Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Horror of Writing Time

Posted by LD Keach on Thursday, April 11, 2013

For me, dinner used to be a relaxing time. It used to be cooking, maybe 45 minutes or so; then eating, during which conversation or engaging television took place; then a few moments of cheerful tidying up; after which I retreated to the lounge with a glass of port or an after-dinner coffee. Dinner used to be nice.

Then, I had...A BABY. (Queue lightning strike and ominous music.)

After THE BABY (lightning, music), dinner didn't change that much, really. I perform the same activities—cooking, eating, talking, cleaning—except now it's like I perform them while juggling a starving weasel with a ribeye taped to my ear. Dinner is chaos. It is the unbridled, maddening kind of chaos that seems to go on forever, like a hell dimension of weasel-dinner, in which the simple act of cooking and eating takes four hours and the kitchen afterwards is an aftermath of spaghetti murder and frozen pizza destruction.

Then there's the added commitment of BEDTIME (crash, scream!) which takes another ungodly two hours of bath and pajamas and story reading, and when THE BABY is finally deposited into his room, my husband and I can finally sit limply and stare at the wall for a little while. And this is before grad school homework; before we get up at 6 am the next day to go to work... And I can't even bring myself to talk about breakfast (queue maniacal laughter.)

Anyway, my point is: a busy life leaves little room to write.

We all have busy lives. Work, school, family, commuting, that pesky sleep thing we never all adds up to a very full day, no matter what combination of commitments we have. So, how can we find the time to be writers? How do we write with a busy life?

Well, first, if you can quit your job and still eat, do that. The best option for a writer is to quit your job and just write all day. (Or, get laid off from your job and sit around writing while you're telling your parents you're looking for jobs.) And, really, that's why most of us want to be published in the first place—so we can sit around a write all day.

But, who gets to quit their job (when we're lucky enough to even have one)? Not many of us are visited by the Free Rent Fairy or the Goblin of Cheap Groceries. When that pesky need-to-eat thing interferes with our fantasy writing career, we have to figure out how to write while being busy. To that end, here's a few tricks I've found to be useful:

  • Get used to tiny, tiny chunks of writing time. If you don't feel like getting up at 3am (which is usually the only hour of peace and quiet in the modern schedule), then you have to be okay with short, often interrupted writing sessions anywhere you can find them. Fifteen minutes is common; you get twenty if you're lucky. This makes writing fantastically difficult, not because it's hard to pick up a pen between tooth brushing and rushing out the door, but because it's hard to switch mental gears from the Real World to the World of Illusion. So, it helps to...

  • Focus quickly. Ideally, we need a cottage on the lake with no cell phone or internet and a long afternoon alone before we're even ready to start. If we can't get that, certain tricks help stretch the mind into shape. Listen to music or do a deep breathing exercise; try some repetitive incantations or pain. (You think I'm kidding here, but I'm not. Slap your thigh real hard and how quickly you go back to wondering what the weasels want to eat for dinner.) Coffee and alcohol is also a time-honored tradition (and now we're beginning to see why writers get that self-destructive drunk reputation! Dark Markets does not endorse becoming a self-destructive drunk, by the way.) Whatever you do, repetition is key, so if you have to bite your tongue and spin clockwise three times before writing, go ahead. Just do it every day. But, if you find that you still can't focus...

  • Write anything. Write a laundry list, write Mary Had a Little Lamb. Write that your thigh hurts. The old adage of "Write Every Day" is about training your brain, and when you write something—anything—for tiny chunks of time every day, your brain will learn how to function under the conditions your life dictates. This is why it's important to remember...

  • Don't stress out if the writing sucks. The cool thing about editing (and perhaps, the only cool thing) is that it takes less brain power to move and cut words than it takes to spontaneously create them. If you find you only have twenty minutes between dinner and dishes but your head won't work, just write utter crap. Write crap for a week or two then go back and see what gems can be dug up from your heap of nonsense. But if even that doesn't work...

  • Read. Reading is writing, in a sense; it's pre-programming your brain with special arrangements of words that are known as fiction. Reading is especially useful if you have an undisturbed block of time but you still can't write—say if you're on a shaky commuter train or you're covered in weasels. By reading, you prime your brain for that future fifteen minute genius, and even if you don't get a chance to write all day, your time has not been wasted.

Ultimately, this slow-drip method of writing is not ideal. We all want the experience of being immersed in our stories for a long period of time—cooked in them, so to speak—so that's usually why we crave the sitting-around-and-writing-all-day thing. But, if we want to produce something, stay sane, and feed our darling spawn at the same time, the only way to do it is eek out a tiny bit of writing in between the cracks of the Daily Grind. If we do this every day, eventually, we will have something that can be published.

And that something might be a bestselling novel that makes us a gajillion dollars, so we can quit our jobs and finally have the time to write that bestseller! ...or maybe I'm just talking crazy. It always happens when I've had one too many thigh-slaps.