By: Frank McKinley
We All Use the Same Excuses
When I ask the people in my writing groups what their biggest writing challenge is, the most common answer is, “I don’t have time.”
We’re all busy.
Countless things make demands on your time:
- Work – even if your office is in your bedroom, you still have to have to put in the hours.
- Family – the kids need food, clean clothes, and help with their homework every weekday.
- Church – maybe you serve in the nursery, teach a class or host a community group. Then, there’s your daily meditation practice.
- Community – volunteering at a homeless shelter, the library sale, or your local Toastmasters club is an important personal value, but it costs a few hours each week.
- Social life – you can’t be all work, all the time. Every writer – not to mention every human – needs time to relax and unwind, so more time is spent in something other than writing.
With all that in your life, you then spend the rest of your time sleeping.
More Excuses Than Actions?
There might be something else that’s driving you to fill up your schedule with worthwhile, but time-consuming reasons you don’t write when you genuinely have the time.
You think you don’t have anything to write.
If you believe you have to wait for the Muse to visit and bless you with a creative spark, you might wait forever, because The Muse doesn’t exist. It’s an excuse. Actually, it’s more like a magic trick. Once you know how to become your own Muse, you’ll never wait for it again.
It’s time to admit the truth.
You’ll never feel like writing.
But then you’ll never feel like dieting, exercising, paying taxes, or writing a book either.
You simply have to begin.
What should you do first?
Decide you’re going to write. Today. Tomorrow. The next day. Every time you plan your time, add writing to your list of must-do activities. These are your A+ tasks that can’t be pushed off until tomorrow.
In other words, if you want to write every day, you have to make it a top priority.
Then you can find the hidden pockets to time you have now.
Where Are You Wasting Time?
If you don’t know how you spend your time, start logging it. Every hour. What did you do from 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, and so on? Be as specific as you can. If you have a smartphone, it can tell you what apps you use and for how long.
Here are some potential time-wasters:
- Checking your email too often
- Spending hours on social media
- Chatting with friends instead of writing
- Getting ready to write, but not actually writing
Suppose you spend 5 hours a day on your phone. What if you cut that time in half? How much could you write? Even a half-hour here and there can make a difference.
Here are some potential pockets of time you could create to write:
- Get up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual
- If you have a lunch hour, spend half of it writing
- Are you a night owl? Spend the last hour before bed writing
- Do you take public transit? Sit in waiting rooms? Use this time to write
You don’t have to use every available second. Pick one time you can write every day and do it for 30 days. You’ll form a habit that will serve you when your feelings don’t.
You don’t have to be stuck with nothing to write.
Ideas are everywhere. Julia Cameron suggests you go on artist dates. What that means is you spend time doing something that nurtures your creativity.
● Take a walk in the woods.
● Visit a library or bookstore.
● Spend an afternoon at a museum.
● Do something you’ve never done before.
● Go to the library and pick a random book off the shelf to read.
Now you’re halfway there.
Memory Fades; Notes are Forever
Don’t depend on your memory to retain your ideas. Write them down. Buy a special notebook if you must. Type them into your phone. Just keep them somewhere you can find them when you need them.
Here are a few things you can jot down.
Questions. What thoughts did you have about your experience? What were your feelings about an experience? Do some research, and explore the answers in a blog post, a book, a poem, or whatever form your writing takes.
Ideas. Experience can generate paths for your writing to follow. If you run dry, just set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and write as many topics as you can. You’ll have something good in that list of gold and dirt.
If not, do it again.
Prompts. Creative writing exercises start with prompts. So can your first drafts. Sure, it won’t be perfect, but it will be a beginning. And you can’t finish if you don’t start.
Sometimes ideas are right in front of you.
One day last fall, I walked into a local park. I left my phone in the car. I had no agenda.
Then it happened.
I heard the birds sing and I immediately stopped in my tracks.
I listened. Were they talking to each other? What were they saying? Was there a melody to their songs?
When I got back home, I did some research.
I didn’t get all the answers I was looking for, but more than I would have if I had just walked through the park, checked my phone, and not paid attention.
Hearing those birds prompted a post on Medium. That day in the park helped me realize that I had an authentic writing voice. It’s inspired others to find theirs, too.
Talk to People and Ask Questions
What do you see in your life that could be improved? Can you learn if you stop and observe? What if there’s more than one answer to the questions you have?
Write about that.
Talk to people.
I’m in many writers groups.
The best way to grow there is to talk to people. Ask a question. Have coffee over Skype (or in-person if you can). Start a small discussion group to go deeper into a relevant topic.
You’ll learn far more talking than you will just standing on the sidelines watching. If you want to know what works, do something. Better, do it with a few others. Compare notes. Do more experiments.
The hidden truth will come out and reward your persistence.
Then you can share your hard-won knowledge with others.
When you lift others, you lift yourself.
Shake Things Up
Sometimes writers get into ruts.
You write about the same thing week after week. You get bored.
Then your readers get bored and stop reading.
Don’t let that happen.
Shake things up. Write somewhere new. Use a paper and pen if you usually type. Write in the afternoon if you habitually write in the morning. Write poetry if you typically write essays.
Challenge yourself to stay fresh.
Do that, and you’ll always be interesting.
And you might come up with some more ideas to write about when you find more time.
Do Everything Faster
If you ever free write, you’ve worked against a deadline.
Why can’t you do that when you edit, too?
Figure out how long it usually takes to get a well-polished draft. Time yourself a few times and take the average.
Then use the average to limit the time you edit your next post.
Why do this?
Editing is like drawing. You can spend forever adding details. You can smooth and erase yourself into oblivion. Spend too long on your work, and you’ll ruin it.
The timer stops you before you polish the life out of your writing.
Is this dangerous?
Only if you think your work will ever be perfect.
It won’t be.
Settle for effective instead. You do that by deciding what you want your words to do before you write them.
Take a long, hard look at your excuses. Tell yourself you don’t have time, and you won’t look for any.
If you struggle to find the time, look for pockets in the time you have now. What can you give up that doesn’t serve you? Can you write on your breaks? Can you get up earlier or stay up later?
Start with 15 minutes. Do that for a few days. Then add 5 or 10 minutes. Increase it regularly until you forge a habit that you can keep no matter what.
If you’re not capturing ideas when they come, buy a pocket-sized notebook and pen to record them. When you write, you can flesh them out.
Don’t let the size of a project scare you. Break it into these five parts:
1. Observe. Spend a little time watching what’s happening in front of you.
2. Brainstorm. Take what you see and explore the possibilities.
3. Draft. Write your first impressions as quickly as you can.
4. Polish. Refine your draft into something that grabs readers’ attention and holds it until the end.
5. Publish. Submit or share your work so others may benefit.
Now go unleash the writing genius sleeping inside your busy schedule.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
Bio: Frank McKinley