In Everyday Writing, I tell a story about my friend Judy Reeves, who is brilliant at carving out writing time. The very first time I ever called her on the phone, I got this message: “If you’re calling before 1:00 p.m., this is my writing time. I’ll get back to you after 1:00.”
Despite my vow to go into seclusion more often to write, I’m still not quite as good at disconnecting as I’d like to be.
I’m able to leave my phone behind pretty easily; I don’t like the phone very much. Disconnecting from the Internet is another story. It’s partly that I am a writer trying to promote a book — this requires blogging, responding to email, and being active on social networks. It’s also partly that I am the c0-founder of a new press, which means I need to be out there promoting our books, our press, our authors — and we also read our submissions online. So my life in many ways revolves around being connected — the challenge is how to find a balance.
So I’ve adopted a few new guidelines, aimed to create more offline writing time for myself without neglecting my necessary online duties. I hope they’ll inspire you as well:
— Take one afternoon (or hour, or quarter hour) per week of Me Time. This can be writing time, but I’ve decided that it doesn’t need to be: As writers, we need to clear our brains in order to make room for creativity, and this might include meditation, reading, or just walking around in nature to clear the mental clutter. As author Tim Kreider writes in this article, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness” — and I think this may be especially true for writers: We worry that if we’re not writing every single free moment of every single day, we aren’t writers after all.
Fortunately this isn’t true: You can be a writer whether you write six hours a day or six days a year. One thing we all must do, however, is get out and free our minds of the busyness. I recently chose a gorgeous summer afternoon with no pressing deadlines (that is, whatever needed to be done could be done after sunset) and went to the park with a blanket and a notebook. The break was rejuvenating in so many ways, especially creatively, and I returned with not only pages of new ideas but a sense of peace and relaxation I’d never have had without escaping the office and the computer. I was only away from my desk for an hour — and keep in mind that even fifteen minutes does wonders, so don’t dismiss this idea if you’re short on time. And best of all, I was joined by another soul seeking a little quiet…
— Log out of email…at least temporarily. I am one of those people who quits whatever she’s doing to respond to an email. Clients and authors are always commenting on the fact that I write them back at all hours of the day and night, including weekends. Whenever I take more than a couple of hours to respond to an email (usually because I’m traveling, moving, or because a storm has wiped out my Internet connection), people wonder whether I’m sick, injured, missing, or have been abducted by aliens. Really, there’s no reason I need to respond to every email within seconds. So I’m training myself to log in only a few times a day — this means fewer interruptions, which means a more efficient work day, which ultimately means more writing time.
— Division of labor. Because I work from home, my office is where I do it all: from freelance projects to editing to conference calls, and everything in between. It’s also my writing space — which means it’s very difficult to switch from work mode to writing mode. So I’m working toward adopting a more 9-to-5 life for the work-work, and a 5-to-9 schedule for my writing work. When you work for yourself, it’s basically a 24/7 lifestyle, for better or worse, and anyone who’s ever started a business knows that this means working around the clock, especially in the beginning. But at some point, you need to find a balance — and whether it’s due to your day job or the 24/7 responsibility of raising a family, finding writing time is always the biggest challenge. But do make the effort to separate the two: Divide your work time from your family time from your writing time, and be fully present no matter which mode you’re in at a given time. Life will be richer all around this way…and best of all, your writing time will be separate and fulfilling.
Finally, here’s a writing prompt, which is actually a bit more of a scheduling prompt (but one aimed to lead to more writing!):
Write out a schedule for the week ahead. In this schedule, work out the following:
1. Fit in one afternoon for Me Time.
2. Define the hours you will be on email (for example, from 9-11 a.m., 1-3 p.m., and 4-5 p.m.) and use your off-email hours to accomplish as much as you can — and see how much extra time you have at the end of the day. Use this time to write — for example, maybe you’ll find that this system frees up enough time for you to take your lunch hour to write instead of working at your desk.
3. Find slots of time in your daily schedule that allow you to fit in writing time amid your other responsibilities. Even if you start with only 15 or 30 minutes per week, keep working with your schedule to fit in as much time as you can to meet your writing goals.