Changing Times

Ok. I’m taking back what I said last week!

Well, not exactly. I stand behind the core message of what I said, that when you (or at least I) have a scheduled time to write, you can spot time wasters a little more easily. Sometimes, though, what looks like a time waster isn’t one. Sometimes, as I realized last week, it’s you trying to tell yourself it is time for change.

Yep. After telling you last week that I had a certain time I forced myself to write (or flogged myself with guilt if I didn’t), I am changing that routine. For three weeks I’ve been trying to maintain my established habit of writing fiction on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and non-fiction on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was a good plan. Establishing it helped me get lots written (and some things even finished!).

All that changed recently and my no-brainer routine became a thing I fought with several times a week. One day I would have a deadline (real or self-imposed) that forced me to write off-schedule, another day I would get inspired and want to write fiction when I was scheduled to write non-fiction or vice versa. Whatever it was, I’ve been struggling for three weeks to maintain my past level of productivity and getting frustrated and discouraged as I consistently lost focus and momentum.

Suddenly it dawned on me that this “time-management monster” appeared at the same time as this blog! It wasn’t a monster after all. It was me telling myself the routine needed to be changed. It no longer makes sense to force myself to write on my fiction projects when I’m so easily distracted by my own blog (and, to a lesser extent, Shonna’s and Kitty’s entries). Why not use that distraction to fuel whatever related projects I’m working on?

So that is what I did. I made a new schedule. I’m hoping this change will address the gremlins that have plagued my writing time the past few weeks. My new schedule is:

Monday: blog related writing. This could be comments on this blog or others, writing future blog entries or related articles, anything that seems related to the blog in my mind. (And knowing my mind, that could be a pretty wide and oddly shaped net. LOL)
Tuesday: fiction
Wednesday: fiction (and responding to the blog comments during breaks)
Thursday: non-fiction
Friday: choice, usually to include any polishing of upcoming blog entries.

Is there something you need to adjust in order to adapt to recent life changes? Go for it (and tell us about it!). Be careful, though. Establishing routines, certain ways of doing things, and schedules, times allotted to do those things, won’t be successful if they are in a constant state of flux. It’s a fine line and it’s important to stay on the productive side of that line. For me, this time, change was warranted. Now it’s time to get busy working the schedule.

Wasting Time

This week we are discussing time wasters. Unfortunately, I know a lot about those. A time waster for me is anything I do when I’m supposed to be doing something else, like writing. Trouble is sometimes I don’t recognize something as a time waster until it’s too late. Like after I’ve spent an hour playing Bookworm or frittered away prime writing time on a bunch of household chores.

That’s the beauty of establishing routines and regular times to write. Those time wasters are easier to spot. In my case, I’ve scheduled 10 am to 2 pm as my writing time. If I’m doing anything other than writing or lunch, I’m off my routine. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m wasting time, but I’m certainly not using my time wisely. I’ve learned that it is not nearly as productive to try to fit writing into other times of the day. That may or may not remain the case. Just a few short years ago my prime time was after everyone else was in bed. My days were so full of other responsibilities that I had to defer my writing time. Night owl that I am, it wasn’t a hardship. For now, though, 10-2 is the best time for me to write.

What about you? Can you set a time that is only writing time? Even if you can only manage 30 minutes a day, you will have spent at least two hours writing each week. Those time wasters, whether it is legitimate chores or mindless games, are much easier to recognize when they infringe on established routines. Try it. Set aside a certain time each day that is only for writing, even if it is only 15-30 minutes. Spend that time writing. Only writing. And watch those time wasters fade away.

Times of Change

Some of the hardest times for a writer to hang onto writing routines are what I call transition times, those times when something in the normal schedule changes. It can be as simple as adding an evening activity, as big as a cross-country move or as life-changing as having a new baby. It can be the transition between summer or holidays to daily work and school days. Whatever the change, the routines we’ve struggled to put in place often shiver and shake and fall apart leaving us to dig our way out of the chaotic rubble.

How do we keep that from happening? What can we do to make sure writing doesn’t get lost in the minor and major upheavals of our lives? How can we stay in control even during the hectic times of our days and lives?

Shonna touched on it last week when she talked about establishing automatic routines, especially routines that happen even we’re not focused on them. Well-established routines can add stability to the disorder that comes with transitions.

I implemented one such routine in my own life at least fifteen years ago and it has remained a constant through several major moves as well as tiny schedule tweaks. Until today, it never really had a name. I’ve decided to call it my Redeem the Time Cache because that is what it does. Whether on a holiday schedule, a normal work week or in the midst of a cross-country move, my Redeem the Time Cache helps me productively use time that would normally be wasted.

Whenever I know I’m going to be somewhere with nothing to do but wait, like a doctor’s office or waiting for a child to finish a class or in the passenger seat during a cross-country move, I take my Redeem the Time Cache with me (or a selection of items from it). At any given time, I have a pile of papers, magazines or books to read, letter writing supplies, a folder with items relating to a current project, anything that can be done in the little bits of waiting time that fill my day. When I was still homeschooling, that pile often included things I needed to plan lessons or assignments to evaluate. Now it includes “fun” books to read as often as it does work that needs doing.

Sometimes I don’t even need my Cache with me to redeem the time. Sometimes I find myself waiting without my Cache. Standing in a check out line, for example. After years spent using my Redeem the Time Cache, my automatic reaction is to mentally search for something to do. I might run through my list of errands. Other times, I’ll brainstorm names for a new character I’m creating or try to unknot a plot problem. Or, if I need a vacation from reality, I’ll read the headlines of all those pseudo-news magazines. With my Redeem the Time Cache, I can redeem those otherwise unproductive, wasted minutes. And that brings order back into the chaos even during the most hectic transition times.

Routines

When I was younger, I thought routine was a bad word. I hated anything that looked or smelled like a routine. Or at least I thought I did. I didn’t realize just how often I used routines and how productive they made me. I know it sounds odd, but routines actually foster spontaneity. Routines, at least in my life, allow me to juggle all the things I must do and all the things I want to do and rarely drop a thing. Okay. That last part isn’t quite true. I drop a lot of things. But invariably it is because I let the routine slip.

Routine is something you do over and over again. (Do you brush your teeth before washing your face in the morning? That’s a routine.) It is not the same thing as a schedule. I still don’t do great with set-in-concrete schedules, although I have made peace and even initiated a friendship with those.

This week’s blog is a look at some of the writing routines that help us be productive, that help us fulfill our dream of being a writer. I believe the most important routine is our self-talk. We must believe we are writers and speak that way, even in our minds. Telling others I am a writer makes it more real, both to me and to them. Telling myself I phrased that thank you note for a despised gift from a beloved aunt very tactfully, reinforces the fact that I am a good writer. Telling myself that, yes the bathroom needs cleaning, but not at the expense of my writing time, reminds me of the importance of what I see as my calling in life. Change your self-talk to support your writing and you will see your writing explode.

Another extremely important routine is to write every day. When I have the mindset that the day is not finished until I have written something, I get a lot more written. (I have to put other routines and schedules in place to actually finish a project, but that is the subject for a different blog.)

I also think it is also important to mix up the writing. I get bored if I have to work on a project for long periods of time. Even though I may be focusing more time and energy on the project, I get less and less done. So I alternate what I work on. One day I will work on my most important fiction project; another day I will work on a non-fiction project like this blog. Every day I am writing, but each day is different. This seems to increase the excitement for each project and has radically increased my creativity.

Self-talk, daily writing minimums and a variety of projects that I cycle through are the main routines that keep me producing. What about you? What routines have you developed? Which routines, when missed, radically reduce your output? Do you have any routines that need to be nixed or changed? Let us hear from you.

Stephanie’s Intro

Hi! I’m Stephanie Shackelford, one of the three founders of this blog. I have been creating stories all my life. It wasn’t until high school that I thought to write them down, but once I did, I never stopped. I have hundreds of stories in various stages of completion on my computer, hundreds more from pre-computer days, some stored in boxes, but most lost forever.

While in the midst of raising and homeschooling three children, I made the choice to delay publishing. But I never stopped writing. That’s why there are hundreds of stories on my computer. 🙂 Now it is time to get some of those (and the dozens more I keep conjuring) finished and published.

As I focus on that, I have learned so much about being productive, about how I work best, about how to recognize and minimize distractions and so much more than “just” creating stories. And that’s why I’m here.

Shonna and Kitty (you’ll meet them later this week) and I decided to start this blog for several reasons. I’ll be honest and say that at least a small part of it is self-serving. We want to write. We want people to read what we write. We want people to tell their friends about our writing. But just as much as we want all that, we also want to help other writers get there too. All three of us believe in the principle that when you give, you get.

Zig Ziglar puts it this way: “You can have anything you want if you help enough people get what they want.”

So we invite you into our own adventure toward productivity and publication. We’ll share what works for us, what doesn’t and we’ll try to figure out why.

Hope to see you here often!