Writing when Busy

mundane to do listLife is busy for most (dare I say ALL) of us. And now, as November 1 and the beginning of NaNoWriMo loom in front of me,  I find myself fretting about whether I should even consider participating in it (even though I know I’m ultimately going to do so).  So, as I’ve done now every late October since 2006, I feel it’s time to think about how to squeeze just a little more time out of my day so that I can write.

There are days, weeks and months where I can’t even stand the thought of trying to find an hour or two to put pen to paper.  Between the day job and it’s attempts to steal my soul, the kids and their busy social, sports and school schedules, the yard work, the housework and the occasional need to eat and/or sleep, there’s hardly any time left to stop and drink the coffee, let alone do anything else.  Every day is a delicate balancing act—a minute-by-minute attempt to do all the things I have to do while also saving some time for the things I want to do.

As a writer, I’ve struggled to find that balance for years now.  Partly it is because of the sheer volume of things I’m required to do; partly it’s because of the large number of things I want to do.  What this has netted out to for me is a severe lack of writing time because I cannot find ways to prioritize writing over other demands.  Yet, I see other authors I admire putting pen to paper and churning out fantastic stories each week, including some terrific works in response to our Write Now prompts. I often wonder how other people have managed to balance their time and put a priority on writing when they have at least as much going on as I do.  I’ve tried forcing myself to write when I’m too tired or too stressed to do it willingly, but all this has done is make the writing unenjoyable – just another chore I am angry for having to do – and ultimately it is just as stressful as anything else I might have on my to-do list.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I resent the time I spend writing, the bitterness and anger shows through in the words that get onto the page. While I might use this negativity to my advantage when I am writing performance reviews at work, it is not usually something I want coming through in my fiction.

Thinking about this as I often do, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. There is not enough time in the day.
  2. I do not know exactly where all the hours go.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering these two seemingly-simple items and I’ve determined that there is nothing I can do to resolve the there-is-not-enough-time-in-the-day conundrum – thus far, I have found no practical, sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to increase the available pool of hours per day beyond the current arbitrary limit of 24.  So I’ve set my mind to working on the second item.

To approach this issue, I have started keeping a chart of how I spend my time.  As anyone who knows me might expect, I am using Microsoft Excel to keep track of this data because that’s the kind of geek I am. Basically, I’ve been attempting to put together a general list of what I do each day, from the mundane “go to the gym” or “drive The Boy to baseball practice” to the more broad-based “hours spent on the day job”.  My goal, of course, is to find a few hours per week to dedicate to writing without taking away even more time from tasks I hate but must do anyway (sleep, for example).

I’ve only been working on this for a few days but what I’ve found already via my pretty charts and graphs is interesting:

  1. I spend less than 5.5 hours per day sleeping
  2. I spend at least an hour per day (on average) driving the kids to and from events.
  3. I spend 9 to 12 hours per day on the day job.
  4. On average, 1 to 2 hours per day is spent on household chores such as laundry, dishes, pet care, etc.
  5. I spend 1 to 2 hours per day watching television
  6. I spend, on average, less than 1 hour per week dedicated to writing.
  7. There are, on average, 2 hours per day that I can’t reasonably account for.

Looking at the above items, it is clear why I’m not getting enough writing done – less than one hour per week is not enough time! It would be easy to say “well, just cut the television time and write instead.”  But the problem is that I am a daylight-hours kind of person. Once the sun goes down, I am essentially a useless excuse for a human being and it takes an exorbitant amount of effort to do anything that takes thought.  I only watch television at night because it takes little-to-no mental activity to do so.  The bit that bothers me, though, is the 2 hours I can’t account for – just like when you’re tracking money, anything you can’t account for is bad.

Clearly, this analysis is nothing more than a tiny, first step toward conquering this problem by starting to understand what is going on in my day.  My plan of attack is to find those two missing hours and beat them into submission.  My second step will be to re-arrange the tasks and order them such that mindless activities, such as dishes and laundry, can be put into the evening hours. Ultimately, I hope to end up with a block of time each day which falls during hours when the sun is still up. That block, I hope, can be devoted to writing.

I am very interested in how other writers find ways to balance their need for sleep, food and family with their need or desire to write. Do you schedule time to write?  Do you budget your time like I’m describing?  Do you have other tricks or tips?

The Calm Before the Storm

September is here. That moment of sheer terror that fills my mind with to-do lists, a cluttered calendar, and constant contact.

I’ve discovered the last week or two that I’ve been disconnecting myself with my online life. Anyone who knows me knows that I am generally a very connected person. I’ve been known to spend upwards of 10-12 hours each day working at the computer, chatting, writing, working, and more.

I’ve been in a strange, almost withdrawn mode, staying away from chat, avoiding social media (well, more than usual. My G+ feed is depressingly empty, for me.)

This feels very much like the calm before the storm. It occurred to me while wracking my brain for a topic to write this blog about that this is me preparing for what is to come.

When October hits in earnest, I must immerse myself in the NaNoWriMo forums, answering questions, guiding thread creators to the proper forums, troubleshooting, wrangling beta testers, as well as near-constant staff meetings at OLL. I go to local write-ins, run sprints on NaNo Word Sprints, have lots of coffee, and in general, am more social and involved than I am with anything at any other time in life.

This year presents even more challenges, but I realized that I am actually retreating from this hyperconnectivity before it begins.

I’ve been thinking of the novel I want to write; for the first time in a long time, I know what I’m writing before NaNoWriMo. At a time when many people are getting more connected to the event, I’m trying to disconnect more.

It’s a survival technique, I think. For more than a decade now, this has been my fall. Fall is synonymous with falling leaves, cooling temperatures, and NaNoWriMo.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, either. For me, writing has become intensely social; something that was once painfully solitary has become the precise opposite. In a way, that need to be a part of something has almost crippled my ability to write anything else.

But I’m finding balance. Any writer has to find balance; for that matter, it’s not a problem exclusive to writers at all. I often devote myself with a frightening focus to a particular task or interest for months at a time, only to drop them and find something else later. It’s a pattern that is starting to bother me more and more, as I reorganize my mind and my life. I want to devote the right amount of time to everything… not just one thing to the exclusion of all else!

So, as NaNoWriMo comes, what are you doing to prepare, if anything? I’m planning my deep breath before the other shoe drops. What about you?