Swoon Author SM Koz: Taking Control of the Writing Life
I asked my five-year-old what I should write about for this blog post and his answer was immediate: Unicorns. Specifically, how their horns are made. While that could make for a fun fantasy read about the prehistoric narwhal-meets-thoroughbred ancestor, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for this blog.
Of course, talking to him while I was doing my third drop-off of the morning did get me thinking about some of the challenges of writing. Sure, there’s the intricacies of creating a compelling plot and relatable characters, but I was thinking more of the logistical challenges. As with most of you, I wear many hats, including mom, wife, medical writer, cake decorator, paralyzed-dog caretaker, wannabe marathon runner, and, of course, novelist. Each of these hats consumes hours of my time either in actively doing them or in thinking about doing them. And, needless to say, writing a novel isn’t exactly easy when you feel as though you’re being pulled in ten different directions at once. When I self-published, it wasn’t a huge deal because I could write on my own schedule, but with a writing contract, I suddenly found myself having to write to a deadline. Ahhh—the dreaded deadline!
For my first few revisions of Love Me, Love Me Not, I struggled with the deadlines and my work showed it. I knew I wasn’t giving my editor my best effort, but I felt I had no other choice due to all my competing priorities. Then, at my lowest point when I felt as though my writing dream might never come true because I simply didn’t have the time for it, I decided to take control of my life rather than allowing my life to control me.
From a writing perspective, I focused on four key areas.
1.) Organize my life. My most creative times are when I’m relaxed and my mind is free to wander without a constant “To Do” list creeping its way in. I’ve read it’s a female trait to constantly obsess over everything we have to do, and I’ve found I’m doing that more and more frequently the older I get. The problem is when I’m trying to be creative, it’s not helpful to have my thoughts jump from the tragic past of my heroine to needing to buy toilet paper. So, what to do? The system that works for me is creating a calendar where I allocate hours or days to certain tasks, such as my medical writing or running errands or exercise. In doing so, I ease my mind that everything will get done, which allows me to focus on the assigned task during each time period—like the tragic past of my heroine.
2.) Set aside dedicated writing time. I like to do this in about 3-hour blocks of time. After each block, I give myself a 15-minute break to catch up on emails and texts, let the dogs out, and skim through Facebook. For me, the key is limiting breaks to fifteen minutes, so I don’t waste an hour watching adorable baby goats jumping on a trampoline without even realizing it!
3.) Eliminate distractions. During my writing blocks, I close all internet windows, stow my phone in a drawer, lock the door to my writing room if others are at home, gather a small stash of food and drinks so I won’t be tempted to wander into the kitchen, and eliminate any other distractions. Then, I open up my computer and dedicate all my energy to putting words on paper.
4.) Know when to say when. Despite my best efforts, there are some days when the writing just doesn’t come. For whatever reason, I either stare at a blank screen or spend hours writing, then delete everything I wrote. When these episodes hit, I’ve found it’s best to abandon ship for the rest of the day and find something relaxing to do. Sometimes it’s exercise, sometimes it’s talking to a friend, sometimes it’s sitting on the patio listening to the birds chirp. Usually, by the next day, I’ll be ready to tackle the story once more.
I should point out I’m very Type A, so for anyone who isn’t (likely the majority of writers!) this regimented approach might serve the opposite purpose and stifle all creativity. But if any of you out there are Type A and are having a difficult time focusing on your writing due to competing priorities, I hope my approach gives you a few ideas to try. If you have any others, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!