Friday, July 25, 2008

How to find (er, MAKE) time to write

Here’s another question I get a lot. Usually from other writers.

“How do you find the time to write?”

Well, there’s a fundamental flaw in that sentence.

It contains the word “find.”

Which comes from the Old English term findan.
Which means, "To come upon, alight on.”
Which implies a search.
Which means it’s possible that you might NOT find the time to write.

Which increases the possibility of your saying, “Damn it – it’s already 9 PM? Oh well. Guess I won’t write today. I wonder if Law & Order is on…”

See, if you’re serious about writing – and, if you’re serious about being a writer – then you don’t FIND time to write…

You MAKE time to write.

Major difference.

See, the word “make” comes from the Frisian term makia, which means, "To build.”

As in “BUILD into your schedule.”
As in “BUILD your entire day around it.”

Which implies a commitment.
Which means it’s NOT possible that you WON’T write.

Which guarantees you’ll say, “Well, it’s 6 AM. Time to get up and go to work. I’m due at the page.”

Problem solved.

Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done. The challenge is getting into a routine and (actually) sticking with that routine.

Here’s a list of six daily practices for making (not finding) time to write:

1. Find a writing partner. Someone who writes. Someone who’s trustworthy and dependable. Someone who will keep you accountable. So, at the beginning of each day, at an agreed time (say, 8:30 AM), you call each other. For the sole purpose of saying, “Morning Mike. I’m about to start writing, just wanted to make sure you were doing the same. Good luck!”

Then, at the end of each day, you call each other again. This time with a question: “So, Mike, what did you write today?” (You can also do this via email, although it’s not as committal and a lot easier to skip.)

2. Officialize your practice. Once you’ve decided on your ideal writing time, make it official. Write it down. Put it on your calendar. Think of it as a real appointment. Somewhere you HAVE to be. Due at the page. Same time every day.

And, be sure to inform your colleagues, coworkers (or family members, if you’re like me and you work out of your living room) about your new schedule. Alert them that interruptions are for emergencies ONLY. Setting this kind boundary not only protects your writing schedule, but also builds a sense of predictability and consistency into your creative routine.

3. Ritualize your routine. Customize your own ritual that eases you into the process of writing. You could say a prayer. Or recite an incantation to invoke your Muse. Maybe listen to your favorite song. Or ring a Tibetan Bell of Awareness. Engage in a few breathing exercises. Look into the mirror and say an affirmation.

Whatever works for you. Whatever gets you in the mood to create. The secret is, when you ritualize your practice, it becomes more sacred to you, which makes you less apt to skip it.

4. Eliminate distractions. As you sit down to write, turn off the phone. Close your email account. Remove any other physical distractions that might tempt you to procrastinate further. Do what you have to do to maintain focus, even if that means locking yourself in a hotel room all day. (Hey, that’s what Maya Angelou did!)

5. Set a writing quota. Five pages. Five hours. Five chapters. Five lines. Five new ideas. Whatever form of creative currency will motivate you to write. The secret is, make sure it’s achievable, yet demanding. So, you can start small, i.e., 15 minutes a day, and build from there.

The good news is, when you begin hitting your quota every single day, it starts to expand on its own. And before you know it, you’ll be CRUSHING your original number by a factor of ten. Look how far I've come! you'll think.

6. Do a Victory Dance. At the end of each day’s writing session, you MUST reward yourself for sticking to your commitment. Once again, this ritual should be customized to your style. Take as little as two seconds or as many as twenty minutes. Me, I ring a Victory Bell on my desk.

You, on the other hand could take a walk around the block. Or head over to Starbucks for a cup of Tazo. Or do a little celebration dance around your office. Some people even keep a calendar on the wall on which they put a little red star once their daily writing is complete! Anything to recognize and reward your writing efforts. Make it fun, make it playful and make it YOU.

- - -

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

“Scott, these suggestions are a bit corny. Do I REALY have to do all this stuff?”

Well, that all depends: What did you write today?

If you can’t answer that question, then, YES. You DO have to do all this stuff.

And, FYI, corny doesn’t mean it’s ineffective.

Look. When I started my career as a writer in 2002, I couldn’t “find” the time to write either. I had a full time job selling furniture!

So, I chose to MAKE time.

And I actually DID every single one of those six practices on the list I just gave you.

FOR EXAMPLE: I started with 15 minutes a day. That’s it. And if you do the math, 15 out of 1,440 possible minutes is just over 1% of your entire day.

ONE PERCENT!!!! (Don’t tell me you can’t make time for THAT!)

But of course, that was a long time ago.

Now, I write between four and eight HOURS a day.

Oh, don’t act so surprised. I’m a writer. That’s my occupation. That’s what I DO.

(Why? What do YOU do all day?)

So, that's what's under MY fingernails. Because discipline has purple reins.

And here I sit. 6 years, 8 books, 300 articles and 867 posts later.

So, obviously, this stuff works:

1. Find a Writing Partner
2. Officialize your practice.
3. Ritualize your routine.
4. Eliminate distractions.
5. Set a writing quota.
6. Do Victory Dance.

...even if there IS a Law & Order marathon on every Sunday in July on USA Network.

REMEMBER:

If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.
If you’re too busy to write, you’re not a writer.
If you’re unable to MAKE time to write, you’re not a writer.
If you’re not making writing your #1 priority, you’re not a writer.

LET ME ASK YA THIS...
What did YOU write today?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
For the list called, "9 Things Every Writer Needs to Do Every Day," send an email to me, and I'll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

Can't finish your book?

Bummer. Perhaps I could help on a more personal, one-on-one basis.

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