How to Stop Giving Up Your Writing Time

Filed in Productivity and Time Management by on June 19, 2017 8 Comments • views: 1350

Give Up Writing TimeDo you find that even though you have a scheduled daily writing time,
it’s often interrupted?

Jennifer had the perfect situation for a while. She wrote while the kids were in school and her husband was at work, which worked out beautifully until summer break came.

Then she was constantly interrupted with her family’s requests and the persistent noise, to the point that she could get very little done even though she sequestered herself away in her bedroom to write.

Greg thought he had solved his writing time problem when he started using his lunch hour to do it. He’d steal out to his car, drive to a nearby park, spend a few minutes brainstorming while he ate, and then type away on his story.

But after a few months, his boss started making more and more requests that dug into Greg’s lunch hour, until soon he had barely enough time to wolf down a sandwich before he had to be back in the office.

Even the most disciplined of writers will find their routines messed up now and then. Life happens, and we have to do what we need to do. But if you’re finding that your writing time is disappearing more often than you’d like, it’s time to do something to stop it.

creative timeTruly Value Your Creative Time

Often we give up our writing time to others because secretly, we don’t value it as much as we should. We tell ourselves we can make it up later, by writing extra words at our next session, or fitting in another half hour somewhere later on in the day.

Trouble is, it’s difficult to write more than we’re used to writing during any one period, so “making it up” in terms of word count rarely happens. It’s also tough to find some other time to fit it in. You chose that writing time for a reason—because it worked. Having to write at some other time is more difficult to do than you may imagine initially.

What’s way underneath this thought process is often a deeper problem—not valuing your creative self as much as you should. You may still harbor some self-doubt about your gifts as a writer, and believe that if someone asks you to do something else, it’s probably a more worthwhile or useful way to spend your time. You may not admit this to yourself that clearly, but the emotions may be lurking behind your inability to defend your time to write.

If you don’t highly value your writing time, others won’t, either. What’s amazing is that it usually takes only a time or two of sticking to your guns for people to get the message. Try saying, “I’m sorry, I’m working on my project then,” and let it go. Respond to any amount of pleading or manipulating with a simple repeat of your position until people understand. Then don’t allow yourself to feel guilty. Instead, be proud of yourself for making your creative well being a priority.

Remind yourself every day that no matter what outside rewards you are or aren’t getting for your writing, it’s just as important for your health as eating right and exercising. You are a creative being. Regular creative time should be a non-negotiable in your life.

Creative CostDon’t Pay the High Creative Cost

You may give your writing time away more often than you should because you don’t really understand the cost of that action.

Unfortunately, there is always a creative cost to pay when making decisions that don’t support your creative goals. Writing well requires a lot of factors working together. You need to be awake, alert, able to focus, and motivated. You need a fresh mind and body to follow your characters through a scene.

When you get into the habit of writing at a particular time, your system gets used to that time, and supports you in it, physiologically. You sit down primed to work because you’ve trained your being to be ready for it. It’s like training yourself to eat meals at a certain time, or exercise at a certain time, or go to bed at a certain time. As you develop these habits, you get hungry, restless, and tired at the times you’ve set up for yourself.

Changing that time, then, throws your system out of whack. Either you miss your writing altogether, which can make you feel guilty and out of sorts, or you try to do it another time. But your creative being isn’t used to writing at that time, so you’re more likely to have to deal with distractions, low motivation, energy drag, and focus problems—all things you don’t typically have to worry about if you write at your scheduled time.

All this means it will be more difficult to produce your usual volume of work, if you can produce any at all. You risk losing a day or more on your project, which can stall your momentum and cost you much more time in trying to recapture where you were before.

When giving up your writing time, remember the total cost of that action. It’s usually much more expensive than you realize.

Do not disturbRefuse to Allow Interruptions

Writing at home is often the most convenient, but it can set you up for a myriad of interruptions if you’re not careful.

As in Jennifer’s case, you may find that your writing time is often interrupted by your kids, partner, or simply by noise and other activities that are going on. You may try to ignore these interruptions, or return quickly to your work once you’ve managed them, but have no doubt they are seriously eroding your progress.

Interruptions destroy your productivity on any project. According to a recent study from the University of California, it takes about 23 minutes to get back on task after an interruption. If you have only 30 minutes to write, one interruption could completely blow it. One!

You may think you are the exception and can get back into the middle of your scene in seconds, but I’d challenge you to keep track of it next time. You may be surprised at how long your brain needs to go from dealing with the interruption to diving back into your imaginary world.

If you tolerate interruptions, you’re giving your writing time away. Don’t blame your family (or your office mates or whoever is interrupting you). Blame yourself. You haven’t set up the right expectations for your writing time. Make it clear that when you’re writing, you cannot be interrupted for anything other than a life-threatening situation. Put a sign up on your door, invest in some quality earplugs or earphones, and get serious about protecting your space.

Then, be ready for people to challenge you. They’ll knock on your door, peek in, whisper quietly. Ignore them. Hold firm. Don’t respond. There are few people who will continue to try to get your attention when you ignore them completely. Keep typing, even if it’s gibberish, to create the image of an artist busy at work. Your interrupter will soon get the message. If you keep at it, you’ll no longer have to worry about interruptions.

time-is moneyThink of Your Time as Money

We often hear in today’s world that time is our most valuable resource. Yet we don’t treat it that way.

Imagine if your friend is talking to you one day, and she tells you about this great new leather jacket she found online. She describes it in detail, sure it would look dynamite on her, but just as she’s convinced you she has to have this jacket, she tells you that unfortunately, she can’t afford it. It’s $300.

Then she proceeds to ask you for the money to buy the jacket.

Would you give it to her?

Most people wouldn’t hand over $300 simply because someone asked for it. But we often do hand over large chunks of our writing time to people who simply ask, or interrupt, or put us on a guilt trip.

The worst thing about this is that we can always get more money. We can never get more time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. For life.

Next time you’re in a situation where you’re feeling pressured to give up your writing time, give it a monetary value. Let’s say an hour of your writing time is worth $100. Decide whether you’d be as willing to fork over that money as you are your time. If not, say no and go write instead.

my plans journalDo What You Have to Do

Greg’s case is a tough one. When your boss is the one encroaching on your writing time, it’s not so easy to push back, especially if you’re relying on that paycheck for your mortgage payment.

You can try rescheduling your writing time. Greg may take his hour in the car right after work, for example, or get up early and do it before he goes into the office. Usually we can adapt if we give ourselves a few weeks to work with a new schedule.

If there’s absolutely no way to make the change, though, you do have other options. You can inch your lunch hour back by ten minutes so you’re gone before your boss has a chance to retain you. You can agree to attend to whatever issue he has for you when you return “from your appointment” which you scheduled on your lunch hour. The fact that your appointment is with yourself is none of his business.

You can also be proactive and ask your boss if you can schedule a weekly meeting with him (at any time other than lunch time) to go over any upcoming projects or new ideas you may have. Checking in more regularly may help him feel at ease with your interaction and less likely to bug you at lunch.

heart-mobileRespond with Your Heart

One last thing: When you give your time away, ask what part of you is giving it away.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Your fear—you worry if you refuse a request someone will think badly of you.
  • Your guilt—you say “yes” out of some feeling of guilt.
  • Your misplaced priorities—you think you have to constantly put others’ needs before your own.
  • Your need for approval—you worry what others think about you, and therefore try to accommodate them all the time.
  • Your selfdoubt—you still doubt your talent as a creative person, and feel like you have to keep your writing in the background.

If any of these emotions or thoughts cause you to give your time away, promise yourself that next time, you’ll tune into your heart, instead. Ask your heart what it wants, and follow the answer directly.


Source
Brigid Schulte, “Work interruptions can cost you 6 hours a day. An efficiency expert explains how to avoid them,” Washington Post, June 1, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/06/01/interruptions-at-work-can-cost-you-up-to-6-hours-a-day-heres-how-to-avoid-them/?utm_term=.142ddf9c6b25.

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Comments (8)

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  1. joannaelm says:

    Terrific blog. Thank you. Twenty years ago when my first two novels were published I had a window of several hours to write while my son was in school. That focused me. Now, in the process of writing my third thriller, I am retired so the day stretches “endlessly” ahead me and I find I respond to others and their requests because, well, I’ve got hours and hours before bedtime to get my writing done. What often happens is that the day gets away from me, and I find I’ve written nothing.

    • Colleen says:

      So true, Joanna. We think we’ll do better when we have more time, but the opposite is often true as we lose that structure. Here’s hoping you can zero in on your “high-energy” time of day and set your schedule to write then, when you’re most alert. The requests can wait until you’re done! :O)

  2. Karen Jones says:

    Excellent post, which comes at a much needed time for me. It seems the more time I try to devote to my writing the more others ask for it. To them it seems “only a minute” and they wonder what’s the big deal, but to me it’s half an hour or more before my brain can return to where it was. This is a daily struggle for me. Today’s tips are appreciated!

    • Colleen says:

      Sounds so typical, Karen! Yes, it will “take just a minute” they say! I hope you can reclaim your do-not-disturb time. :O)

  3. Angelica Ware says:

    Very thought-provoking, and it really resonates with me. I wonder how much we undermine our own creative energy by putting this fun project we were going to work on aside for this thing or that thing? And I wonder if, like sleep-deprivation, there are any consequences that arise long-term, from building up over time? And if there are, is there a way to recover from those long-term consequences?

    I have a problem similar to the Greg example, but not quite the same. I have a job that I rely on to pay bills, and a deep psychological need to get in the writing time. But, the job that I have is on a constantly shifting schedule, sometimes working me early in the morning, sometimes late at night, rarely the same for long, sometimes very different week to week. I’ve been working very hard at this job for many years, and a writing habit is almost impossible to form around the constant shifting requirements on my time–and of course, silly goose, the writing has fallen by the wayside because I’m either too exhausted or too busy or too brain-dead. I hadn’t been paying attention, see, and recently I’ve been suffering from extremely low energy and low morale, maybe even some mild physical problems like increasing headaches.

    Now, some of this is just because I’m working so hard..but I’ve come to believe some of this is caused by my lack of writing. Why do I believe this? Because on the rare occasions when I do have the time to focus and get into my writing, I come away with incredible energy, pared down physical pain, and a buoyant good mood that can last for days.

    But then, alas, my job comes back to overwhelm me, and I fall back into yearning to write but not being able to establish any regular time for it.

    I’m curious. Do you have any recommendations for a situation like mine?

    • Colleen says:

      I feel for you, Angelica. I know that a changing work schedule is VERY difficult in terms of getting the rest you need, and it can really wear on your health, too. Your health has to come first. Studies have shown how shifting schedules can cause some of the symptoms you’re experiencing–headaches, low energy, difficulty getting the sleep you need. Adjusting will only become more difficult as the years pass, so I’m wondering if there is anything at all you can do to even out the hours just a little? (Please see: https://sleepfoundation.org/shift-work/content/living-coping-shift-work-disorder.)

      I also know what you mean about writing giving you energy. (It does for me, too.) I would suggest possibly finding times that work with each of your work schedules, and changing your writing time with your changing work schedule, so shift A has the opening from 1-2, maybe, and shift B has the opening from 5:00 to 5:30, or whatever. Perhaps putting writing first, before some of your other “busy” work? Other than that, maybe you can get used to writing even in 15-minute chunks even if you’re tired. Lower your expectations for the work “a lot,” just get the words down whatever they are. We often avoid the page because we feel too tired to write anything “good,” but allowing ourselves to write “badly” can help.

      Best of luck in tackling this challenge.

  4. I love that you get to the heart of the matter, Colleen–what part of you is giving away your writing time. Because for most of us, that’s it, isn’t it. There’s an underlying issue, which makes it hard to face. But by doing so we’re set free. To write!

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