Carpe Diem for Writers

On her blog today Carol Benedict includes a music video of “Seize the Day” sung by Carolyn Arends.  Only one of the verses makes reference to writing a novel but the theme is one that reminds me of how important carpe diem is if I’m serious about my goals.

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“Life slips away like hourglass sand,” begins each chorus, and life really does. This moment, this day, will never be ours to do over again. Each one wasted puts our goals one step farther into the distance until with enough procrastination they can end up beyond reach. Does this mean every moment of every day must be spent productively — writing, revising, marketing? Would doing something other than such things always be a waste of our time?

If I could sit on two different sides of the table I could argue about this with myself. But I don’t think I will. I’ll ask your opinion.

What constitutes productivity for you? How do you achieve it?

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Time Management Strategies for Writers

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the problem of making time for writing. We’re inclined to think we face the same kind of time constraints as agents except the workload originates from a different source. Balancing demands against time seems to be a constant challenge.

The complaint that crops up most often is there isn’t enough time to devote to writing because things like jobs, housework, family needs, community and sport activities, or church commitments create unavoidable interruptions.IMGP8530_2

To which I toss out the unpopular response, hogwash! Okay, I know that’s an antiquated expression, but you get my point. I know from experience if it’s important enough to you, you can make time for it.

So how do full time writers get their writing done and still manage to balance the task with everything else? After all, those twenty-four hours only stretch so far.

Here are four time management strategies to consider:

1. Organization — If you left the nine-to-five job behind and are writing from home, you may have left your desk appointment calendar behind, too. You need that calendar! There is always going to be shopping to do, library books to return and soccer games (substitute concerts, PTA meetings, doctor’s appointments, fishing trips or whatever) to attend. Life doesn’t stop just because you’ve decided to write. To create extra time you have to organize those things that eat into it. Make a list of the week’s usual activities, broken down into daily objectives. Instead of running out every time you think of something, consolidate the trips. Shuffle the not-so-vital errands to fit in around the time sensitive ones so you can accomplish them all in one efficient circuit. If you still have a day job, plan to combine as many errands as possible with your drive to and from work or on a single weekend outing. And if housework is a bane, remember that dust won’t eat the finish off your furniture. If it bothers you, enlist the help of a family member or indulge in an occasional half-day of maid service.

2. Prioritization — My husband has a favourite saying: “No is an acceptable answer.” Although men aren’t immune to it, women seem particularly prone to the Super Person complex—the need to be the perfect mother, wife, housekeeper, neighbour and employee. You have to accept that you cannot be all things to all people. Occasionally no IS an acceptable answer. Passing up a nomination or request to be the secretary of the condo management board, little league coach, or Sunday School teacher to ensure you have an extra hour or two for your writing is something you can do without guilt if you’ve taken your turn at accepting such responsibilities in the past. You should be able to say, “I’m sorry, but I have an extra work commitment this year and I can’t take on anything else.”

3. Commitment — There are three things to remember here.

  • First, you won’t give yourself permission to make time for writing if you consider it a hobby that doesn’t deserve your full commitment. Making excuses for why you spend time writing stories indicates a self-esteem problem. The truth is if you don’t believe your writing is a worthwhile endeavour, nobody else is going to either. Your attitude will determine how you convey your need for time, space and privacy to friends and family and how well they respect that need. The effort you dedicate to your task, arranging for childcare if necessary, letting phone calls go to voice mail, refusing to respond to interruptions that aren’t emergencies, are all indications of how seriously you take your commitment.
  • Then there’s procrastination. You can plan to write, set up a dedicated work space, read how-to books, do online research and networking, spend hours creating contest contributions and blog posts, and end the week (or month, or year) having written little if anything on your intended manuscript. It all feels like necessary preparation for the project, but in reality it is procrastination in disguise. If commitment doesn’t lead to action it’s misdirected.
  • And third is the fact that once you are working with an agent or editor you will no longer have the luxury of making excuses. Establish good work habits now because when that day comes you will be writing on a schedule and to deadlines regardless of Aunt Dody’s annual visit or the baby’s colic.

4. Persistence — There will always be something that nudges you to put down your pen and abandon your projects. Whether it’s the much-maligned Muse with its infamous writer’s block, harsh critiques or enough rejection letters to paper the bottom of a lifetime of canary cages, it’s easy to let doubt creep in and wipe away publication dreams. When you are tempted to quit is the very time you must force yourself to persevere. Every published author will tell you that persistence is the key to success.

To fulfill your writing dreams you first have to decide not to let obstacles thwart you. You can’t wait until a more convenient time in your life. If you really want to write, utilize time management skills and get on with it.

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A Daily Dose of Motivation

Everyone has an opinion about how to combat Writer’s Block. Whether believing it’s a mythical non-entity or a super-size monster, experts are quick to offer suggestions for overcoming a writer’s inability to make words materialize on the monitor.

 

The one I like best? “Just sit down, put pencil to paper (or fingers on keys) and start writing anything that comes into your head. Don’t stop for ten minutes.” Yeah, sure — recommending writing as a cure for not being able to write. That’s logic for you. But what can we do when the words won’t come, when we honestly try but the effort only magnifies the angst?

 

I’m not convinced I’ve ever faced Writer’s Block. Yes, there have been days, weeks, even months when I haven’t written anything significant, but in retrospect I think I was procrastinating. I wasn’t ready to risk failure, so I found something safer to do. I read.

 

There is a real danger in procrastination, even in the short term, because the time we would previously have spent writing slowly becomes absorbed by a substitute. Reading is easy to justify because writers need to read — for exposure to good writing, for knowledge, for inspiration. But as an excuse to avoid writing? I don’t think so.

 

I always have an assortment of books on the go from my TBR pile but when I finally realize I’ve been reading at the expense of writing I figure it’s time to shift my focus. I reach for the volume that continues to give me daily writing inspiration no matter how many times I read it: Bonni Goldberg’s “Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer’s Life. (Tarcher/Putnam, 1996) There are lots of daily meditations available but “Room to Write” has been one of my most useful tools. Admittedly I don’t often do the accompanying exercises but the short readings motivate me.

 

Excuses are impediments to achievement. Had I continued to stare at this blasted blank monitor until my eyes blurred, blaming my lack of words on Writer’s Block, or  immersed myself in someone else’s plot as I was tempted to do, this posting wouldn’t have happened today. Mind you, it’s already 11:55 p.m. If I don’t immediately staunch this flow of words that originally wouldn’t start, today’s posting will become tomorrow’s!

 

See what a bit of motivation can do!