Finding Time to Write

I coach a fair amount of writers and would-be writers, and lately many have asked me how I found the time to write Schizandra and the Gates of Mu while running a busy coaching practice, blogging and creating The Lazy Raw Foodist’s Guide. I thought I’d share some of my secrets here and also invite any aspiring writers to join me and some of my clients on a special challenge we created yesterday.

1 ) Find Your Most Productive Writing Time in the Day. For me and a lot of other people, that happens to be first thing in the morning. If I turn on the computer, open up Word, and leave my email off, I can write some good quality stuff at a faster pace than later in the day when distractions have begun to mount. It also helps me to have that connection with dream time, since I often dream of my characters or plot solutions. As the day wears on, those details lose their freshness, but first thing in the morning, they come out strong.

Some people just aren’t morning people, though. My husband writes best between 1 and 4 a.m., and I’ve had a number of clients who “thought” they should write in the morning because they read that some famous novelist got up really early to complete his draft. Unfortunately, for these clients, writing in the morning created more frustration than inspired writing. They needed massive amounts of coffee or cacao just to open their eyelids, and the words simply did not flow. Some of them had given up on writing altogether by the time they contacted me. When we discovered their most productive writing time, though, their writing began to flourish — even if that meant eating dinner an hour later or spending two hours on the computer before bed.

It doesn’t matter what other people do. If you’re trying to squeeze in writing time, then doesn’t it make sense to maximize that time as the most productive possible?

2 ) Decide What You Want to Write. No, you don’t need to know exactly how things will turn out. Few, if any, authors truly know that when they begin a project. But it definitely helps to have some idea of what you’d like to create, along with your most deeply desired timeline.

I got the idea for Schizandra and the Gates of Mu in October 2001. At the time, I thought it would be a short story, because I still couldn’t read after my 1998 brain injury. The story percolated in my mind as the brain damage healed.

By 2003, I realized it would be a novel, but I still hadn’t started it. In 2004, my husband and I spent two months in Sedona, and that’s when I really began writing Schizandra because I suddenly knew the story’s setting.

It was my dream to write a novel (OK, many novels), but from a goal standpoint, I sensed that was much further away. I decided to finish my non-fiction book If I Only Had a Brain Injury and just let Schizandra continue percolating. Because I felt clear on my writing priorities — finish the brain injury book, write some helpful articles, then work on the novel — I felt satisfied and fulfilled by the writing I produced.

Yesterday I spoke with two aspiring writers. Really, they are already writers; they’re just aspiring to finish and make something of their projects. Both struggle with finding time and discipline to write. We took some time in sessions to discover what would feel like an accomplishment in terms of weekly, monthly and seasonal writing. One wants to write a short story by summer’s end. The other wants to finish a book review, write an article and then get started on her own novel, which she would like completed by April 2010. By vocalizing those goals, both were able to step back from an amorphous “I need to write more” and see what they actually need to do.

When Stephen and I moved to Petaluma, CA in May 2008, we did so with the goal of me finishing Schizandra during our 13-month lease. I vocalized this goal every time someone asked me, “Why Petaluma? Why now? You really seem to love Sedona.” (We moved to Sedona again in October 2007 for my research.)

Why yes, I did love Sedona and still do, but I did not even open the Schizandra file the entire second time we lived there! In Petaluma, I couldn’t walk to two raw food restaurants, two juice bars, two natural food stores and three crystal shops/metaphysical bookstores. Nor do I drive, so I was pretty much stuck in our little condo with no excuses or distractions. My tummy was not the happiest camper, but, boy did I write! I figured I had 13 months to finish, and I uploaded the final draft to the printer literally the day before we left Petaluma!

3 ) Create Some Supportive Accountability. This can be from someone who totally believes in your writing gifts, a friend who thinks you’re a fantastic manifestor who gets everything you desire, a life coach, or a writing group/partner.

Having others know my novel goal helped keep me on track. I took a two month total break from Schizandra after I wrote The Lazy Raw Foodist’s Guide. I figured I had earned this break and I might have just rested on my laurels a whole lot longer. I had a blog; I’d written two books. Come on, wasn’t I pushing myself a little too hard with this whole novel in a year thing?

I really owe Cecilia of http://www.rawglow.com for her big kick in the butt! We were walking one day and in the nicest way possible she mentioned how it amazing it was that I had made peace with not finishing Schizandra before our lease ended. “When do you think you’ll finish it? Two years? Three years from now? Isn’t it a series? How will that work with the 2012 theme?” I admit, I got a bit defensive — at least inside (Cecilia claims not to have noticed my reaction) — but her comments really got me thinking. The next day, I hauled myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and started writing. With the exception of Christmas week, I think I spent about 6-10 hours per day at least five days a week writing or editing Schizandra and the Gates of Mu until we moved.

Does everyone need to do that? Nope, but I really wanted that novel done in Petaluma.

4 ) Commit to Something. It need not be as ambitious or demanding as finishing a novel by 2010. Maybe you want to journal three times a week. Maybe you want to write five articles. Maybe you want a short story to show for your efforts.

Take that goal and break it down into tiny bites. What does it ultimately take to write? Um, some time spent writing. πŸ™‚ So, commit to that. I’ve found for myself and coaching clients that it’s more effective to commit to something small and keep it than to commit to something huge and feel like a big loser for not meeting your obligation.

5 ) Don’t Edit While you Write. You will have a hard time flowing from your right brain if your left brain won’t stop criticizing your grammar, style and concepts. Leave the editing for an editing time and the writing for writing. They are vastly different processes, both important, but both better off kept apart, especially in the beginning. Especially if you have a history of writer’s block or getting discouraged with your early drafts.

Let the drafts come out. If you want to compromise, you can read books on writing in your free time so that your first drafts come out better and better. I particularly like Elements of Style and The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. If you know how to create good writing from the beginning, you’ll feel happier with your drafts.

Seriously, though, don’t edit while you’re inspired to get things onto paper or into the computer. The muse can be fickle. Honor her and celebrate when she graces you with her presence. She will visit more often!

6 ) Create Some Community. Writing can be lonely work, especially if it means 4 a.m. dates with the computer before heading to the gym or out to work. The idea that other people — somewhere — are also committing to their craft can help you feel a sense of community and joy. That’s one reason National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has become so popular. Thousands of people set themselves the “impossible” task of writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. Does everyone finish? No way! But they have fun doing it, and they get a heckuva lot more writing done than they would have on their own. The insanity of the quest creates bonds that last beyond the month, and many people participate year after year.

7 ) Get Creative. At least two of my clients and I have decided to apply the above principles in our own lives. We have each committed that on five days per week we will begin our days with thirty minutes of writing. One of those five thirty-minute periods can be for editing, but the other four must be straight writing. We can write for longer than thirty minutes, but we must commit to at least thirty minutes per day, five days per week, starting today. In our cases, that writing will occur first thing in the morning.

I meditate before I write and consider that part of my process, but today I hopped on the computer right afterwards and began this post. My personal goal is to finish the first draft of Schizandra and the Peruvian Jaguar by January. There, it’s public. Oh, Lordy, that will be quite the feat, but with the commitment I feel towards my clients and my readers and myself, I know it’s etched in my brain now as an intention.

So … are you an aspiring writer? Do you wish you had more time to write? Always wanted to release a cookbook? A novel? A memoir? Start a blog? You’re welcome to join us. At least three of us will be writing first thing in the morning for at least thirty minutes for five days per week. Whether you tell us your goals or not, we’ll be holding that space for you!

Cheers and Blessings,
Laura Bruno
http://www.internationalrenaissancecoaching.com

14 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you. It’s refreshing to read about these coaching methods. As an author, procrastination is my worst enemy.

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  2. Posted by laurabruno on July 2, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for stopping by! Yes, procrastination seduces many. That’s probably why the early morning approach works well for so many. If I don’t start early, then there’s a strong chance I won’t get to it at all.

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  3. True, however my little girl takes up a lot of my time. Joyous as that time may be, I cannot help but to feel guilty knowing that my new novel would be completed by now. Sometimes, life just happens I suppose.

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  4. Posted by laurabruno on July 2, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Yes, life does happen sometimes and little girls are certainly worthy of attention! I know one parent who could only commit to writing in 15 minute bursts. She would actually set the timer during her kids’ cat naps. She had to focus a lot during those 15 minutes, but since she knew that’s what she’d have, she made it work for her.

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  5. Thanks. I think I’ll add you to my blogroll if that’s alright.

    True, the wee one is well worth my time. The love for a child is more amazing than I thought possible.

    You know, another thing is… well, you’d think it’s silly. Ah, who cares! The story I am writing has been with me all my life, and the world in which it occurs has a deep history. So many generations and events…. sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed. I have written five novels based on this world, and with the newest book, I have decided to start from scratch. With so much previous material, it’s a little frightening. The idea came to me to start all over with the series because my readers often told me that the stories read like something happened before that they were missing. And, of course, they were correct. As it turned out, I only published one of those novels. I decided to simplify, start from the beginning, and use a writing style not seen in the previous works. My closest friends have read what I have written of the novel thus far, and were completely amazed! Not just that, but they do not even know that the novel is a rehash of the series. Every time I write in it, I feel like I might mess up a great thing that I have started. It’s around forty-three thousand words right now, and even one of my editor friends is completely captivated by the characters and story, to the point where she said “that last piece brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful.” With this expectation, I’m afraid to let anyone down.

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  6. Posted by laurabruno on July 2, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Yes, thank you for the add. It sounds like you have a wonderful thing going. Living up to your own work’s kind of a nice challenge to have, though. If this place/story has been with you for so long, then I’m sure you’re working on it in your subconscious a lot. Good old subconscious mind! It has a nice way of bringing all the pieces together in even more beautiful ways than we imagine. I’m excited for you. πŸ™‚

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  7. I just hope that these works see the light of day… so these are the reasons why I haven’t written in the book in about a week. Perhaps this makes me…. lame?

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  8. Posted by laurabruno on July 2, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Maybe just a small limp. It sounds like you’re still walking. πŸ˜‰

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  9. πŸ˜‰ You’d be so proud… I wrote for an hour. It wasn’t quite nonsense – but it was something. haha

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  10. Posted by laurabruno on July 3, 2009 at 2:17 am

    Woohoo!! Way to go …

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  11. Oh Laura, I am SO HAPPY you posted this!!!! I’ve been planning to be in touch soon to set up a time for coaching, largely to figure out if there might be something behind my Writer’s Block – and I still want to do this! – but in the meantime, Thank You!!! for this post. I guess we are not alone, we procrastinating let-me-see-what-needs-to-be-done-first-and-my!-that-new-website-looks-interesting-whoops!-2-hours-went-by-look!-it’s-time-for-lunch writers. Count me in for the challenge. Starting tomorrow. (just kidding lol) xo Diana

    My Goal: Complete new booklet draft July 16, one day before publisher deadline.

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  12. Posted by laurabruno on July 4, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Hi Diana,
    Thanks for stopping by and I’ll look forward to hearing from you. Nope, never alone … πŸ™‚
    Blessings and Love, Laura

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  13. Laura,

    Thank you for this article. Full of gems! I plan to pass it on to several writerly friends. Now… back to my writing. πŸ™‚

    Take care,

    Traci Moore

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  14. Posted by laurabruno on July 4, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Thanks, Traci!

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