By Shelley Widhalm
Fitting time for writing with a full-time job and life around it can be difficult.
Finding the time and space for efficient and synergetic writing requires not only a skill in time management but dedication, commitment, and … passion.
I let writing end up at the bottom of my to-do list, turning it into a hobby I can engage in only after everything else is done. It got so low on the list that I haven’t written for five years—sure, I write a poem a day, a journal daily about my fascinating life, and write a short story here and there.
But it’s not the same as working on a writing project like a novel or memoir. Without one, I started feeling a little dead inside, focused on making a go of my freelance writing and editing business.
Getting Back to Writing
I needed to revive and jumpstart my way back to my first, original, and primary love, committed writing. I set aside May 1 to Aug. 31 to spend whatever free hours I have on my novel, focusing less on making money.
It’s temporary. And I’m using savings, plus getting a little help from a friend. I’m lucky.
The return on this investment is my commitment to a memoir about overcoming trauma in the vein of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and The DaVinci Code. The goal is to bring together societal constructs of sex and the Catholic Bible into an experimental framework of storytelling.
Basically, I’m in front of my laptop every free moment I have, clocking in the hours as if it’s a job.
Most days, I can get in two to three hours, some just one, and a couple as many as five. I’m satisfied with that productivity. I have let my passion wane. My sense of order has become chaos. Fear and rejection can disrupt even the keenest of drives. I am taking it all back as I make writing the largest part of my life.
When time isn’t well managed, efficiency can be affected, getting words on the page can feel like an uphill battle, and it effects the quality of that work. To feel more at ease and in control, I found a few ways to better manage my work day to free up space and time for my personal writing.
I had to give up thinking about all the tasks I believed I HAD to do for the week all at once. I let that voice in my head convince me that somehow even the smallest of jobs would take up too much time. Procrastination dug deeper as I worried myself into a stall, feeling none of it would ever get done.
I’ve made an effort to break up larger pursuits into smaller chunks. I focus on the most critical things first and use lists to prioritize. And I’m eliminating unnecessary stuff. With a boss, my task list was defined for me, but on my own, I had to figure it out, get organized, and develop systems. I had to get intimate with the timeclock.
Schedule specific times or days to write to make it a regular habit, like going to the gym every other day or running daily for a half-hour.
Vary where you write, the office, living room, and the kitchen. Find something stimulating to think about or absorb — the grinding of the coffee beans or how the air feels as time shifts from mid-day into the afternoon.
Be sure to focus on one task at a time, such as writing. Though multitasking sounds trendy and is touted as professional, the brain switches from a. task to a similar task. Still, it can’t do both at the exact same time. The brain, however, can handle two different jobs, like listening to an audiobook while driving.
Keep track of how long it takes to complete each aspect of your writing and each time you switch activities: researching, editing, writing, set a timer.
Don’t get caught up in the details of each task, spending too much time on any one aspect. Be thorough and accurate, but don’t dwell or aim for perfection.
Take breaks every few minutes or at least once an hour. Stretch or take a mini-walk to invigorate the mind and body to get ready for more work. Or join a writers’ group, such as Northern Colorado Writers, and attend the Zoom tea chats or coffee breaks. Don’t procrastinate because with procrastination comes guilt. The guilt of needing to do the one thing but not doing it. This is a thought crime and wastes energy.
A Few Final Thoughts
Be sure to set aside time every day or week for writing so that it isn’t forgotten because of all the other tasks that must be done. Have a place to write. Squeeze it in when waiting in line. Keep a notebook with you. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
Lastly, take pride when you write, accomplishing the task. The key is celebrating when you write, even when you don’t feel like it. Make sure writing has a space alongside work and the rest of life. I like to call it work-life-writing fair play instead of work-life balance.