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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Want More Time to Write? Stop Doing What You Know How to Do!

Someone wise once told me “If you want to do something you don’t know how to do, stop doing what you do know how to do.”

So if you want more time to write and don’t know how to get it, here are some suggestions:

  • Stop clearing your desk
  • Stop emptying the dishwasher, dusting your office or putting in a load of laundry
  • Stop checking your voice mail and exploring yet another new app for your cell
  • Stop checking your email, Facebook, Twitter account, blog stats, and the exact location of the UPS shipment of books you ordered two days ago
  • Stop reading, doing sudoku, watching TV or playing games
  • Stop emptying the dishwasher, putting in a load of laundry, answering your voice mails
  • Stop doing whatever it is you do before you write.

In fact, if you haven’t done your writing for today, stop reading this blog, go do your writing (and don’t do anything else) and then come back and finish reading. Seriously. I mean it.  

Many of my students confess that they have a pattern for distracting themselves and delaying the start of their writing time. Let’s face it, we all do.

Before I started writing this post, I ate breakfast, fed and walked the dogs, went to the Y where I worked out and showered, met the guy who introduced me to my agent for a little networking, drove home, grabbed a glass of ice tea and cookies, put a load of laundry in the washer, brought my laptop, tea, cookies and dogs outside, sat down and started typing. Some of those things are standard morning routine items for me (breakfast, walking the dogs) some were scheduled for today (the Y and networking meeting), some were okay writing prep (getting ice tea and my mid-morning snack). Only one – putting the laundry in the washer – was a delay I could have and should have avoided. This looks better than usual; I kept the distractions to a minimum because I knew I was going to write about this.

A more typical list of things I do before writing includes: checking email (my #1 distraction), responding to email, deciding I should take five minutes to delete stuff in my email files, checking my To Do list (why I don’t know, do I think someone would have snuck into my office and checked some tasks off the list when I wasn’t looking?). I also check to make sure the puppy isn’t chewing something she shouldn’t be chewing, check out the cupboards and fridge for a snack or an inspiration (whichever comes first), shuffle paper on my desk, put books back on the shelf, do a little class prep, empty the dishwasher,etc.

What do you usually do before you write? Make a list, an actual written list, not just a mental list. You may be surprised. I’d love to hear what’s on your list.

I understand the impulse. We want to clear the decks, get rid of the clutter that distracts us, and take care of what needs to be taken care of so we won’t be interrupted. We’re trying to create order in the physical world so we can find order in our mental world and put that on the page. Some of this pre-writing clearing behavior is laudable and may make us more effective.

But we need to stay aware of how this impulse can get out of control. Doing something we know how to do comforts us. Sometimes the best way to get started on what we fear will be a difficult writing task is to start with a small part that we’re familiar with. But more often, we distract ourselves with a familiar task that is completely unrelated to our writing and get lost in the distractions for hours.

Besides, we’ll never be able to truly clear the decks and take care of everything that needs to be taken care of. Sooner or later, we just have to say “I’ll take care of other stuff and other people later; right now I’m going to write.”

One of the advantages of the 15 Magic Minutes is that because you know you’re going to write for just a short time, you don’t feel as big a compulsion to get everything else handled first. It’s like the difference between what you do when you’re leaving the house for a few hours and what you do when you’re leaving for a three-week vacation.

Pick one or two things you do before you write and let that be your writing ritual, a ritual that leads you into your writing. Stop doing all that other crap, even though it’s comforting. Allow yourself to feel that shiver that accompanies setting out into the unknown. And remember that humans shiver with fear, but we also shiver with delight.

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4 Comments on “Want More Time to Write? Stop Doing What You Know How to Do!”

    • rosannebane August 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

      Thanks for the suggestion, Elettrico. Destroying my TV certainly would give me and many other writers more time to write. I’ve learned I have to be careful about how much and what kind of TV I consume, but I’ve found some really cool stuff there that I’ve researched further and used in my book. So I’m not ready to go cold-turkey yet, but I offer kudos to those who choose to do that.
      Have you — and anyone else who’s sworn off TV — found you have more time for writing without it?


  1. Elmer July 19, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    Dear Ms. Bane,

    You really are a Godsend. Today I’d decided to take some time off my writing (I’m a first-timer, by the way)and browse through the net to find some hints on writing. I came across this Brazilian website (www.roteirodecinema.com.br) which offered a link to one of your articles. ONe thing led to another, and here I was reading this article.
    Halfway through it, you demmanded our stop to have our 15 Magic Minutes. Great student I am, I stopped immediately, wrote for half an hour, and resumed the reading of the article.
    Thanks to you, I’ve managed to write now everyday since I kicked off two Sundays ago.
    What? Yes, I told you upfront I’m a first-timer. And I’ve been working on it for nine days only.

    I’ll surely drop by more often.
    All the best,



    • rosannebane July 20, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

      Welcome Elmer. Thanks for letting me know the 15 minutes is working so well for you! Nine days in a row is excellent. Good for you!


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