December 15, 2017

Time Worth Fighting For

November did not go as planned.

If the phrase “stress reading” in my November Reading Round-up hadn’t already clued you into that fact. I started off strong. And then the car broke down. And I fell behind. 

The car got fixed. 

The car broke again.

The car got fixed again, but now it's a race to see if I can find a new one before it breaks again.

When life’s upside down like that (aka when stress abounds), I have a hard time focusing on things that require a significant amount of mental focus. Like writing.

When November 30th, I’d only made about half of my goal. But that was still eight chapters closer to a completed draft than I was last year.

I’d call that a win. But it was also a rude awakening.

You see, I used to be much better at this stuff.

A few years ago, I could park my butt at the library or Starbucks and write for hours at a time. A thousand words took me about forty-five minutes. Now I’m lucky if I can make it through twenty without getting distracted.

I’ve forgotten how to fight past all my distractions. I’ve forgotten how to fight for my writing time.

It’s not easy being a writer. 

It is especially difficult being an unpaid writer. I've been writing since I was a teenager and, and except for a few shelved novels and an outrageous collection of notebooks, I don't have much to show for it. 

It can be hard to take that seriously.

I know it was hard for me to take it seriously at first.

Especially when it came to dedicated writing time.

"I can't, I have to write" weren't words I used until I hit my mid-twenties. I felt guilty taking time away from friends and family. Away from things that needed doing. After all, cleaning the bathroom produced visible results that everyone in my house can enjoy.

I didn't view writing as a job. It was a hobby. Something I fiddled with, something I dreamed about, something to keep me occupied during long car rides and lazy afternoons.

I can't tell you when I realized it and I can't tell you how, but at some point, I realized that if I didn't take my writing time seriously, I was never going to accomplish what I wanted. Oh, I could finish a novel, but I was never going to publish a novel if I didn't treat it with the same importance I'd give my full-time job.

And writing is a job. Whether you're published or not. All that changes when you're getting paid for it are the deadlines and the amount of work you have to do to promote your book. 
If I was going to be serious about this writing thing, I realized, I was going to have to fight for my writing time. 

So I did.

I stopped making vague excuses for why I couldn't do something and started being honest (with friends at least) about what I was really doing. I stopped acting like my writing was some skeleton in a closet. I started calling myself a writer.

One of the biggest changes in my writing routine happened when I started scheduling my writing time. Again, I can't quite remember who I got this little tidbit from, but I started looking at my week and blocking of times when I knew I could write. It wasn't always much, some days it was only an hour or so, but I did it. And it changed things dramatically. Now, instead of some vague plan to sit down and work on something, I had a concrete appointment. One that could be rescheduled if it needed to be, but I try not to do that. 

I still do that. I still aim for at least four “writing days” a week. I’ve tried for more some weeks. I’ve had to manage with less other weeks. Four days is my baseline, a standard that makes planning non-writing things much easier. But that’s not saying I use that writing time wisely. I did better in November, especially at the beginning, than I have in a long time. 

I’ve still got a ways to go, though.

But I’m going to do it. I’m going to relearn how to focus. And I’m going to finish this book.

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