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.
How to Deal with Interruptions in the Writing Life
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.
10 Tips to Protect your Writing Time:
1. Finding the Writing-Friendly pulse of your home.
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!
2. Reinforce your Personal Boundaries.
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.)
Points To Consider For Sharing Your Boundaries With Others
- Writers tend to not only enjoy their time alone, but they are very unhappy when they don’t get this uninterrupted time.
- Share with others what interruptions do to your work process and set ground rules that both of you are comfortable with.
- Communicate clearly when you intend to write. Then stick to your commitment.
- Your caring person will learn to accept your work routine and appreciate the time you spend together much more. Many well-meaning friends and family are trying to be helpful – let them know just how that would be best for you.
3. Have A Dedicated Writing Space.
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.
4. Have a Dedicated Writing Time.
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.
- Use a large paper or white board calendar in the kitchen.
- Enter your time on a shared online calendar that reaches all your roommate’s phones. Perhaps use a magnet in your workspace that says “am working’ and let others know that is a time reserved for you alone.
- Talk to your housemates about respecting the time you are working. Let them know a specific time when they can interrupt you again. Assure them it is because you have to get work done as well and you will be able to focus on them once you are have finished your work.
- Encourage them to complete things they need to do during that time. Working side-by-side can build independence in younger children. Having that conversation can reduce so many interruptions.
- Consider putting a timer on the table next to you in case someone forgets. (adults, kids, elders – all of the above can use a visual reminder at times.)
- Explain what emergencies REALLY are and provide a signal if needed (I tell my teenaged kids to show me blood, for example. Anything else can wait for 15 minutes. Right?)
5. Use Voice-to-Text.
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.
A Few Benefits For Using Dictation
- Edit later and save your time waiting in line or other downtime.
- Get the nagging thoughts on paper and allow your mind to rest.
- Tip: Find a place that is acceptable for phone calls and pretend to talk to another writer or better yet, the character in your novel! Perhaps you will find realistic voice and dialogue by trying this method, and others may have no idea what you are doing. Bonus!
And you can find instructions for Google Docs here:
6. Grocery Pick-Up – Write While Someone Else Does the Shopping.
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.
7. Plan your Sleep Schedule around Your Writing.
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.
The Downside of Being Tired
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.
The Upside to Skipping the Snooze
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!
8. Doing Household Chores To Boost Your Writing Mojo.
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:
- Writing for long periods of time can be taxing for some writers, but priming the pump is also important.
- When writing under a deadline, I write for an hour then follow it with a completely different physical activity. Movement gets blood flowing and refreshes the body and mind. It saves your body from retaining too much stress for sitting in one position for too long.
- If dusting and loading up dishes gives my mind a break, it can process the complexities of the story and lead me to write a better next scene.
- Pro tip: If you are excited to write the next paragraph, it may be a good time to take a break. You will naturally want to return to the keyboard to address it.
9. Circle the Wagons for Bigger Life Issues.
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.
10. Get outside! Spur on your Creativity.
If all the interruptions are just impossible to escape within your house, then leave quickly and quietly.
- Find your happy place in a pub or café and sip tea while building your next great novel.
- Join a writing group at your community center
- find a critique group at your local library.
- Build up your energy and fill your writer soul with the work that whispers at you until it’s finished.
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.
Letting Go of Daily Interruptions to Write More
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.
A Quick Story
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.
Moral of the Story
“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!
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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.