If you are a fiction writer, chances are, you spend a lot of time in solitary confinement. When everybody else is at the mall on a lazy Saturday afternoon, you’re hunched over your computer, typing. When your spouse is running a “Mad Men” marathon on Netflix, you’re still on that dang computer. You miss kids’ soccer games (Can you cover this one, honey?), you don’t exercise and even when you’re not writing you’re scrolling plot lines through your head.
Sounds miserable, doesn’t it? That's because it is. Don’t do it if you don’t have to.
But if you can’t not write, it’s a good idea to develop strategies that help you maintain your social skills, take care of your health and emerge on occasion to spend time with the people who live in your house. (Besides, how else are you going to come up with new material?)
A Writer's Journey: It Ain't Pretty
There are plenty of people who talk about writing but have trouble sitting down to do it. But here, I'm talking about the ones who have a hard time tearing themselves away.
You know who you are. It looks something like this:
A Writer's Journey: Schedule It
First of all, get used to the idea that for some reason, your time on this planet has got to be about writing. Phrases, characters and stories are forever populating your head. Organizing them on a page is the only way to deal with this tsunami of thought that won’t leave you alone.
But it doesn’t have to ruin your relationships. Or your body. Or your life as a ‘normal’ person.
The single most valuable tool for managing a writer’s life is a calendar. Put blocks of time on your calendar for writing and make sure to leave the job at quittin’ time.
Ironically, scheduling your time on the computer will help you write better stuff. If we were all to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that our muses get tired after a few hours. And so do our bodies.
If there is anyone in your life that undermines the time you spend in front of the screen, your writer's calendar also sends the message that writing is important to you. There is nothing like a schedule to demonstrate that writing is your priority.
Figure out what time of day and days of the week are your most productive writing time and block out as many time slots as you need.
A Writer's Journey: Take Inventory of What's Bothering You
But beyond scheduling your time, it’s important to identify your personal triggers and plant safeguards to help you overcome them.
Let’s look at the list we spoke of earlier:
Exercise: The best way to make sure you get to that 1:30 yoga class is to put on your yoga clothes, get your mat ready and fill your water bottle before you sit down to write. Part of stopping your work to exercise is the unpalatable list of things you need to do before you even get out the door. Get them all done up front. At 1:15, grab your stuff and go.
Interruptions: You can seriously reduce interruptions by posting your writing calendar so that everybody who needs your services will know when they are allowed to start bugging you. (An added bonus is that some of those people might learn to become less needy.) And now that you're scheduling your writing, the mandatory stuff will get done (dinner, homework etc.), since your writing time no longer overlaps with the critical things you need to do.
Obsessing: How do you stop obsessing about your latest masterpiece? This may be the toughest one of all. But not unlike dealing with an addiction, changing this habit will take some discipline. Here are some ideas that can help you with this:
-Meditation can help you train your brain to respond better to the moment at hand.
-You can perform a ritual when you finish writing: Walk through an imaginary portal and leave your story behind to be picked up later.
-Practice presence. Notice the way the light is coming through the window, the sound of your children carrying on or the feel of grass on your feet.
If your writing is robbing you of your life, you (and the people who care about you) will begin to resent it. Whatever your triggers are, identify them. Put some sort of support network in place to help you change your automatic responses.
There is a prevalent myth that says artists must be tortured. Not true. Anyone can be tortured. And anyone can be free, too, it they put their minds to it.
Blog about Reading, Writing and Kids: Musings, stories and tips about teaching children to read and writing books for children.
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