This has been a busy summer.
In July, my best friend visited for a long weekend and the day he left, my cousins came to town. A week later, I left for the New York City Romance Writers of American Conference, and not four days after returning home, we took a weekend trip to Montana and Yellowstone National Park. Now, on their epic adventure across the country in their new RV, my parents are in town.
I love people. I love family and writer friends and friends from across the country. But I am trying to write.
The truth of the matter is, we often strive for the perfect writing environment, perhaps a little chill in the air, a soft drizzle outside, the phone is silent and the cat is napping, and nothing else is pulling our attention away from our work.
Show of hands–who has ever had the perfect writing environment?
I know I haven’t.
Even on the days when it should be the perfect writing environment, I am not the perfect writer. And that means I ultimately find some way to procrastinate or distract. The perfect working environment doesn’t actually exist, and so we must find a way to work in the one that we’ve got. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned to make the most of those fifteen minutes in between.
Forget the Fantasy
The sooner we let go of the romantic writer aesthetic, the sooner we can actually get some writing down. Writing is messy. Life is messy. Waiting for the soft afternoon light to break through the window is a waste of time. Allow the dishes to go uncleaned and the guests to entertain themselves and sit down and write.
Write What Excites You
Untangling the knots of plot or character development are challenging enough when we don’t have any distractions, but when our friends are in town or we have dinner invitations or another deadline is looming, well, they can become impossible. If you’re strapped for writing time, make it both enjoyable and effective and write the scenes that come naturally and keep you excited about the book. This will help to reduce your chances of getting distracted or skimping on the time you owe yourself.
Even if they aren’t very large–or even if they are too large–setting expectations for yourself makes it a whole lot easier to disappear for a little bit. Give yourself an hour or the time it takes to write 500 words or manage twenty pages of editing. You’ll feel more comfortable leaving guests or neglecting other responsibilities when there’s a limit and it makes your time away more effective than if it were left open-ended.
As I’ve written about in the past, my most recent novel was largely hacked out on Google Docs during cab rides and the free write time I gave the students in my creative writing class. I wrote 20, 40, 100 words at a time, sometimes leaving sentences unfinished and requiring a critical editing eye when all was said and done, but I completed a nearly 70,000-word manuscript in less than six weeks, less than a fourth of which was on my computer. Once I got over the idea that I had to write a certain way, it became easier just to get the words down.
Even if the writing itself is messy, staying organized about your plot, characters, and research will help you make the most of the small amount of time you allow yourself when things get busy. Personally, I’m a plotter. I love going into a book, or even a series, with a very good idea of plot, characters, and even individual scenes. While I know that doesn’t work for everyone, it’s a good idea to stay on top of changes, important research, and even a bare-bones outline, especially if you’re strapped for time.
I get it. I often write books in a month or less and I’ve had years with three, four, five releases. I love working on several projects at a time and given the chance and the right book, I can write in chunks of 20,000 words. Sitting down and saying it’s okay that I didn’t get any writing down today is challenging for me. But it’s also necessary.
Writing is who we are and what we get excited about. When our passion is our job, it can be difficult to find the right balance between thinking about and completing work and engaging with other facets of life. But it’s necessary. Allow yourself to take the time to be with friends. Allow yourself to complete other deadlines. Find a way to embrace your life outside of writing without guilt. The story will be waiting.
Mom and dad are in town until at least Wednesday and it might even be later. In fact, I had to pause writing this article to get mom the keys so she could take the dog out, and I’ll probably stop soon for lunch with them. It’s not the ideal writing environment, but I’m also not going to lament time lost when I have this rare opportunity to enjoy their company and show them around our new city.
It doesn’t come naturally to me to embrace messy, distracted, even disjointed writing, but if it means I get to put a few words down on the page and also spend time with the people I love well, then, I’d say it’s worth it.