When, Where, and How
What happened when I prioritized my writing
Look, I’m busy. So are you. We’re all busy these days. For those of us who want to write creatively, that can be quite frustrating.
I found myself stuck in a rut awhile back. Running a small writing and editing business, teaching online, and writing articles (including ghostwriting) left me too mentally fatigued at the end of the day to work on my creative writing projects. Instead, I’d find myself sitting numbly in front of the TV (loved that Bridgerton, though!) or conquering Ireland yet again in Crusader Kings III (or if I’m feeling really lazy, just Island).
A few weeks ago I came to the important realization that one project — my beloved book, my Great Auk’s egg — would never come to fruition if I didn’t take some action to get myself back on track. Here’s what I did to make that happen.
I made it a priority
I think I realized I needed to do this when a friend of mine asked me, “What’s stopping you from finishing your story?” I cycled through all the excuses in my mind, like the lack of time and the need to spend most of my time on earning an income, all the things I told myself to put off taking action.
Finally, I came to understand that if I wanted finishing my novel to be my priority, I had to make it a priority. Don’t get me wrong. I still need to spend the majority of my day making money right now. House ain’t gonna pay for itself. Food ain’t gonna buy itself. You know the drill. But still, I needed to find a way to prioritize my creative writing.
I set a specific time to write
I decided to make my book a priority by making it my first activity of the day. I know myself. If I put it off, I’ll end up working all day — -editing or grading or creating content for others. My creative writing would be the can I just kept kicking down the street until I slumped in front of Netflix or Prime, too mentally wiped out to do any more. Day over, or all over but the sleepin’.
Now when I get up, the first hour to hour and fifteen minutes belongs to my book. It’s amazing how much I can get done in that short time while my mind is fresh…. Well, fresh-ish, I’m not a morning person. Let’s just say this: while my mind is freshly caffeinated with Folgers Black Silk. If I have time later in the day to come back to it, I will. If not, I will at least have done something on it that day.
I have a plan
I keep a notebook next to me on the desk, and each morning when I’ve wrapped up my creative writing, before moving on to all the other work piling up, I jot down what I’m going to do the next morning. That way, I’m never just sitting here not knowing where to start (which can lead to wandering off into email, where there will inevitably be a student question, which jump starts my work day….).
Even if I start on my creative writing plan and realize I would rather switch to a different aspect of the book, at least I’m working on my novel, and I’m making progress. So, even though I have a plan, I try not to be too rigid about following it. I’m willing to follow the muse, too!
If I abandon a plan in favor of a new idea, I save it for the next day or add it to the lists of tasks I want to tackle for the book in the near future. That way I always have a plan. It’s a bit like the classroom teacher who has spare lesson plans stashed in the desk drawer, ready to be pulled out in an emergency.
I have people who hold me accountable
My friend who prompted this whole reevaluation of my personal writing goals and setting up a strategy to reach them sometimes sends me texts, asking what my main character in my novel is doing. It’s her gentle way of saying, “I’m watching you.”
In addition, my college-aged son is also writing a novel, so we have what we call “Writing Club,” when we talk about our ideas and what we’re doing. This keeps me on my toes, as well.
Finally, I haven’t always been open about my creative writing, or my pet project in particular, but I finally mentioned it to my business partner during a recent discussion about our business goals. She promptly put it on the goals list.
So, now I have three people watching me.
I write in a place I enjoy
A couple of years ago, I had the idea of fixing up my office in the basement. The problem was that the most suitable location was an inner room with no windows. It’s a cozy room with primarily black and red furniture, so it’s dark and nice for watching TV or reading, stretched out on the couch under a fluffy throw.
However, I didn’t find it an inspiring place to work. All the lighting in the world wouldn’t change it, either, as I discovered after bringing in additional lamps and even a therapy lamp.
For years before that, I had my office in a corner of my living room. This arrangement probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but I did like it, especially when my sons were younger. I liked being in the middle of everything. I liked being able to interact with them here and there. I liked keeping an eye on them.
I’m not sure why I moved the office downstairs to begin with. I think I was trying to separate work and life, get in on that work-life balance trend everyone was talking about, which didn’t really work for me. At any rate, I moved back upstairs. In the meantime, I also changed some things in my living room to make it a brighter room, and now I’m quite happy to be back in my corner with a new desk and a nice foldable screen to stretch out behind me when I’m on camera for work.
Each morning, it’s a joy to open the drapes (new ivory curtains to maximize brightness!), let the light in, and sit down at my desk with my first cup of coffee. It’s a much more inspiring place to work and write.
I take time to feel the joy of writing
Every day, sitting at my desk in my pool of joyful sunshine coming through the window in front of me, I remind myself to enjoy my creative writing. If I think of a passage that I feel especially proud of, I will find it and read it just to inspire myself.
I write to entertain myself, too. Maybe some of it won’t make the cut later, but I think writing with that kind of joy can form the basis for entertaining work. I imagine entertaining a reader and let myself feel the pleasure of that, too. Let’s face it, writing can be depressing and lonely, and there have been times when I thought, “What if no one ever reads this?” That made me sad and was, really, demotivating. I don’t think like that now. I put the anxiety and fear aside and just enjoy it. Again, I think of it as entertaining myself. And, again, that’s inspiring.
What about you?
How can you prioritize your writing but make sure it remains a pleasure rather than a chore? In sum
Commit to it as a priority. Be honest with yourself: What number is it on the list of things you want to accomplish each day? Work on it accordingly.
Set a specific time to write. In my case, writing first thing in the morning works for me because I can do it before life intrudes and sends me off in other directions. Perhaps this will work for you, as well.
Have a plan for your writing before you even sit down at your desk. I try to plan the next session at the end of my current one. (And, when I say plan, I’m talking about a sentence that says “Continue revising _____,” or “Pick up with _____,” whatever makes sense at the time.) Always have something to work on, but be flexible, too, in case the muse comes! Don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan.
Find accountability partners. This can be another writer or a friend or even your mom or a sibling, just someone who can check in with you each week and say, “What have worked on this week?”
Write in a place you enjoy. Find a place where you feel productive and comfortable. Let your surroundings inspire you.
Most of all this: Enjoy your writing! Take some time periodically to read over your best work and appreciate it. You can inspire yourself!