By Kris Maze
November is a time of reflection. A time to enjoy the harvest of hard work, to appreciate others, and to show gratitude. Writers multi-task various jobs, care for others, and focus on our works-in-progress, but sometimes we need a tune-up.
When meeting at a recent Wednesday writing group, I realized the importance of protecting our writing time. Many writers struggle to find writing time, and I heard our group's difficulties as they shared updates. Even when we schedule writing sessions, and stick to our writing plans, there are always tiny time-suck monsters lurking, waiting to derail our writing.
Removing distractions is a topic I often revisit, because as a busy writer, mom, spouse, teacher, and friend, I work hard to balance my writing goals with day-to-day demands. But this post is a reflection and compilation from other writers about how we can protect our writing time and dreams. Shout out to my writing group for discussing problems we all share about making more time to write.
One of the biggest hurdles to getting words on the page is interruption. The little ‘i’ makes a big disruption to the capital ‘I’ for many reasons. Finding creative uses of time and space, automating tasks, having strong personal boundaries and can benefit our lives in many ways, but it can also provide us with more time to write.
Do you have early risers or napping toddlers? Is your partner’s work schedule in the evening when you sleep? Try using the time they are busy as your writing time. Lessen your interruptions by finding a natural flow of your household. What you do with those precious few moments is up to you, but instead of binge-watching, capitalize on your gift of time. Invest in your writing goals. Then maybe catch up on an episode as a reward!
Sometimes the biggest time interrupters are the people we care about the most. Those people who are dear to us can misinterpret a productive work session as frustration or loneliness. If they don’t understand that writers are okay when spending hours alone and working, be sure to tell them. Let them know what would make you the happiest (accomplishing your writing goals with a little time set aside for writing.)
Even if it is a chair facing the other direction from busy kids doing homework at the table. Make a place of your own. Claiming your space as you communicate your intentions may take time. Keeping others in mind can help you build a routine that benefits everyone in your home.
And telepath those pets your desires – let me know if that works and how. I can’t get that one down! They don’t seem to understand what the calendar means yet. *wink* In previous posts at Writers in the Storm, we have examined how feng shui can influence your writing how your writing space can inspire your writing.
How much writing time would satisfy your itch to write? Add a little extra for good measure and carve it out. Share this time frame on calendars you already share with your housemates, work cohorts, and friends. If you already have a system to share schedules, add your writing time to it. Then try these tips to implement it.
If you can avoid distractions, make the most of them. When you find yourself waiting in line or in your car and an idea strikes, try dictation to your phone. Most devices now come with a standard read-to-you feature, but did you know they also have options for voice to text? Many writing systems already have these features installed.
In Microsoft 365 (as of late 2021) here are instructions to use dictation.
And you can find instructions for Google Docs here:
Game. Changer. So many stores offer this service for low or no cost, there really is no excuse to not use this time-builder for writing.
Once you have a list selected your weekly groceries online, you have only a click away from deciding when to have someone else put the bags of food in the trunk of your car.
This saves hours of driving, walking the lanes, and extra purchases of chips and chocolate that mysteriously appear in my cart by the time I hit the checkout.
Try it! Do it. Do it.
We have times when we are naturally more alert and times when sleep is a necessary priority. Balancing our circadian rhythms with our writing routine can take some refinement, but it is an important place to consider making changes.
Being tired keeps our minds from focusing. To avoid mental wandering and reading the same paragraph multiple times, find times when you are most alert and start a writing session then. I use a timer to let me know when I have met my half-hour goal for the morning. It is like a reward when I realize that I have been writing that long. It is easy to put the start button and try for another round of 30 minutes, but for me it works best when I’m not overly tired.
I also chose sleep more often than I need to, but that doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice my needed hours of rest. One doesn’t need to be a part of a 5 am writing club to get more finished. (Although kudos to those who accomplish great things by getting up before dawn.) If you begin your morning with a simple 30-minute sprint, you also start having already accomplished part of your writing goal, too!
Who doesn’t love a clean house and an increased word count? Taking planned breaks can keep you focused and help you avoid interruption. Consider the following:
If an emotional struggle is draining you, your writing will also suffer. You may need more support.
Consider finding a young mom’s group, or a community group focused on the specific needs in your household that hold you back. If there is a constant need in your household – don’t forget to take of your mental health, too. Caring for an elder? Raising a child with special needs? Grieving an unexpected or life-changing loss? Don’t ignore your current stress. Many groups exist for members to share similar experiences and to support one another.
Put your oxygen mask on first and be the sparkling wonderful person you are as you find the writing path that works for you.
If all the interruptions are just impossible to escape within your house, then leave quickly and quietly.
When you return, your family will suspect you were dancing on tables and racing down Route 66 you will be so happy. Let them think that. Your dreams are important and those who care about you want the best for you as well. Stand up for your dreams and build a balanced amount of me-time into your lives, Writer Friends.
If you want fewer interruptions, it would be good to identify what are your biggest culprits. Is it a needy child or an adult needing care? Do you need to be phone-ready to address a crisis at any moment? Perhaps you are stressed out by building a presence in social media or the many parts of an author platform and find yourself just spinning your writerly wheels.
Whatever your stress is that is pulling at your attention, it is paramount to give yourself permission for a respite from time to time.
Once, a professor held up a small glass of water to a hall of mid-term stressed-out undergrads. The students propped up on elbows, watched as the professor asked, “How much do you think this glass weighs?” A few students stirred and blurted out answers.
“ 12 ounces.”
“Depends on the cup – is it acrylic?”
“Let me take a drink. Then I’ll tell you because it will be empty!”
The professor listened to the various answers before responding, “I really don’t know how much this cup weighs, but I wonder if you could hold it up for a few minutes without much trouble?” The awake students nodded in agreement.
He looked at the half-filled glass, “What about for longer?” He looked at the students. “How would your arm feel after 10 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour?”
“My arm would ache.”
“No way. I can hardly do a plank for 1 minute.”
“Oooh. Don’t assign this as an experiment…” One whispered under her breath.
He took a sip of the water and set it on the presentation table. “The water is still in the cup, ready for us to drink. It is protected and in view. I am confident that this cup will not fall to the ground while I watch it. My arm is resting and ready for my next sip.” The professor did a couple arm stretches.
“When we hold on to our problems, our stress, our worries, we cause ourselves more pain and suffering.
Set. Down. Your. Cups.
Take time to do the things you love to do. The things that energize you and bring you joy. The glass will still be waiting for you. But after a break, you will be refreshed.” The professor began to pack his bag and took a long draw from the cup.
And he dismissed the class for the afternoon.
We all have responsibilities at home, work, and in the community. Don’t forget to set down your cup. You need that arm to build up your writing dreams.
Until next time, keep writing!
* * * * * *
Kris Maze has worked in education for 26 years and writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. She published a YA dystopian novel by a small press in the summer of 2020. Lately, she has been entering and placing in writing competitions, such as NYC Midnight’s Short Story and Microfiction contests. You can find her YA horror stories and keep up with her author events at her website.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family. She also ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.
All photo credits to Kris Maze and her use of Canva Pro.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Thank you for sharing this, Kris. Excellent reminder.
I'm glad you found it useful. Best of luck with your writing projects!
Wonderful suggestions, Kris!
Communicating with family and friends in general is a good thing, but when regarding writing/researching time is incredibly important.
Like you mentioned in the post, "Put your oxygen mask on first." You need to schedule time for yourself.
Happy writer -- happy household
It is important to take that time for yourself. Especially when you have multiple projects in the works! "Happy Writer - Happy household." So, true!
Brilliant Kris! And I soooo needed this today. Hugs, Thank you! Thank you!
Especially loved this line:
Writers tend to not only enjoy their time alone, but they are very unhappy when they don’t get this uninterrupted time.
So true! Sometimes I just want to run away to be alone for three or four solid hours without interruption.
I was hoping this would resonate with those troopers in the writing trenches. I'm glad this served you well today. It's easy to stay focused on our work and ignore the pebble in the shoe of distractions.
Plan in some 'me' time soon, you will feel so much better for it! (And hopefully others will take notice, too.)
Take care of you, writer friend.
Thanks you, Kris! They were almost all good. I especially need to work on talking about my writing time to my spouse; thanks for giving me permission and letting me know I'm not the only one.
Now, about the other suggestion. I sent a telepathic message to my cat that I'm working & he can't be on my lap and he understood completely. He's still laughing.
That's awesome, James. Communicating the the simplest and most difficult thing. I need to shift my focus often whether at home, in writing communities, or at work.
As far as that cat - was it an evil laugh? 🙂 At least we can try letting our pets know when to give us space. I'm still working on that!
Thanks for this, Kris. The more tools we have in the toolbox the better.
Going through USMC Officer Candidate School, I was one of a handful in the platoon who'd been enlisted Marines for years before becoming officers. So in the evenings on free time, the other guys constantly came and asked me questions about nearly everything. I would be trying to read a letter from my fiancee, or write one to her, and getting interrupted every minute and a half. I finally used a yard of string, a sheet of paper folded in half, some tape, and a marker to make a big DO NOT DISTURB! sign, which I hung around my neck when I didn't want people tapping my shoulder. It worked.
Officer school sounds like an intense time to get any writing done!
I'm glad you found more ideas for your toolbox. Or perhaps reminders of what you already know and do. (Sometimes I have to stop and practice what I am peddling. It is my first question when I find distractions creeping in. Am I taking time to avoid distractions? Silence my phone, etc. )
I enjoyed your great example of minimizing distractions. Sometime the simplest methods - string and paper folded in half - are the best. Happy writing!
Wonderful--and much needed--advice.
Great post. I love lists that provide spot on directions. Two comments to aid those that want to delve in deeper to numbers 2, 3, and 5. On Mentorbox.com there was a book called My Creative Space by Donald Rattner that Donald broke down to 10 aspects of creating a working environment. OMG this book was 'da bomb'. He covered paint selections, desks (types and position), tchotchkes, aroma, balance, feng shui, and so much more. I actually bought the book so I could really see the delightful pictures he provided. And I've yet to corral the space but once I find it in my house I'm going to go all out to get my mojo from his suggestions. Also, Monica Leonelle put out a book called How to Dictate Your Book that walks you through setting up equipment, working with how to transfer into Dragon Naturally Speaking, and making dictation work for you during your fitness walks. She explained the book was written because she has severe issues with either arthritis or tendonitis (cant remember) in her fingers and hands. So she was forced to dictate, which forced her to find the best process. And since she is a testing fool its a really clear and precise book. Monica is famous for her blog on Write Better, Faster where she breaks down why people write faster and how you can make it better. Genius book, really. Hope this comment helps someone.