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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.

How to Stop Giving Up Your Writing Time: Guest Post by Colleen M. Story


Guest blogger Colleen M. Story

I found a new source of writing inspiration on Twitter’s MondayBlogs

I particularly love it when I see a post from Colleen M. Story’s Writing and Wellness blog.

And I kinda hate it because as I read Colleen’s post, I keep thinking “Exactly. This is so true. I should have written this.”

Then I realize it’s more perfect than I first thought because I could (and did) invite Colleen to share one of her absolutely on-target-for-writers-wrestling- with-resistance posts here as a Guest Blogger.

I think you’re going to love Colleen’s post, too. (Especially the part about buying the leather jacket…)

 

Do you find that even though you have a scheduled daily writing time, it’s often interrupted?

Jennifer had the perfect situation for a while. She wrote while the kids were in school and her husband was at work, which worked out beautifully until summer break came.

Then she was constantly interrupted with her family’s requests and the persistent noise, to the point that she could get very little done even though she sequestered herself away in her bedroom to write.

Greg thought he had solved his writing time problem when he started using his lunch hour to do it. He’d steal out to his car, drive to a nearby park, spend a few minutes brainstorming while he ate, and then type away on his story.

But after a few months, his boss started making more and more requests that dug into Greg’s lunch hour, until soon he had barely enough time to wolf down a sandwich before he had to be back in the office.

Even the most disciplined of writers will find their routines messed up now and then. Life happens, and we have to do what we need to do. But if you’re finding that your writing time is disappearing more often than you’d like, it’s time to do something to stop it.

creative timeTruly Value Your Creative Time

Often we give up our writing time to others because secretly, we don’t value it as much as we should. We tell ourselves we can make it up later, by writing extra words at our next session, or fitting in another half hour somewhere later on in the day.

Trouble is, it’s difficult to write more than we’re used to writing during any one period, so “making it up” in terms of word count rarely happens. It’s also tough to find some other time to fit it in. You chose that writing time for a reason—because it worked. Having to write at some other time is more difficult to do than you may imagine initially.

What’s way underneath this thought process is often a deeper problem—not valuing your creative self as much as you should. You may still harbor some self-doubt about your gifts as a writer, and believe that if someone asks you to do something else, it’s probably a more worthwhile or useful way to spend your time. You may not admit this to yourself that clearly, but the emotions may be lurking behind your inability to defend your time to write.

If you don’t highly value your writing time, others won’t, either. What’s amazing is that it usually takes only a time or two of sticking to your guns for people to get the message. Try saying, “I’m sorry, I’m working on my project then,” and let it go. Respond to any amount of pleading or manipulating with a simple repeat of your position until people understand. Then don’t allow yourself to feel guilty. Instead, be proud of yourself for making your creative well being a priority.

Remind yourself every day that no matter what outside rewards you are or aren’t getting for your writing, it’s just as important for your health as eating right and exercising. You are a creative being. Regular creative time should be a non-negotiable in your life.

Creative CostDon’t Pay the High Creative Cost

You may give your writing time away more often than you should because you don’t really understand the cost of that action.

Unfortunately, there is always a creative cost to pay when making decisions that don’t support your creative goals. Writing well requires a lot of factors working together. You need to be awake, alert, able to focus, and motivated. You need a fresh mind and body to follow your characters through a scene.

When you get into the habit of writing at a particular time, your system gets used to that time, and supports you in it, physiologically. You sit down primed to work because you’ve trained your being to be ready for it. It’s like training yourself to eat meals at a certain time, or exercise at a certain time, or go to bed at a certain time. As you develop these habits, you get hungry, restless, and tired at the times you’ve set up for yourself.

Changing that time, then, throws your system out of whack. Either you miss your writing altogether, which can make you feel guilty and out of sorts, or you try to do it another time. But your creative being isn’t used to writing at that time, so you’re more likely to have to deal with distractions, low motivation, energy drag, and focus problems—all things you don’t typically have to worry about if you write at your scheduled time.

All this means it will be more difficult to produce your usual volume of work, if you can produce any at all. You risk losing a day or more on your project, which can stall your momentum and cost you much more time in trying to recapture where you were before.

When giving up your writing time, remember the total cost of that action. It’s usually much more expensive than you realize.

Do not disturbRefuse to Allow Interruptions

Writing at home is often the most convenient, but it can set you up for a myriad of interruptions if you’re not careful.

As in Jennifer’s case, you may find that your writing time is often interrupted by your kids, partner, or simply by noise and other activities that are going on. You may try to ignore these interruptions, or return quickly to your work once you’ve managed them, but have no doubt they are seriously eroding your progress.

Interruptions destroy your productivity on any project. According to a recent study from the University of California, it takes about 23 minutes to get back on task after an interruption. If you have only 30 minutes to write, one interruption could completely blow it. One!

You may think you are the exception and can get back into the middle of your scene in seconds, but I’d challenge you to keep track of it next time. You may be surprised at how long your brain needs to go from dealing with the interruption to diving back into your imaginary world.

If you tolerate interruptions, you’re giving your writing time away. Don’t blame your family (or your office mates or whoever is interrupting you). Blame yourself. You haven’t set up the right expectations for your writing time. Make it clear that when you’re writing, you cannot be interrupted for anything other than a life-threatening situation. Put a sign up on your door, invest in some quality earplugs or earphones, and get serious about protecting your space.

Then, be ready for people to challenge you. They’ll knock on your door, peek in, whisper quietly. Ignore them. Hold firm. Don’t respond. There are few people who will continue to try to get your attention when you ignore them completely. Keep typing, even if it’s gibberish, to create the image of an artist busy at work. Your interrupter will soon get the message. If you keep at it, you’ll no longer have to worry about interruptions.

time-is moneyThink of Your Time as Money

We often hear in today’s world that time is our most valuable resource. Yet we don’t treat it that way.

Imagine if your friend is talking to you one day, and she tells you about this great new leather jacket she found online. She describes it in detail, sure it would look dynamite on her, but just as she’s convinced you she has to have this jacket, she tells you that unfortunately, she can’t afford it. It’s $300.

Then she proceeds to ask you for the money to buy the jacket.

Would you give it to her?

Most people wouldn’t hand over $300 simply because someone asked for it. But we often do hand over large chunks of our writing time to people who simply ask, or interrupt, or put us on a guilt trip.

The worst thing about this is that we can always get more money. We can never get more time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. For life.

Next time you’re in a situation where you’re feeling pressured to give up your writing time, give it a monetary value. Let’s say an hour of your writing time is worth $100. Decide whether you’d be as willing to fork over that money as you are your time. If not, say no and go write instead.

my plans journalDo What You Have to Do

Greg’s case is a tough one. When your boss is the one encroaching on your writing time, it’s not so easy to push back, especially if you’re relying on that paycheck for your mortgage payment.

You can try rescheduling your writing time. Greg may take his hour in the car right after work, for example, or get up early and do it before he goes into the office. Usually we can adapt if we give ourselves a few weeks to work with a new schedule.

If there’s absolutely no way to make the change, though, you do have other options. You can inch your lunch hour back by ten minutes so you’re gone before your boss has a chance to retain you. You can agree to attend to whatever issue he has for you when you return “from your appointment” which you scheduled on your lunch hour. The fact that your appointment is with yourself is none of his business.

You can also be proactive and ask your boss if you can schedule a weekly meeting with him (at any time other than lunch time) to go over any upcoming projects or new ideas you may have. Checking in more regularly may help him feel at ease with your interaction and less likely to bug you at lunch.

heart-mobileRespond with Your Heart

One last thing: When you give your time away, ask what part of you is giving it away.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Your fear—you worry if you refuse a request someone will think badly of you.
  • Your guilt—you say “yes” out of some feeling of guilt.
  • Your misplaced priorities—you think you have to constantly put others’ needs before your own.
  • Your need for approval—you worry what others think about you, and therefore try to accommodate them all the time.
  • Your selfdoubt—you still doubt your talent as a creative person, and feel like you have to keep your writing in the background.

If any of these emotions or thoughts cause you to give your time away, promise yourself that next time, you’ll tune into your heart, instead. Ask your heart what it wants, and follow the answer directly.

Colleen M. Story is a novelist, health and wellness writer, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her literary novel, Loreena’s Gift, has received five literary awards, including first place in the Idaho Author Awards, solo medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, and Silver winner in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards. She’s authored thousands of articles for a variety of health-centered publications, and ghostwritten books for clients in the health and wellness industry. As a speaker, she enjoys helping writers and other creative artists break through mental barriers and tap into their unique creative powers. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness (http://writingandwellness.com/), a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website (http://colleenmstory.com/), or follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/colleen_m_story?lang=en).

Colleen’s Source
Brigid Schulte, “Work interruptions can cost you 6 hours a day. An efficiency expert explains how to avoid them,” Washington Post, June 1, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/06/01/interruptions-at-work-can-cost-you-up-to-6-hours-a-day-heres-how-to-avoid-them/?utm_term=.142ddf9c6b25.

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4 Comments on “How to Stop Giving Up Your Writing Time: Guest Post by Colleen M. Story”

  1. Theresa July 12, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

    Please say thank you to Colleen for me too.

    I don’t have a regular schedule. I can plan all I want to, but the needs of my early-eighties parents take precedence over about everything. We’re about ready for another round of medical stuff: Dr. visits, possible therapy, plus the usual volunteering, shopping, etc.

    I’m going to try to focus on tracking and the time spent/ should-have-spent. For example, I have one project/warm-up that I’m supposed to work on from 9:00-9:30. I’ve batted 0 on it this week.

    If I can somehow track it, as I turn off my reminder alarm, so I can see/recall that it needs to be done when I can write – that’s the goal.

    I haven’t quite figured out how to do that, but it might give someone else an idea.

    Have a good evening!

    Like

    • rosannebane July 17, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

      Thanks Theresa. For what it’s worth, I track my Novel Reserved time (intended target time) and my Novel Actual time (time I actually work on my novel) with two slightly different colors on my calendar (light purple and dark purple). It’s very rewarding to see the dark purple boxes (actual novel time) match the reserved time and even better when actual is bigger than reserved time. When you figure out how to make tracking work for you and feel so inclined, please consider sharing it in a guest post. I know readers who struggle with “chronic emergencies” would appreciate any insight you have to share.

      Like

  2. MARY LORFINK July 7, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

    Wonderful! Thank you!

    Mary Kay Crawford lorfink@msn.com

    ________________________________

    Like

    • rosannebane July 10, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

      Mary: I know — it’s a great post, isn’t it. I’ll pass your appreciation on to Colleen.

      Like

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