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May 9, 2012
About every two years, I get a wake-up call when some form of exhaustion sets in. Without noticing, I have fudged on bedtimes, let boundaries be way too flexible, or simply taken on more than I should have.
Time to Re-Group
Then I have to sit down and play the game called ”Where’d My Time Go?” Usually I find that other people’s expectations have taken over my writing time. Nearly always I was at fault. I offered to do something I didn’t really have time for, or said “No problem!” when I should have said, “Sorry, I just can’t.”
My schedule is under control again, but I’d like to step out of this cycle once and for all. The best way I’ve found to save my writing time is to set policies. Remember, you’re the boss in your office! You have the authority to set whatever policies you need.
After you’ve spotted some of your weakest areas, develop policies to cover future requests. For some reason, stating that you have a “policy” about certain things carries more weight with people. Very few people argue when you have a “policy.”
Target the areas where you have the most trouble setting–and enforcing–boundaries. It might have to do with overtime on your day job, expectations from the neighbors, or any organization where you volunteer.
Some “company policies” might include:
- I have a policy about home business parties. I don’t attend them, and I don’t give them.
- I have a policy of not returning phone calls until the noon hour.
- I have a policy that says I don’t make doctors’ or dental appointments until after 3 p.m.
- I have a policy that includes no drop-in baby-sitting. I need a minimum of 48 hours notice.
- My policy states that I don’t commit to any event more than (X) months away. (Fill in your personal limit.)
- I choose to help with one party each year at my child’s school. That’s my class contribution, so what party would you like me to help with?
- My policy states that I charge $5 for each ten minutes that parents are late picking up their kids from my day care.
Sometimes our commitments get out of hand because we want to do such an excellent job everywhere. So learn to under-promise, and later you can over-deliver if you have extra time.
For example, instead of volunteering to help at school the entire day, say you can come and read for one hour. If it turns out that you have extra time when the day rolls around, you can use the time to write or you can “over-deliver” on your promise and stay two hours. You’ll earn a reputation as someone who delivers even more than promised—and yet you’ll have saved time for yourself.
Time Credit Cards
Some of us (I’m guilty!) promise to do things months and months in advance when our calendars are still pristine white. Then six months later, when the event rolls around, our calendars are more jammed than we had anticipated; we regret that we ever agreed to that event or favor that really isn’t that important.
Too often we commit future time that we believe we’ll have, only to be caught up short later (like a credit card junkie who charges now and is just sure he’ll have the cash to pay it off later.)
Stop charging your time ahead! Cut up your time credit cards. Pay off whatever “time debt” you’ve accumulated at this point, but don’t charge anymore.
If people want you to commit to some volunteer thing more than a month away, simply say, “I have a policy that I don’t commit to things so far ahead. If you want to call me back in (X) months, I will be able to give you an answer then.” At that point, you’ll have a realistic idea of what your month’s schedule looks like.
If you are pressed for an answer (“I need to know now!”), then regretfully tell people that the answer will have to be “no.” (Given that choice, people will usually wait.)
E-mail, Social Networking, and Web Surfing
Limit your Internet time to two periods per day, before and after your writing. Keep it short. Answer crucial e-mail, but skip all the forwarded jokes and poignant stories till later. Unsubscribe from all but the best two or three e-newsletters you receive. Delete the junk without reading it. Check the social networking sites you use for marketing, and then close down. According to current workplace statistics, conquering e-mail/surfing/Facebook addiction can save you a full two or three hours per day.
Assignment: Where is your time going? Do you know? Keep track for a few weeks and be sure. Then begin to implement whatever policies you need in order to safeguard your time.
Write your company policies down and review them daily. As you use these policies, they will become second nature. Just remember that nature abhors a vacuum. Be ready to fill your new-found time with activities that can further your writing career.
***Speaking of furthering your writing career, in response to several emails, I’ve updated my critique service page. I am now reserving spots for July, August, and September. Just FYI!
December 16, 2011
Today let’s look at Key #2: thinking like a writer. These keys are based on Susan Perry’s Writing in Flow.
CHANGE MY THINKING?
We all think like writers already, or we wouldn’t be writing, correct? True enough, but in this series we’re concentrating on developing the ability to write in flow. Do writers who frequently write deeply and easily think differently?
Yes, it appears that they do. They have a certain set of attitudes, based on hundreds of Perry’s interviews. If we study these attitudes and beliefs and incorporate them into our own thinking, we should also be able to write in flow, be more productive, and enjoy the writing more.
This doesn’t mean you need a new personality. Quite the contrary. Be who you are, Perry says. “When you work with what comes naturally to you rather than struggling against it—whether it’s your preference for an uncluttered workspace or your tendency to do the opposite when those little voices in your head suggest that you ought to be answering those letters rather than writing a poem—you can apply your energy to what matters most to you.”
Another attitude, especially with writers in the early years, has to do with spending free time pursuing writing. They may be “troubled by the niggling feeling that taking too much time for their writing is slightly selfish because it’s like stealing time from their family,” Perry says. “If you identify with that second attitude, naturally you might find it more difficult to let go and focus fully when you do sit down to write.”
This attitude is easy to overcome after you are published and making money at your writing. Before that, I found that I got over the guilt when I took my writing time from my own free time activities—my sleep, TV, time with my friends. I gave up my own “extras” instead of taking it from the family, and then I didn’t feel guilty. It’s very hard to relax and write “in flow” when you’re feeling guilty!
Relaxing into flow—that essential letting go—can feel risky to certain personality types like mine. I don’t like risks, and I spend too much time probably trying to avoid risks. I would love it if I could make all my loved ones stop taking risks too! However, being afraid to take risks in your writing can stifle you as a writer.
“Taking risks, of whatever kind, can be especially challenging to those who can’t bear to give up control,” Perry says. “You can learn to open yourself to the unexpected, which is such a rich source of creative insight, by giving up control in small ways.” Remember, we’re talking about taking risks in your writing. You can certainly still control all the things in your environment that help you get into the flow state: clean desk, soft music, set daily routines, writing in certain locations, whatever you need.
For many writers, taking risks with your writing—in subject matter, in tone—can be scary. What will XXX think? (XXX = your editor, your mother, your spouse, the critics…) If you are focused on the fear of taking risks and what others will think, you can’t relax enough to enter the flow state.
One day I realized that in order to avoid that feeling, I only had to promise myself never to show the story to anyone if I didn’t want to. It never had to see the light of day, never had to offend anyone or hurt someone’s feelings. That decision helped me to write freely. And when I’d get to a place in the story that set off internal alarm bells (“You can’t say that!”), I said to myself (out loud), “No one ever needs to see this. I can say what I want. I can always change it later if I want to.” Writing this way, there is no risk involved whatsoever—and you can’t fail.
BE FULLY ABSORBED
Being fully absorbed in your work is very close to working in flow. And it’s a decision you can choose to make more often. Being fully absorbed means you “are deeply immersed in some activity as to be impervious to distractions…As a personality trait, absorption reflects the degree of your tendency to become deeply engaged in movies, nature, past events, fantasy or anything else.”
This type of person will have an easier time entering the flow state, which requires an ability to become deeply engaged and weed out distractions. A fully absorbed person can watch a good movie or read a good book and forget (temporarily) about negative distractions like his hunger, his headache, and her fight with her spouse—or lovely distractions like the phone, a beautiful day outside, or the cake in the kitchen.
You don’t start out writing with confidence or the ability to bounce back from rejection. You will need to find ways to master your fears, find confidence in your own writing voice, plus deal with isolation and self-doubt. All writers have to do this. I wrote many years with no confidence whatsoever. It can be done, but it’s rather torturous. I wasn’t writing in the enjoyable, timeless flow we’re talking about.
If you want help in this area, I highly recommend Cecil Murphey’s new book called Unleash the Writer Within: the Essential Writers’ Companion. Rather than working to overcome your weaknesses, the author shows you how to make friends with them and turn them into strengths. He deals with helping you find your real voice, like yourself, deal with the inner critic in an usual way, shatter writer’s block, and more. And he does all this in such a kind, straightforward and transparent way. Cec Murphey has millions of books in print and speaks from experience.
LONG-TERM PREPARATION FOR WRITING
If you have several attitudes mentioned above that need adjusting, you can’t just sit down and decide to think like a writer right now, so you can slip into flow. It takes time, depending on your mental attitudes at this time.
Developing the above attitudes will help you tolerate anxiety, be more open to new experiences, and learn to trust the writer you already are. If you feel like you need help in this area of “writerly attitudes that benefit you,” Unleash the Writer Within is my suggestion for you. I wish I’d had this book thirty years ago.
I’ve given you a lot to think about this week on the subject of writing in flow. Next week we’ll begin with Key #3: Loosen Up!
October 5, 2011
In my book Writer’s First Aid, I talk a lot about dealing with interruptions and distractions because I began writing when I had a newborn (ten days old), a todder (two) and a preschooler. If I couldn’t write through interruptions, I couldn’t write at all most days.
People protest all the time that they can’t write with continual interruptions, and I never had much of a response beyond “just do it!” I knew it was possible if they’d really try it. Then recently I heard about someone who’d led a workshop dealing with this very thing–and she taught the participants a valuable lesson.
Start! Stop! Start Again!
The speaker was ostensibly talking about “carving out time to write.” She suddenly stopped and said, “You may choose to write on your current project or a new one, but decide on something, even if it is just an account of your day. Pick up your pencil and paper and write when I say go.”
She timed the group of writers for three minutes and said, “Put your pencils down” and continued her talk for several minutes. She then repeated the interruption and her instructions. They wrote for three more minutes. The speaker interrupted her talk four different times during the hour and had them write.
At the end of her workshop the participants compared notes. They had all written at least one page, many had more, despite being interrupted four times in only twelve minutes of actual writing! Each time they’d been able go back and pick up a thought and continue. The speaker ended with, ”You can revise bad writing, but you cannot revise a blank page. Give yourself permission to write junk, then fix it.”
Change Your Mind
I know this sounds awfully simple, but I encourage you to change your mind about being able to write despite interruptions. So few of us live on a deserted island. Most writers–probably 90% or more–have to deal with distractions and interruptions.
If you need to prove to yourself that you can get back to your writing after an interruption, try that workshop experiment. Either try it alone or with your writing group. See what happens.
It just may turn out that you’ve been believing a lie all this time. Writing may not be as enjoyable when you’re interrupted, but it can be done.
September 12, 2011
Writers are opinionated people.
Our brains never seem to stop. We criticize because we “know” how things and people should be. This “critical editor component” of our personality is absolutely invaluable to the editing and revision process. If you can’t spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, you can’t fix it.
However, this same critical ability can cause writers to actually lose focus, allowing their writing hours to slip away with little or no work done.
Think About It
Many of us go through our daily lives with our internal critic or editor in charge. We don’t see the person right in front of us as he or she is (which may be perfectly fine.) Instead, that person reminds us of an ex-spouse, and we “see” characteristics that aren’t there. Stress!
Conversely, we think the person in front of us is “supposed” to be kind and supportive (our inner definition of parent/spouse/child/sibling). And yet many such relationships are anything but, leaving us hurt and upset because they should be supportive. More stress! Life rarely satisfies a person who lets the “shoulds” run his life.
Do we spend our time “shoulding”? We don’t see a child who is happily singing at the top of her voice. (That child should be more quiet in the store!) We don’t see an interesting shade of purple hair. (That teenager should resemble a miniature adult instead.) We don’t see the predator or user sometimes either–because trusted family members shouldn’t be such things. Our “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” color everything we observe.
Change Your Perspective
Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly “revising” the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative. Sometimes the simplest solutions evade us because we’re all riled up inside.
It reminds me of a story (you may also be familiar with) about “The River and the Lion: After the great rains, the lion was faced with crossing the river that had encircled him. Swimming was not in his nature, but it was either cross or die. The lion roared and charged at the river, almost drowning before he retreated. Many more times he attacked the water, and each time he failed to cross. Exhausted, the lion lay down, and in his quietness he heard the river say, “Never fight what isn’t here.”
Cautiously, the lion looked up and asked, “What isn’t here?”
“Your enemy isn’t here,” answered the river. “Just as you are a lion, I am merely a river.”
Now the lion sat very still and studied the ways of the river. After a while, he walked to where a certain current brushed against the shore, and stepping in, floated to the other side.
Control What You Can: Yourself
We also can’t gain peace of mind and the ability to focus unless we’re willing to give up trying to control everyone and everything in our environment. We spend entire days fuming and fretting over situations or people we can’t change or control, wasting precious writing and study time.
We need to save our judging skills for revision time and critiquing. We need to save our control freak behaviors for finagling with our characters’ actions. And you may as well give up having to convince people you’re right, while you’re at it. Letting go of those three things (judging, controlling, being right) will give you more inner peace faster than hours of yoga and meditation and mind-altering substances.
Start Right Here, Right Now
Think about something that is currently keeping your mind in knots to the point that you can barely write. I will bet that you are judging someone’s behavior, or trying to figure out how to control a situation, or having mental conversations in which you prove to that stubborn person how right you are. (I know this from personal experience in case you think I’ve been reading your mail.)
Letting go of criticism and control is freedom. For the writer, it means hours and hours are freed up for reading and writing. Just for today, let grown people and situations be what they are. Let them work on solutions for their own problems–or not. Turn all that “should” energy on your own work.
At the end of day, you’ll have something great to show for it!
August 31, 2011
When re-reading Getting It Done by Andrew J. DuBrin, PH.D., I came to a section on dealing with procrastination. One suggestion is something I’d like your feedback on.
He said you can make progress with procrastination if you “compartmentalize spheres of life.” He says that if you have multiple demands on your time that seem overwhelming, “mentally wear the same blinders placed on horses so they can concentrate better on the race and not be distracted.”
Box It Up!
I would love to be able to do that on a regular basis! Are you able to compartmentalize? I agree with the author that procrastination is more tempting when multiple demands are swirling and competing in your mind.
I think that male writers have an advantage here. They seem able to put things in boxes, tape the lids shut, and then deal with one box at a time. (I know this for a fact because I can tell when I am being put in the “wife” box!)
Women, however, mix things up. Our concern for our child’s health or marriage problems or a sibling’s financial crisis “bleeds over” into our writing time. And we tend to feel guilty if we’re happily typing away while a member of our family is in trouble or needs us.
So…please share your wisdom with me. Men, if you can explain how to put things in boxes or make blinders work, please advise. Ladies, if you’ve figured out how to push aside your other concerns while you write, please share.
I bet we could all use some tips!
May 18, 2011
I heard a sermon recently about life being filled with “fillers” and “drainers.” The pastor was talking about people, of course.
Fillers are people who know how to encourage you and build you up. Drainers are in your life because they need encouragement and help; however, they don’t have time for you if you need something in return. (You know the type. They think a “give and take” relationship means, “You give, and I take.”)
A rare person is both a filler and a drainer in your life, and you’re blessed if you have a person or two like that in your family or circle of friends.
If we narrow the “fillers and drainers” idea down to writers, I think you will find the idea holds true there as well. You will meet filler writers who are great encouragers for you, who help keep your self-esteem intact through the tough times of rejection, writer’s block, poor sales and negative reviews.
And you’ll meet drainer writers, those who nail you in the restroom at the writer’s conference and want you to give a free critique, then introduce them to your agent or editor.
Occasionally you will meet a treasure: a writer who is both filler and drainer. When you do, treat this priceless person well, and do all you can to sustain the relationship(s).
It’s Your Choice
What kind of writer are you? You may not know other writers yet, so you might not be sure. But you’ll eventually meet writers at conferences, retreats, local writer gatherings or book store signings and readings. In the writing relationships you enter, strive to be a filler as well as a drainer.
If you’re unpublished or newly published, you might think you have nothing to offer. Not true! You don’t have to be published to be an encourager, an uplifter, or a good listening ear. Publishing advice isn’t the only thing other writers need. In fact, I would guess (from my experience) that it’s not even near the top of the list. (That’s why my blog is focused on the emotional issues of writing rather than how to plot or build characters or write a winning query.)
Do a Self-Check
After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: “Was I filler or a drainer today?” Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take? If you can find that kind of balance, you’ll be able to build writing relationships that will last a lifetime.
May 9, 2011
All writers are looking for time-saving strategies and tips to increase their productivity. With school getting out in a month, many writers need to streamline both their writing life and personal life. If this is YOU, you’re in luck!
If you have June’s The Writer magazine, read Kelly James-Enger’s article called “10 ways to work more efficiently.” And for some free articles on this subject…
Other Writer articles online filled with tips to improve your efficiency–and give you more time to write–include:
- “5 ways to juggle your writing, your job and family responsibilities” by Shirley Jump
- “A matter of time” by Guy Stewart
- “Setting up a productive work space” by Sharon Miller Cindrich
- “Quiet! Writer in the house” by Connie Heckert (my writer friend from Iowa!)
- “Writing on the Fly” by Sandra Hurtes
Reading these articles should give you several ideas to try. I found a couple I intend to put to work immediately!
April 11, 2011
“Crazymakers like drama,” says Julia Cameron in her classic book for writers, The Artist’s Way. “If they can swing it, they [the crazymakers] are the star. Everyone around them functions as supporting cast, picking up their cues, their entrances and exits, from the crazymaker’s (crazy) whims.”
You may have a quiet weekend of reading and writing planned, but then voila! A crazymaker shows up. It might be someone you thought was banned from your life for good. It might be someone no one else suspects is your crazymaker. They might rage and scream–or knife you in the back while smiling in the traditional passive-aggressive style.
“Whether they appear as your overbearing mother, your manic boss, your needy friend, or your stubborn spouse,” says Cameron, “the crazymakers in your life share certain destructive patterns that make them poisonous for any sustained creative work.”
Enough is Enough
Sometimes you get blind-sided by crazymaking behavior. It can be shocking and look ludicrous. It turns your schedule upside down, destroys any plans you might have, nearly always costs you time and/or money, is draining with its drama, and–if they’re really good–the crazymaker can blame you for the whole problem they created.
I’ve had more than my share of crazymakers to deal with in life. (I suppose everyone feels like that!) Anyway, it happened to me again recently, and I was tickled by my reaction. I recognized the game, called a spade a spade, and was astounded to see the problem go away. It didn’t cost me any sleep, and the crazymaker found someone else to harrass.
A Dance by Any Other Name…
Julia Cameron always said, “If you are involved in a tortured tango with a crazymaker, stop dancing to his/her tune.” Yes, that’s easier said than done–but it CAN be done! I was thrilled to see that if I stepped back and didn’t play the game, it stopped. And beyond that, I got some writing done!
Maybe there are some nut cases in your own life that need to be banished for the sake of your creativity. If so, deal with it as soon as possible. You’ll be soooo glad you did!
March 25, 2011
“Just as you carve out time in your day for writing, you need to carve out space in your environment to nurture that writing,” says Kelly Stone in Thinking Write.
Why It’s Important
If you have a special place to write–a place where all you DO is write–it will go a long way to helping you establish the writing habit. You will automatically get into “writing mode” when you enter your special space.
Your special writing space can be anything you want it to be. Some writers write in spare rooms or attic rooms. Some writers put plywood across a clawfoot tub and write on their “instant desk.” [Guess what they use for a chair! I'm not kidding either.]
Other writers use closets. The photo above is me thirty years ago, still an ICL student, in my first “office.” It was a tiny walk-in closet I painted orange. No window, and definitely no air conditioning. But I have to admit, over all the years of different offices, that was my favorite. It was special. It was mine. And all I did in that “office” was write.
Famous Writers’ Sacred Spaces
Whenever I read about famous writers or if I’m lucky enough to tour their homes, I always want to see where they wrote their books. A couple of years ago I was able to see the tiny table where Jane Austen wrote her timeless classics. (It was just a corner of the dining room by a window overlooking the lane in front of the house.)
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, had an office with book shelves and a fireplace–not surprising for an Oxford scholar and professor. But something fancy isn’t at all necessary. With some creativity and innovation, any space at all can be converted into a writing space all your own.
When you have a writing space of your own, no matter how small or cramped, you will automatically jump-start your creative juices just by entering! You won’t have to move the kids’ homework or your husband’s snacks or the dog’s chew toys. You can simply sit down and get to work.
Do you have a writing space? Take a minute and tell us about your current or favorite writing space.
January 12, 2011
Did you know that, contrary to popular belief, workaholics (and the sub-group writer-holics) don’t work all the time?
In fact the term can describe “any person who is driven to do too much, whether that person works sixty hours a week or runs around like a chicken with its head cut off…Some work addicts appear motionless, but their minds are racing.” (Diane Fassel in Working Ourselves to Death.)
Three Faces of Writer-holics
While my goal and life-long desire as a writer has been to be consistent with my writing output, it is seldom that way. Sometimes I work long hours with a huge output (like NaNoWriMo month), sometimes it’s in spurts, and sometimes approaching deadlines make me freeze (afraid that I can’t do what I promised in the contract.)
I knew my writing output was sporadic, but I thought each style was a problem by itself. I am beginning to see that they’re all just different faces of perfectionism.
This writer works long hours, taking on project after project. She feels compelled to do what she needs to do to keep going. I used to blame it on the financial needs of raising children alone–and that certainly contributed to the pressure–but after the need passed, the behavior remained. According to Webb, “it is a matter of identity for her. If she stopped to rest, it would prove she is inferior, lazy or both–and that would be unthinkable.” BINGO.
This writer works in spurts, but with great intensity and energy and focus. These intense bursts of work are sometimes (for the writer-holic) ways to avoid dealing with other issues (children’s problems, marital woes, a looming health concern). “Work, projects, tasks and accomplishments become the medication of choice so that she doesn’t have to feel her emotions, deal with her disappointments or ask deep questions,” says Webb. I’m guilty of this one too–maybe not as much as in the past, but it’s definitely a factor.
Deadlines can often turn me into this type of writer. The perfectionist in me isn’t satisfied with writing “sh****” rough drafts, as Anne Lamott calls them in Bird by Bird. After having had 35 books published, you’d think this would no longer be an issue! But it is. Webb contends that the work anorexic is “afraid she’ll do it wrong, so she procrastinates, and the resulting guilt immobilizes her.”
What Type Are You?
Do you identify with any of the above perfectionistic descriptions of writers? (If so, these tendencies probably show up in how you approach other things in your life, like your fitness efforts and your relationships.) I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your own experiences in this area.Newer Posts »