How do you ‘make’ time to write?

black and white photo of clocksOne of the most common reasons I see aspiring writers give as to why they are still ‘aspiring’ and not yet ‘writers’ is that they don’t have time to write. I said this for many years. I still say it on occasion. I spend some days thinking ‘I need to make time to edit the novel/write the blog/read…and then I catch myself.

We all do it. We rush around in our lives, promising ourselves that we will ‘make‘ time for our writing just as soon as we’ve got this other thing done. But then something else comes up, we get distracted; we waste half an hour checking Twitter and Instagram, or scrolling through Facebook. Then we get to the end of the day, collapse into bed and remember that we didn’t make time to write, and suddenly we feel guilty because we wanted to write, we love writing, but we really just didn’t have time.

Time is a privilege…spend it well.
There’s a reason we talk about ‘spending’ time, because every hour is something we never get back. And we aren’t guaranteed the next hour either. If you saw time as money – as the saying goes – would you choose to waste it, or would you calculate and attribute it carefully on the things that are most important to you?

Time is about CHOICE
It’s a hard lesson to learn. But, what we spend our time on is a choice. Though, it often doesn’t feel that way. We have jobs, responsibilities, obligations. Some of us don’t have a sliver of time that we feel is our own. This is where the fallacy of ‘making time‘ comes from. We believe if we could just ‘make’ time then everything would be okay.

But, let’s get one thing straight. You can’t make time. You can only use it. And a lot of us have forgotten how to use it wisely. We forget that we have the choice to commit our time to things. And, before you start shaking your head and thinking that I simply don’t understand the complexities of ‘real life’ I want you to try something.

Reconsider your language of time
The next time you start worrying about how busy you are, try rephrasing ‘I don’t have time’, to ‘it’s not a priority for me right now’. You might be surprised at how just tweaking those words can make a real difference to how you choose to spend your time.

I don’t have time to write – becomes: Writing is not a priority for me right now

I don’t have time to eat healthy – becomes: Eating healthily is not a priority for me right now

I don’t have time to play with the kids – becomes: Spending time with the kids is not a priority for me right now

You’ll find the whole energy of the task you’re applying it to shifts. Suddenly you start to reassess the things that are important to you everyday. It puts you back in control of the time and energy you are spending and allows you an opportunity to make the decision that is most important to you in that moment.

What will you do with this power?
Of course, now you know this, it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. Spend a day just repeating these words – it’s not a priority for me right now – every time you believe you have no time to spare.

It can work in reverse too. When you find yourself searching social media out of habit you can ask: “is this a priority for me right now?”. Sometimes it might be – to make connections, to message friends, to find out what is going on in the world, or just to take a break from everything else. But, other times you might decide that it isn’t, and then you can choose what is a priority for you in that moment.

Is writing YOUR priority?
So, how important is your writing to you? Instead of trying to ‘make time’ for it, choose to spend your valuable time on it when you can. We’ve all heard the stories of writers penning their great novels as the kettle boils, in the car at kid’s football practice, on their break at work. Decide how much of a priority your writing is and deliberately choose to do it instead of some of those things that you do because you ‘should’, or that aren’t really that important for you.

Put yourself back in control of the time you’ve been given by the universe. CHOOSE how you spend your time. And spend it wisely on the things that you really care about.


https://www.facebook.com/TheWriteCatalyst/I’ve set up a Facebook Page to help support, motivate, and inspire writers to use their time wisely and write ‘that’ novel they dream of!

You can follow it here: facebook.com/TheWriteCatalyst/

I’ll also be launching a FREE 5-day challenge to prepare for NaNoWriMo through this page.

You can also find tips via Twitter through #TheWriteCatalyst


 

How to set Writing Goals

IMG_20190818_142021429I once had a very simple writing goal: “Write ONE sentence a day. Just ONE sentence, that’s all“. That prompt was intended less to create a word count, but instead to just get my butt in the chair. Surprisingly the biggest barrier I discovered to writing is putting my backside in a chair and actually starting to write. Once I got going, I can barely stop. It’s a secret we all know, but not one we readily accept to be true.

Don’t look for the ‘should’ goals
Once I realised I just needed to put my butt in the chair, it became easier to set more challenging goals. Yet a lot of the time, I have to admit, these goals didn’t help my writing ambition even though they sounded like the right ones: write that novel; submit to competitions; send things to agents. Instead these goals I felt I should be accomplishing meant my writing became artificial and too much like a chore. So much so it was like pushing a boulder up a hill. I was writing simply to tick the box I’d set up for myself, rather than because I loved the craft

The reason was that I lost sight of what success actually means to me. I don’t write to tick a box, or say that I’ve written. I write because I want to create interesting stories that prompt emotion or reflection in the reader. By confining my writing efforts to arbitrary tasks I inadvertently lessened the significance of why I wanted to write in the first place.

Set your own goals
Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 14.10.05So, in order to set realistic, achievable, and exciting goals (after all, if it’s not going to be exciting why do it?) they have to appeal to my own intrinsic drivers as a writer. For me, I never feel as high as when the story from my imagination has made it onto the page and has the potential to engage a reader. Therefore, when I set my writing goals now I always make sure I appeal to this desire to create that story, and the feeling I want to produce in the reader.

I have found with the right goals I’m more energised and confident about my writing. By making sure my goals are aligned with my values and drive to write, my belief that I can achieve my dream of not just getting published, but of making a career as an author is boosted. So it’s not about the ‘should’ goals, it’s about ‘my’ goals. If you’ve set a goal and then aren’t excited by it, or don’t want to even try it – then you’ve set the wrong goal; one that isn’t aligned with your desire to write and won’t encourage you to commit and succeed.

But why set goals at all?
Sure, a lot of writers get by simply by putting that backside in the chair and just writing everyday. But, that in itself is a goal – even if it’s not written down anywhere. And, if you don’t set any goals, how are you monitoring your development and improvement as a writer? How will you even know if you are moving the in the right direction – more specifically, how will you know if your actions are taking you toward your writing dream, and not further away from it?

While I might know what is the big goal in my life, I have numerous smaller goals that I have to meet on the way to make that happen. This is when it’s a good idea to recognise the difference between ‘Easy wins’ and ‘Stretch goals’.

Easy wins
An easy win is something that I do to keep my momentum going when I’m feeling sluggish or uncertain. This might be a minimum word count for the novel (an ‘easy’ 500 words in 30 mins); submitting an existing story to a new competition; or even just committing 20mins to some plotting or character development on paper. They’re things that don’t take much effort, and come as close to ‘box ticking’ as I get with my writing. The difference is the way I frame them:

  • Minimum word counts contribute to that story I desperately want to tell.
  • Submissions help get my work out in the world to connect with readers.
  • Plotting and character work are elements I love about the writing process.

What is important is how I describe the goal rather than the goal itself. I phrase it so that it will appeal to me. That’s what makes the difference between a writing ‘should’  and my own tailored goals. Then, working on these easy wins reinforces my confidence and increases my self-belief.

Stretch goals
Once I understood how to phrase my goals, that’s when I started to set ‘stretch goals’.  Now, I love stretch goals. The benefit of them is that you rarely lose – either you push yourself to achieve them and succeed; or you do your best and fall short but end up with more than you could have imagined if you’d just set an easy win.

A recent stretch goal was to write a full draft of my novel in seventy days. Having done NaNoWriMo for eight years, I know I can stick to the pace so, I set my daily word count and off I went. I had a chart on my wall, tracking my progress and an outline of my novel that I was so looking forward to writing. I’d done the prep work, I knew my characters, I worked out when things needed to happen, and so I just sat down to write it. But I would never have stuck with it if I hadn’t known why I was doing it and what excited me about it. 

A word about rewards
Generally we’ve been conditioned to associate reward with success. Success itself can be its own reward, but the effort that we put into something is just as important and should be recognised as such.  Therefore, as much as you might intrinsically know what drives you and why you are writing the story you are, a little reward now and then never hurts.

When I was writing my WIP in seventy days, I broke it down into some easy wins with a clear reward system to celebrate my commitment. It was as simple as a sticker on my wall chart for reaching my target, or the promise of chocolate biscuits if I did two twenty-minute writing sprints. This helped boost my confidence and encouraged me to keep going.

But when it comes to bigger goals and the rewards there, I have one rule:

Reward EFFORT not results

If I had sat down to write every day for seventy days and not reached my target of 90,000 words, or finished my story sufficiently this would not have been a failureIt was a journey, encouraging me to commit to my WIP and challenge myself to write more, not a test I had to pass. 

Rewarding your efforts because you are showing up consistently, putting in the work, and committing to your goals every day deserves recognition and reward. The same goes for short story submissions and competitions; for each rejection I receive, I reward myself. Not only because it takes the sting out of the rejection but because I’m putting my work out there. While I have very little control of the outcome, I did take action to achieving my goal to share my stories, and I want to celebrate that.

Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 14.03.14

Achieving the impossible
If you can figure out the why of your own writing dreams, then you’ll find it that much easier to set goals that you will want to commit to and achieve. And once you start rewarding your efforts as the success, you’ll create a positive environment to nurture further writing goals. You never know, perhaps this will lead to you attempting things you never thought possible…and yet, somehow, you’ll discover they are.


Now Try This!

postit scrabble to do todo

  • Identify some easy wins and practice phrasing them in ways that will excite your writer’s spirit.
    • Don’t say ‘I will write everyday’ – try ‘I want to be the writer who loves to write every single day’.
    • Make it fun, tap into why you write and use that.
  • Now, decide on some rewards.
    • If you write something everyday, what will you do to celebrate?
    • If you write everyday for a whole week, then what?
    • And imagine what amazing reward you could have if you make it a full month with an unbroken chain of writing?
  • Once you’re accomplishing these regularly, add in a single stretch goal.
    • Don’t overload yourself.
    • Make sure you’re rewarding efforts not results here.

 

Understand Your Writing Habits

I don’t know about you, but my dream is to have a little ‘Plotting Shed’ out at the end of my garden where, every morning, after walking the dog and thinking about characters and story ideas, I spend an hour writing; blissfully free from distractions. Then, after lunch I spend another hour or so in the ‘Shed’, editing and blogging and generally getting stuff done, after which it’s another walk with the dog to signal the end of the ‘working’ day.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

img_20171015_160414619_hdr1
My Writing Corner (with view)

Well, currently I don’t have a shed. I write on my writing desk in the corner of our bedroom where it’s cluttered (though it does have an excellent view across to Manchester).  I also don’t write in the morning. Why? Because on what would be my writing days I generally spend an extra hour in bed recovering from a busy day at the ‘regular’ job.

But, I know I CAN write in the morning. Sometimes I set my alarm, take a cup of tea back to bed, and open up my WIP before I even get dressed. That works for me. So, I know if I’ve got a writing goal then this is the best time to commit to it. Editing, however, is most definitely an afternoon task.

What’s the Ideal Writing Schedule?
Imagine for a moment, your own ideal writing environment. Close your eyes for a second and just picture it. Are you at a desk, in bed, or in the garden? Do you have pen and paper, or a laptop, or even an audio-recorder? Is it in the morning, the afternoon, or late at night? If there were no obstacles, or chores, jobs, children, or spouses; how would you choose to write?

If you can figure out what you believe would make you the happiest writer you can be, then you can start to work toward building that ideal.

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 19.30.37

Personally, I love this advice…!

Understanding your own writing schedule – not just what it is now, but what it would be if you had the choice – is significant when it comes to productivity as a writer. Knowing that I do better ‘creating’ in the morning, versus the afternoon slump when I focus on what’s already on the page so I don’t have to use my imagination, means that I get more done. So, I don’t sit at my desk trying to conjure up the muse at 3pm when she’s gone for a nap.

Permission to Experiment
Sometimes, the key to finding that ideal writing schedule is to experiment. Try writing in different places at different times. Notice when the words flow and determine what it is about the environment that is supporting that burst of creativity. Do the same for different aspects of your writing.

  • When is the best time to create versus editing?
  • How long can you work for before needing a break?
  • Where do you switch off and concentrate on you writing?
  • How can you support the process? Pen and paper for exploring ideas, or open Word document for typing?

When finding it a challenge to write, I always have a ‘low-energy’ task on hand – like scheduling social media posts – so that precious time at my desk isn’t wasted. As I write this, I’m in a local cafe drinking a Caramel Latte because I know that at home, blogging will always fall to the bottom of the list.

Failure is Good
Give yourself permission to experiment with these tasks for a month, and allow yourself the guilt-free pass if these don’t work out as intended. Failure isn’t a bad thing – it gifts us valuable insight into how we can move forward. So many people are afraid of failure, yet we should embrace it as a part of our personal development process. Provided you reflect on it and take learning away from it, effort – irregardless of result –  is never wasted. And, you might find that the ideal you dreamed of, really isn’t all that ideal in practice. I surprised myself when I discovered I could write ten minutes after waking up; and the glow it gave me for the rest of the day was entirely unexpected. But it works, for me.

Arm yourself with the knowledge about how you write, and you’ll feel empowered and motivated to use this to your advantage. Then, whatever time you have available for your writing you know that you’re giving it your best.


Now Try This!


Identify all the different types of writing tasks that you might have and determine what type of energy you need to complete them. Are they high-energy, high-creative tasks, or low-energy, low-creative tasks?

Next mark out all the time you have for completing these tasks – consider time available, place, distractions, and time of day.

Then, play with this schedule and see how each of the tasks fit with the natural rhythms of your day/week/month. Try and determine what type of task works best when, and with this information schedule your ideal week!


 

What’s your Writing Mindset?

analysis blackboard board bubbleHave you ever thought about the way you think? Most of the time we’re on autopilot, letting our thoughts come and go as our minds wander during our day-to-day lives. But, have you ever stopped to notice these thoughts and how they can influence your writing practice? Maybe you don’t believe they do; or perhaps you have noticed, but just don’t know how to change this.

True thoughts?
I know for a long time I accepted my thoughts as truth. And that’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. Every time I had a thought about how I wasn’t good enough, or that what I wrote was terrible, or even that I didn’t work hard enough to deserve to be published – I believed I was thinking the truth. It wasn’t until much later I learned that thoughts are pliable, and I am the one in control of them. In other words: I can choose what thoughts to listen to, and I can even mindfully think different ones to change my approach to anything – including my writing!

What’s a mindset anyway?
When it comes down to it, our mindset is simply the way we think. It includes our opinions, our attitudes, and even the way we approach tasks and set goals.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, imagine if I’m writing a short story for a competition I want to enter but it’s on a topic I don’t usually write about. I could sit here and think ‘this isn’t my thing’ or ‘I’m going to struggle with this’. But how do you think that this affects my ability to face the blank page? Alternatively, I could say ‘This is going to be a fun experiment’, or ‘I can apply my skills to this’. With this attitude, I typically find my approach to the task changes; meaning I feel confident to give it a try, and end up with something surprising on the page, instead of staring at the blinking cursor because I don’t feel I’m up to the task.

These ways of thinking are related to the type of mindset we each have: either a closed/fixed mindset, or an open/growth mindset.

Grow your Mind…
But what is it about a growth
 mindset that means it’s better for our writing? Well, it’s been shown that people with more open mindsets tend to achieve more, have better resilience in challenging situations (a.k.a. rejections!), and have a deeper desire for learning. Whereas, those with closed mindsets tend to look for an external need for approval, set expectations (instead of goals), and don’t cope well with failure.

Check out this video on how a growth mindset leads to higher achievement

As you can see, with a growth mindset failure is simply part of the learning process, and so it’s easier to move onward and upward: I try something; it doesn’t work, but I learn from it and try again. 

Identify the negative.
Now, when I’m stuck on a particular plot point in my novel and am struggling to find a solution I tend to just stop and monitor my mindset for a second. Am I worried that I won’t find an answer? Will I feel like a failure if I can’t figure it out? Or, can I tell myself this is a challenge that I could potentially enjoy because it’s developing my problem-solving skills? What about if I test out different options by exploring them in a ‘choose your own adventure’ style?

Suddenly, because I’ve modified my thinking, I could have lots of possible options to help solve my plot point, rather than a crippling fear that being unable to figure it out means I’m not good enough, or not really a writer.

See it in practice!
The easiest way to support the development of a growth mindset is to find some people who already have this attitude in life and spend time with them. They’re usually easy to spot; they’re reflective, positive individuals who won’t let opportunities go to waste, and rarely let excuses get in the way of their dreams. Learn from others by seeing how they approach challenges, and see if you can adopt the same. 

group hand fist bump

I was lucky enough to discover this by being a member of a group of amazing female entrepreneurs called the Wildly Successful Society. Here we build one another up, set exciting goals with positive projections of how we will succeed, and constantly review our progress to learn from things that don’t always go to plan.

Having a positive and reflective mindset can help us set better goals, commit to these in a strong, productive way, and help us get through the challenges of writing and editing our work. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who can lift us up when we recognise the negative thoughts spiralling can have an immense effect on our ability to pull ourselves back up and stand strong again. 


Now try this:

Notice Your Thoughts
Remember that you can’t change anything unless you notice your thoughts first. Don’t worry if this is hard to do to begin with; it takes time. Try this simple tip to increase your awareness: 

Set an alarm on your phone a few times a day to remind you to examine your thoughts and jot down whatever is on your mind. If you notice some of them are negative things: how could you re-frame these to alter your mindset?
(This is also great fodder for character development!)

The first step is always noticing what you’re thinking. Start there, and with practice and encouraging support, the rest is likely to come. In the end it should support the development of more constructive attitude toward those writing challenges we all face.


Let me know how you get on in the comments,
or Tweet Me @Cat_Lumb