Written by Catharine Bramkamp
We say: make time. We can’t make time. I try in my Future Girls books to make time, to travel back and forth in order to change the past to influence the future. It’s fun in fiction, not as easy in real life. In a conversation with Beth Barany, she asked how do I make time for my writing. I thought about that for a second, rolling through all the make time ideas and scheduling, until I had the epiphany that I don’t make time at all: I protect it.
We live in a time packed with delicious distractions and irresistible time vampires, who either sneak around at night and suck the life out of us, or glitter seductively and lure us away from our day work and into a new field of dreams. The Pinterest research for the book’s board becomes the Pinterest research for ten must see buildings in Barcelona. The Facebook Page for the book becomes an exercise in hunting down an ex-boyfriend.
It’s so easy to get derailed that recriminations are pointless, and guilt is just exhausting. The solution is to string together some garlic, make a circle and declare: this is when I write – nothing else.
One of the obvious solutions is to create accountability. You will show up at the cafe because your writing partner is showing up. She is showing up because you are. Perfect. Schedule writing groups, a whole bunch of people will help encourage you to show up. But how can we protect our time when we are alone, or as alone as we can be?
Block out writing time on your calendar. Be firm with yourself and even more firm with all your imaginary flying monkeys who seem to be obsessed with perfectly executed laundry and clean base boards. Put the phone in another room, if it’s important, the caller will leave a message, ditto the text.
Don’t allow that time to be squeezed by other considerations – don’t schedule lunch with a friend because, well, it’s just free time. Don’t let a family member hijack the time because you “aren’t doing anything anyway.”
Practice allowing yourself that time – maybe an hour for that day. Now you have this time to work. For a whole, uninterrupted hour. And you got nothing.
Before you start examining the base boards (for years I didn’t even know what those were, let alone feel compelled to dust them – until I edited my first book) I offer a couple of ideas.
You know about the ten minute write method to get the words flowing. I also like re-framing my activity. Instead of staring at that big, blank glowing computer screen (and thinking, hey, I need a better screen photo for the background, where did I store that great sunset photo I took on our last vacation? It should be in this iPhoto album . . .) Instead of thinking big thoughts like, today I am writing THE BOOK. Think today I am:
- organizing material
- sketching memories
- recording impressions
- jotting down the draft to that popular story I always tell my friends or audience
- outlining four rough chapter ideas
- just going to fill in some character backgrounds.
Re-framing the activity can trick your brain—that monkey mind—into thinking you aren’t really doing anything amazing at all, just working a bit here, just jotting down some ideas. Nothing to see here, move along.
Eric Maisel, in his book, Make Meaning, said, “Construct and integrate into your belief system the adaptive illusion that your work is valuable. Reinvest meaning in your art-making and your vocation as an artist. Make challenges out of problems. Recast your beliefs so that your work looks more inviting to tackle.” Either frame your work as important so you will protect the time to do it. Or frame your work as unimportant so your brain doesn’t seize up.
Writers often don’t look like we are doing much: sitting still, our hands moving on the keyboard or across the page. But we are, even if we don’t get the respect of family members or co-workers for what we do. We can protect the time we write as a gesture of respect for ourselves. You wasted enough time – get back to work.
Catharine Bramkamp is a writing coach and podcast producer. Her website is Your Book Starts Here.