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"The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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~ Maggie Shayne 


Article, Finding Time

A frequent topic of discussion when writers gather is the scarcity of time.

Not just time to write, but time to do everything, from laundry to plotting. The hectic pace of life continues to accelerate. Or is it just our imaginations? I don’t think so. We accumulate things as we go through life: friends, families, pets, commitments, stuff. These things require maintenance, which equals time. Finding time for ourselves means we have to establish priorities, and perhaps shed some of the stuff we’ve accumulated.

Either that, or work harder, or smarter. I don’t know about you, but I like having stuff, and I don’t like to work harder. That leaves working smarter.

Finding time means making time. It will not spontaneously pop up in your schedule, with the notation, “2-5 pm, write whatever you please.” You can count on an emergency dentist visit to do that, but not the two chapters you wanted to get done this month. Those you have to fight for. I haven’t yet won the war, but I’m waging a good battle. My weapons are lists, schedules, organization, and commitment.

One is to write it on your calendar ahead of time, far ahead of time, so that you don’t schedule anything else for that slot. Even if you manage to safeguard only a third of the time you try to block out, you’re that much ahead of the game. Tip: if you call it something else, your family is more likely to respect it when writing their commitments on your calendar. “Alice’s family reunion,” although it doesn’t sound terribly important, will get more consideration than, “Finish chapter five.” It may raise some questions about why your husband wasn’t included in the invitation, but you’re more likely to wind up with the time free for writing that pivotal scene for Alice.

Another way to wring time out of your schedule is to use some techniques taught by personal development gurus.

“If you read a lie often enough, you’ll believe it.” This refers to the power of affirmations. Have you written a goal statement for this year? If not, now’s the time to do it. It can be as simple as, “In 2000 I will finish my work in progress,” or as complex as, “In 2000, I will write three hours a day, finish two books, secure representation by XXXX (fill in your dream agent’s name), sell three books, and vacation in western Canada to research my next Silhouette Desire.” Read this aloud morning and evening. Hang it by your computer, stick it on your mirror, post it anywhere you’ll see it often. Carry a laminated copy of it with you, and pull it out when you’re stuck in traffic, in line at the grocery store, or waiting anywhere. After a while, you’ll believe it, and both consciously and unconsciously work toward those goals.

Make sure your goals are realistic.The writer who makes the second of these goal statements, knowing that she or he works two jobs, has three children and barely enough time to catch five hours’ sleep a night, may be setting up a failure scenario. Set reasonable goals, just a stretch beyond what you want. Review your goals quarterly, and scale back if you’re consistently falling short or push forward if you’re doing better than you expected. You want to encourage yourself, not labor against overwhelming odds. Making the commitment, aloud and often, helps everything fall into place. Yes, you will still have those emergency dental visits, but you’ll find you can carve out the time you need.

“Recording and reporting progress increases productivity.” This really makes a difference. If you keep track of your progress and report it to other people, you’ll find yourself inclined to fire up the computer for a half hour of writing while you wait to go pick up your daughter after her scuba diving lesson, when you might otherwise have browsed your TBR pile or sorted laundry. Sort laundry when you need to develop a plot complication for chapter nine. Better yet, let your daughter do it while you teach your husband (or your son!) to make dinner.

Participate in every on-line writing marathon that you can. Don’t worry about writing less than someone else. Concentrate on writing more than you did last week, or last month, or last year. Periodic writing blitzes, like those held by the writers in Compuserve’s Romance Forum, are a fabulous opportunity to blurt out your story. Once you have it on the screen, you can clean it up. Until you’ve written it, well, you haven’t written it!

Don’t Do It Alone: Enlist your family’s help. After all, when you’re up for a Career Achievement award, when royalty checks with lots of wonderful digits are rolling in, when you’ve reached the top of every bestseller list there is, aren’t you going to spend some of that lovely money on them? That argument may not work, so try this one: You all live in the house, so you all should contribute to the running of it.

Schedules are wonderful, in terms of everyone knowing what to expect. A weekly dinner schedule, listing what menus will be served when, posted in the kitchen, gives the shopper in the family a jumpstart on the list, and the cook a road map. I stuck a small white board on the freezer door, where I keep a running list of available snacks and a growing grocery list. Everyone is expected to erase what they’ve eaten the last of from the snack list and write it on the store list. I don’t have to rifle the cupboards as much to see what’s missing, and I get fewer complaints about there being ‘nothing to eat.’ These are the kinds of tricks you can do to make your family work for you. Spend a little time analyzing the areas in which your family can help, and get them started. Tip: Don’t make the mistake, when divvying up household chores, of giving yourself all the ones that have to be done regularly. Food preparation and laundry are essential to life, so spread them around.

Whatever combination of these you choose, give it a try! Change your life, and give your writing career a boost.

Here’s another truth from the personal development gurus: “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting.”

Copyright 2004 Liddy Midnight

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