I learned, was this: you have to set your priorities and work on those things first.  But you have to set your own structure and pace yourself if you’re going to get everything done.  Writing is important to me, so I might need to spend time doing that.  But that doesn’t give me a free pass to spend as much time as I want on it.  I have other responsibilities that I need to attend to, as well.  Reconciling the two, I can meet both needs by scheduling my time up front – deciding before I write how much time I can spend on it before moving on to other things. 

My wife tells me it’s like a lesson she taught at Church.  A jar is filled with rocks: the rocks are our priorities, the things that important to us and for which we need to make time.  In between the rocks, you can fill the jar with rice or sand.  These are the many little “to-dos” that fill our days.  If we schedule our big items up front, we’ll find the time for these little to-dos.  Finally, you’ll find there’s still room in the jar for a glass of water (or a cup of coffee in the old version of this object lesson, except neither my wife nor I drink coffee) – the glass of water is the time we spend unwinding and relaxing.  For me, she suggested, writing is one of the rocks.  I just need to schedule it, and stick to the schedule.

So, if you invest a little time upfront, you can make the time you need to get done everything that you still have to do – whether that’s writing, or whatever other hobbies or paths to self-fulfillment you must follow.  Do those first, but don’t let them get out of hand, and take over your time and your life.  Find a balance, set a schedule, and stick to it.

Happy writing…

Time for Writing?

If I’m going to be a writer, obviously I need to write.  I was thinking a bit today about finding the time to write.  In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the general topic of time management, which I am going to have to get my arms around if I’m ever going to have time either to write or even to work out what to do about my non-writerly career.

Yesterday, during the first part of the Product & Brand Management class, I became acutely aware that there were a few key lessons during the early part of the semester that I had missed because I had not had time to read the (100-ish page) documentation for an online simulation program we used in that class.  It made me wonder again about how pressed for time I always feel, and during the break I did a very simple and quick time study.

It went like this: there are 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week, so there are 168 hours in a week.  Then I thought about how many hours per week I spend doing different things each week.  So, I’m at work a little over 9 hours a day for 5 days, so that’s about 46 hours spent at work.  I spend about 11 hours commuting to and from work.  Ideally, I would be asleep roughly 8 hours at night (an unrealistic assumption), so that’s 56 hours gone.  My two classes take 3 hours each a week, so that’s 6 hours gone, and I probably spend at least two hours outside of class, if not more, studying or doing work related to class for each hour, so that’s a minimum of 12 additional hours per week.  So far, then, I’ve spent more than 131 of the 168 available hours in the week, and I have 37 left.  37 hours to be spent with my family, at Church, going on dates with my wife, and other activities, including personal development and writing.  It sounds like a lot… but that breaks down pretty quick.

We spend roughly 3 hours in church on Sundays, plus about 20 minutes getting there and back, and pad on another 10 minutes before and after for socializing, we’ll call that 4 hours weekly.  I spend about 20 minutes each morning running (I try to do this six days a week though reality is I miss a few).  That’s up to 2 hours a week.  I spend about an hour each workday morning  getting ready for work – showering & grooming, packing my bags, taking care of our dog, getting dressed, catching breakfast – plus usually around 15-ish minutes brushing teeth and getting ready for bed every night, and that’s another 7 hours gone.  Now we’re down to 24 hours.

That’s one whole day left in the week to spend with my family, going on dates with my wife, personal development, reading, writing, and a few other essential things that we don’t like to think of as taking time but which do.  So let’s say quality family time is a priority in my life, and I want to spend at least an hour and a half per day just doing some family things, plus maybe another 5 to 7 hours a week working around the house (doing the dishes, cleaning up the yard, fixing things, etc.).  And let’s estimate another couple hours a week are lost to other essential activities.  I’m now down to 4 hours a week.  If I go on a date with my wife on top of regular family time, we can say that’s another 2 -3 hours.  I now have one hour left for personal development, including reading and writing.  The problem?  That one hour is spread out over seven days in little 1 or 2 or maybe 5 or 10 minute increments.  At this point, we’re dealing with the time between going to and from all the other major activities.

Granted, this is a really fast-and-loose analysis.  Do I really spend an hour-and-a-half per day doing something with my wife and dog (and presumably, with our child when he or she arrives)?  Right now, I can’t say that’s as realistic as I want it to be.  There are definitely days when that really doesn’t happen at all.  And I know many nights I don’t get 8 hours of sleep, and I don’t usually get an opportunity to make that up later.  Sometimes I can do several of these activities at once.  (I eat lunch while on the job, usually, and other activities overlap in a similar way.) On the flip side, some weeks I spend far more than 46 hours at work, other weeks an extra hour or two commuting because of unexpected traffic delays.  Study time can fluctuate wildly with the number of cases and projects due in a week, or group work necessary.

To really get at the heart of where the time goes, I’d have to do a far more detailed time analysis, keeping a careful journal of how I spent my time over the course of a month or so.  (That, of course, would take time to do.)

The fact is, it’s important to have our priorities in life.  Those things come first.  For me, that priority is my family.  Right now that’s a wife and dog but soon enough it’s a wife and kid and dog.  That family priority is at least part of the impetus behind why I am in school right now, and it’s the reason I work of course, but neither of those things can replace family time.

But writing… being a writer; that’s also important to me.  The challenge is: even if, in theory, writing comes second in my life behind my family, the fact that family comes first necessitates ranking my career and school both above writing.  Because of that, there’s not a lot of shuffling around I can do with my schedule.

For now, then, having time for writing means stealing 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there, when those little moments pop up, to at least get words on paper.  In the near future, hopefully, I will be acquiring a new notebook that I can carry around and write in during those fleeting moments between things that are, for now, of a higher priority.  With that little tool, I may be on my way to at least feeling like I’m writing something each week.

Aside from that, there’s this blog.  Which, by the way, I’ve met and exceeded my committment for week 1 (this is 1k+ words, now).  If I can keep up to the committment I’ve made of 250 words a week, minimum, I’ll at least be doing one little thing that’s rather necessary if I consider myself a writer: writing.