Hold your writing time sacred

Sometimes the more I want to write, the more life gets in the way. This week, for example, I had to pick up a prescription, take the dog to the vet and attend a special meeting for my day job. The job is only part-time and usually just nights and weekends, but sometimes we have these meetings right in the middle of my writing time. The ideas are flowing, the words are coming, and the clock tells me I’m 10 minutes past when I had planned to get dressed. So now I’m debating with myself. Can I do five more minutes if I don’t wear makeup? Can I wear these jeans to work? Do I really have to stop for gas?

Eventually I curse, hit save, and go to my meeting, but my story is still running around in my head and I’m tempted to blow off my job so I can write.

Even worse are the writing groups I’m involved in. The critique group helps me write better, and the other groups help me connect with people who can help me sell what I write. They also ease the isolation of writing alone, but the meetings eat into my time so that I feel as if I never finish half as much as I want to. Or course, eating and sleeping get in the way, too. One can’t work 24/7.

But that’s the life of a writer. We’re always trying to balance the need to work on our writing with the need to deal with everything else. I’m lucky that I usually have at least two uninterrupted days a week and  two or three hours every morning. I have those times because I have done everything I can to save them for writing. When the doctor’s receptionist asks if I can come in at 10 on Monday morning, I say no, I can’t. When a friend wants to meet for brunch on a Wednesday, I say no, I’m sorry, I’m working. Sometimes I take the phone off the hook and block the Internet while I’m writing. Do I feel guilty about these things? A little, but if I had a regular job where I had to punch a time clock, I would not be available during working hours. I may be at home, but writing is my job.

Your situation may be different. You might have to work all day. You might have kids, a spouse or parents depending on you to take care of them. But if you want to write, you need to find at least an hour on a regular basis that you will guard like gold. Maybe it’s not every day. That’s okay. Just schedule time for yourself to write. Make an appointment. Put it on the calendar.  Then keep that appointment. If a flitterbrain like me can do it, you can, too.

What I learned from my Facebook fast

Usually I give up French fries for Lent. I love them, and they’re the standard side dish at many restaurants, so I have to make a little effort to make sure they don’t appear on my plate. In other years, I’ve given up cookies, candy, chocolate, the usual stuff, in addition to not eating meat on Fridays. But this year, I realized I needed to give up something that I would really miss: Facebook.

Being a wimpy Catholic, I didn’t give it up altogether. I just ruled that I couldn’t look at Facebook until my day’s work was done. After all, social networking is considered essential to a writer’s career these days. But it’s so easy to click on the little “f” in the morning and waste an hour reading and responding to everyone’s posts. By the time I finish, it’s time to check email, and then, since I’ve frittered away so much time, why not do an online jigsaw puzzle, and oh, might as well check Facebook again to see if anyone commented on or “liked” something I posted. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and I’m too sleepy to write after lunch.

So, no Facebook till my work is done. Sort of like no dessert until you eat your peas and carrots. No going out to play until you do your homework. I set up a whiteboard listing the major tasks of my day–write, rewrite, market, practice my music, walk the dog, and I got to work. It wasn’t easy because I love the instant connection with other people that Facebook gives. I was only able to resist because I had promised God.

Immediately I got more work done. A lot more work. I produced pages of writing, revised things I had written before, and submitted my work to publishers. I made visible progress on my to-do piles. All of a sudden, I felt as if I had so much time. I could write my blog posts, write in my journal, experiment with a poem, start a new piece . . . I had no idea how much time I had been wasting.

 Most blog hosts allow you to automatically buzz your posts on Facebook and Twitter, so notices about my blog posts appeared without my actually going there. Normally I would go to Facebook to see if anyone had commented. But no, no looking at Facebook during working hours.

So, I learned that I could find big delicious gulps of time simply by not looking at Facebook and other social networking sites during working hours. That includes Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads and whatever else one is addicted to.

I also learned that I wasn’t missing much. Don’t get me wrong. I love Facebook. It’s a great way to keep up with friends and family. But I can absorb everything worth reading there in one visit a day. I do not have to read every post, and I do not have to keep checking back to see what people have said about my posts. It will wait.

Lent is almost over. I will gladly go back to eating meat on Fridays. It’s amazing how I crave steak or hamburger on that one day when I’m not supposed to eat it. But I plan to continue limiting my Facebook time. It’s a delightful distraction when I’m unsure about or uncomfortable with the work at hand, but it keeps me from doing more important things.

Want to join me? No Facebook, Twitter or online games until we’re done with the day’s work. Try it for a month, okay? Tell me how it turned out.