Friday, March 22, 2013

Too Much Time On My Hands: When Writing Takes Discipline

Well, this is ironic, to say the least. This week's post (which should have been last week's post) addresses how to keep yourself writing when you are not busy. And yes, this is a legitimate topic: lots of us do better writing when we're busy than when we have a lot of free time. I've posted plenty on finding time to write when we're busy, because that's my situation most of the time. (Here's the latest post on fitting writing into a full schedule, if you want to check it out.)

The irony, of course, is that my life has been so busy lately that I missed posting on the blog last week, when I was supposed to talk about not being busy. It probably seems to you, the reader, that I'd have nothing to say about how to write when you have too much time on your hands.

But, no. This is actually a topic I know a lot about.

In fact, I've talked about it before, because I'm a classic procrastinator who struggles with the daily discipline of writing (see The Art of Discipline if you don't believe me). It's why I decided to invent the Twitter hashtag #writinghabit and start a conversation about daily writing. I think it's important to write daily. When I'm busy, that's hard. But when I'm not busy, it's even harder.

I'm serious about that. Perhaps it's because I'm normally so busy that when things slow down, I get lazy and don't want to do anything. But free time often hinders my daily writing. And I'm not alone. Fellow writer Serena Saint-Marceaux shared with me her challenge of writing during Nanowrimo like this:

"I don't have a structured schedule that keeps me from having time to write... And sometimes that seems harder to deal with, almost, because there is no demarcation of 'Oh, now that everything is finished for the day, now I can write.' I just have to decide, 'Now, I'll set aside a couple of hours, or a half hour, or a few moments, to write.'"

There's an important truth in Serena's statement. When we're not busy, we may feel no urgency to make a schedule of what we're going to do and when we're going to do it. It can be temptingly easy to say to ourselves: "I'll do that later, because I'll have time for it later." If that's how we treat our writing, though, it's the kiss of death for our muse, isn't it?

No, we need to schedule, or set aside, a length of time for our writing on a regular basis. And if that's the only appointment we make for ourselves on a slow day, that's fine. It's still an appointment we need to keep...one that matters greatly to ourselves. It's a form of self-care for writers to fit time in for their writing, the same way that we make time for a nice massage, or a trip to the gym, or a leisurely cup of tea or coffee, or some reading time. All these things are important to caring for ourselves. And for writers, the act of writing is such a part of who we are that we aren't really being our full selves if we don't do it sometime.

If you have the freedom to schedule your writing at several points during your day, then you might want to experiment with writing at different times until you find the time that is most productive for you. You might even try finding two slots to write, with a break in between. But do yourself a favor and make your writing an important appointment with yourself, so that the day doesn't get away from you. You're worth it, and so is your art.

Now, you share: If you find it hard to write when you have a lot of free time, share about it here. Tell me your tricks for scheduling writing into your day or for motivating yourself to write when you don't feel like it.

For the next couple of weeks, I'll be talking about where we write: a home office, on the go, and so on. So if you have any thoughts or questions about that topic that you'd like me to tackle, let me know. Until next week, happy writing!

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

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?

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.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Writers Carry Stuff, Right? (Baggalini contest)

Well, it's been another one of those interesting times in my life. My young nephew recently passed away. It wasn't a surprise, as he was born with a severe birth defect. But it's still very difficult to deal with. The grief, the need to connect with family and friends... Needless to say, that's why I didn't get a post up last week. I hope to be back on schedule this Friday. The writing helps, really. And I look forward to getting back to sharing about writing and hearing from you about your writing lives.

But in the meantime, I can let you know about a contest going on for Baggalini, which is a line of bags designed by flight attendants. I own one and love it. I think I even reviewed it somewhere here on the blog, though I can't find the link right now.

Anyway, if you want a chance to win a Baggalini for yourself or a special someone, there are two contests going on. I don't get anything from Baggalini for posting about their company or the contests. This is really just a favor for a friend who asked me to help get the word out, so that's all I'm doing. If it's not your thing, feel free to ignore this post and pop back in on Friday for more writing chatter.

See you then!
The Chipper Muse :)