making time for writing: part 4

Sage CohenProductive writing4 Comments


“I told a friend that I was writing two romance novels simultaneously, as well as an erotic serial, and a couple of short stories, all at once (not to mention my baseball blog, tea blog, et cetera…) and she told me her head would explode if she tried to do that. I pointed out, reasonably, that she did quite well in college while taking four classes per semester, and for me that’s a lot of what it is like. Some days I work more on one project, some on another. The real secret is that whenever I get blocked on one project, I can ‘procrastinate’ writing it by writing one of the others!”—Cecilia Tan, author of Mind Games

So you don’t feel like writing. Or you’re stuck on something and can’t go any further right now. Or you’re too tired or broke or can’t find your pink slipper. Okay. You are excused. I don’t do that stern schoolteacher, butt-in-chair guilt trip. In fact, I’ve sworn off guilt trips altogether. So how, you may wonder, is this woman going to convince me to keep up all of that good, earnest writing work?

She’s not.

What I have come to trust from more than a decade of firsthand experience is that when we feel backed into a corner, we will rebel. So the more we try to force ourselves to write, the more we will resist, the less we will write, and the more frustrated and despairing we will become.

I would like to propose an alternative to this cat and mouse loop: Waste time well. If you do things that need doing—that you’re actually in the mood to do—then even procrastination can be productive. One of the things you’ll start to learn over time is your rhythm for settling down to make stuff happen and the times when you need to rearrange your bulletin board a few times and eat lots of cookies.

Build Wasted Time Into Your Schedule

You probably know yourself pretty well by now. If you were the kid who had your term paper finished two weeks early, you’re likely to be delivering ahead of your deadlines today. And if you needed the adrenaline rush of the all-nighter to crank out an entire thingamajig the night before it was due, chances are good that you possess a very high-end coffee machine to help you keep up the good work.

I happen to be a “waste-time-while-fearing-that-I-can’t-do-it” type. Always have been. No matter how many thousands of times in my life I have proven this fear incontrovertibly wrong, it persists with its own independent logic and food supply. What I have learned to do is simply accept that this is going to be part of my process, not take it so seriously, and simply build the freak-out into my making-it-happen schedule.

When I signed my first book contract, I planned for a month of floundering; and I executed this step in the schedule fabulously well. I spent that month freaking out about not being smart enough, capable enough, worthy enough to write a book, while gobbling up multiple episodes of Six Feet Under on DVD every night. Suffice it to say that within about six weeks or so, I had exhausted the entire multi-season supply of Six Feet Under, was stuffed uncomfortably full of death and dysfunction, and felt ready to shift gears.

Do you put obstacles in your own way when it comes to writing something important to you?  How might you plan to accommodate your own resistance in a way that lets it think it is winning while burning out its fuse?

Don’t miss a single tip in the Making Time for Writing series! Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

4 Comments on “making time for writing: part 4”

  1. I like this! I procrastinate by reading books about writing instead of actually writing. I recognize when this is unhelpful by the insatiable black-hole feeling that I need to keep sucking in information–that tells me that I need to reverse the flow of inertia and put something out. On the other hand, reading about writing can be a great purposeful procrastination trick if I commit myself to go back to writing when I feel the spark of inspiration start to catch.

  2. So I can schedule wasted time instead of feeling guilty about it? Cool. I’m trying to fathom why wasted time passes so fast though. A couple of hours on my WIP takes just that, a couple of hours. Half an hour not doing much always takes three.

  3. Oh, I like this a lot. I have that giant, watch-Grey’s-Anatomy kind of fear at the beginning of a project, too. And I HAVE pulled some all-nighters in my time. Guess I’ll stop beating myself up for that. Thank you for inviting us out of our corners, reminding us to accept who we are so we can build it in to our writing schedules.

  4. Go, team! Out with the guilt, and in with the knowing-ourselves strategies that welcome and make space for who we actually are — and even harness our eccentricities for our greater good!

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