Friday, March 8, 2013

Why Structure Helps You Write (Until It Doesn't Help)

Hooray, I'm back! Back with a writing post, I mean. It's been a crazy couple of weeks in my personal life, and when things get crazy, I tend to let the writing go out the window. Honestly, I'm thinking of starting an organization called WA - Writers Anonymous. Or maybe it should be NWA - Non-Writers Anonymous - for those times when we're just not getting the writing done that we want to get done. I'm sure many of you can relate.

Anyway, it's fitting that a subject I've been wanting to address in the whole "writing habit" series is structuring our writing habit. In particular, I want to talk about why structure helps. And what happens when it doesn't help.
See? I've got a plan!

When I say structure in this post, I am specifically referring to how we structure our day to fit in time and energy to write. And I really do believe it helps to structure it in somehow. That doesn't have to mean being rigid, but let's face it: many professional, full-time writers say that they write at a set time each day, often early in the morning before everyone else gets up or late at night after everyone has gone to bed. Or, they write during certain periods of their day when they are guaranteed to be alone and available to write (as Peter V. Brett did by writing on his train commute from work each day).

One fellow writer, Candace Gauger*, shared her thoughts with me when I asked how people manage to fit in time to write and what keeps us from our daily writing habit. She shared: "For me, it was working 40 hours a week plus a kid to run to therapy and give attention to before his bedtime. I managed to get my writing done after he went to bed, which gave me a good three to four hours without distractions, and the weekends if I didn't have to work one or both of those days. Between my boyfriend and my mom, I hit the 50,000 word mark [for Nanowrimo] with barely a day to spare."

For Candace, and for many other writers, that's how it works. We fit writing into those pockets of the day where we have a choice of how we can spend our time. We don't try to fit it where we can't fit it. We accept that some parts of the day will welcome our artistry, while others won't.

Structure means knowing when you have those pockets of time that will be available (usually) to you to choose to write, and then embracing the choice to do nothing else until you have written. It can be a great way to meet your goals, because it's like having a standing appointment with your computer, typewriter, or notebook. During that appointment time, you'll be writing. How cool is that!

And it is cool... until something causes your structure to fall apart.

That "something" is life. As the bumper sticker says, sh*t happens. And when it happens, writing may go out the window. Frankly, it might have to. I've been learning that lesson over the past several months, as plenty of life has happened, and I've had to deal with it. If that's the situation you're in right now, or if you've been there in the past, don't beat yourself up about it. Be open to the possibility that it's okay to put your energy elsewhere at the times when you need to. Consider what happens to you when you don't. Your writing will probably suffer, and your personal life definitely will.

The amazing thing is that eventually, sh*t stops happening, at least for a while. In those times, you can go back to your structured writing habit. It'll feel good. Refreshing. Fulfilling. You'll be grateful for that time, and perhaps more likely to appreciate your creative gifts and every minute you get to express them. You'll even have some new life experience to infuse into your art. Somehow, it's going to be okay. It's going to work out. It has for me, and I'm sure I'm not the exception. I think I'm more of the rule.

Bottom line... Yes, structure your day so that you're thinking about the best time for you to write. Make it your daily habit to be writing at that time. And then expect that life will interfere with your writing habit, and you may have to make exceptions from time to time to deal with the things that come up. It'll be okay. You'll get back to your habit when things calm down, because that's what writers do, right?


It's what we do.

Now, you share: Do you have a specific time of day that you write? How hard (or easy) is it for you to keep that appointment with yourself for creative efforts? Do you have anything specific that interferes with your daily writing habit, and if so, how do you deal with it?

Next week, I plan to share more on what to do when structure doesn't help you...that is, when your life has so much free time that you can't find your discipline. If you have any thoughts or questions about that topic, send them my way, and I'll do my best to cover them in next week's post. Until then, happy writing!

*Find Candace's blog here.

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks for sharing - although I'm guessing you wished life wasn't so crazy and you were able to write a different post. *sigh* I appreciate it because it's about the same for me. As you probably recall, my window to do anything is so tiny, it's hard not to run screaming into the night, or crawl inside a bottle. I've had to realize that "it is what it is" and make do with less. If that means ignoring social networks and promotion just to have a little time to write, then so be it. I'm at a point where I need to take time for my family or there might not be one. That might be a bit harsh, but a reality I need to keep in mind now before things reach critical mass, you know?
    With that in mind, I undertake one writing project a year and sneak it in during breaks at work, at the very end of the night or on weekends.
    I hope things calm down for the both of us, my friend.



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