Life is a series of neatly compartmentalized blocks of work, family, hobbies . . . Wait, hold on a sec <insert laughter of insanity> Sorry. We all know what a load of crud that is. Oh, the blocks are there! Work, family . . . we all have our unique building blocks that make up our lives. Mine include (in no particular order): the Day Job, the Hubby, the Kiddo, the Never Clean Enough House, and of course the UNTMM (Unfinished Novels That Mock Me). There are also 142 other Hobbies that come and go as the weather changes or thoughts pop into my head.
There are moments I can pretend are compartmentalized–rare moments when I’m focused on one and only one of these things. Those are the most precious moments . . . which last briefly when another block intrudes. I guess they’re really more like blobs than blocks. Blobs that are constantly changing shape and overlapping the other blobs that make up my never really neatly compartmentalized life.
As a writer, I should be spending as much time as possible writing. That part of my life is incredibly important to me and to be a writer, one must write. But it’s so incredibly hard to squeeze out those words after a long day of work, followed by family time, followed by getting ready to do it all again the next day.
To date, my completed works are all short stories and flash fiction. I’ve told people (and myself) that I’ve focused on short fiction because I love the medium. It’s true that I do love short fiction, but the second half of that truth is that short stories are easier to finish. Since they require less time, I can actually attain and savor that sense of completion. (I did complete a novel once many years ago, but it’s a piece of crud that will never see the light of day. I call it my practice novel. I also call it the Novel of Catharsis since I wrote it immediately after my last bad breakup pre-Hubby and it is loosely about all jerky ex-boyfriends I’ve had. Seriously – it will never see the light of day. In fact, I should probably just go ahead and delete it from my hard drive right now . . .)
But here I am writing during a time that I specifically blocked out and scheduled for myself. It’s a rare day where I have off from the Day Job, but the Kiddo is in school and the Hubby is at work. Yes, I have errands and other household things to do, but I specifically scheduled this time to write this.
It’s part of getting back and building up the habit of writing. While ideas and snippets come to me at any time, and I have mechanisms in place to take notes no matter where I am (primarily with EverNote on my phone), to really get some meat written, I need chunks of no less than a half hour at a time.
And I can schedule them. I can block out that time.
Luckily, today’s block is when no one else is in the house. I’m not expecting anyone and it’s rare that we get random solicitors. The TV is off. There’s no background music. My phone is on silent and plugged in far away where I can’t see it (the school can call my Hubby, too, if there really is that rare emergency with the Kiddo). My email program is off. The internet is . . . well . . . I’m writing this in Google Drive, so I have one browser with one tab open and I’m pretending that the internet is off. What if I need to look something up? I’ll insert a placeholder and come back to it during a time I designate as “research” time.
I even went as far as turning off my second monitor.
Guess what happened? I just checked and in less than ten minutes, I wrote 350 words. Distraction free!
I’m going to have to schedule more time like this to get more bulk words written. I’m not always going to be able to do it when no one is home, but I can do it when the Hubby is known to be in another room watching football.
Scheduling time for our own work is probably one of the most powerful (and FREE!) tools we have in our Arsenal of Awesomeness. I have been doing it at the Day Job for years. Time management professionals and even neuroscientists generally are in agreement that focusing on one thing at a time, not multi-tasking, is the most effective way to get things done. (If you have any interest in the brain, then read or listen to “Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience.” There’s a whole chapter that debunks the myth of multitasking.)
Last week, I was in a conversation with a much younger colleague. We were generally lamenting the ridiculous quantities of work to do and he further complained: “I’m invited to too many meetings and have no time to do my own work!” After gently suggesting that he say “No” to some of the meetings (for some reason, that never goes over well — a LOT of people still have trouble saying “No”), I told him to do what I do. Block off time for his work on his own calendar. People will see that he’s busy and if they really need him at the meeting, they’ll schedule around it.
Writing is work, too, and it takes time. By raising it to the level of importance where we schedule time on our calendars for it, we are demonstrating that it’s a serious block of our lives. I have always had a lot of things going on in my life at any given time and when people ask how I get it all done my response has always been that we make time for the things that are important to us. (Then I feel terrible that none of my novels in progress are anywhere near completion . . . but that’s another blog for another day . . .)
We do have the ability to compartmentalize our lives somewhat. With some tools at our disposal (a calendar, the ability to turn devices ‘off’), and some good old-fashioned will power, we can wholly devote ourselves to one block at a time. Ensuring that writing is a significant block, with dedicated time, is my plan for 2018.