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 moment 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!
In Microsoft 365 (as of late 2021) here are instructions to use dictation.
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 in 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 st