Simply showing up to write has long been my greatest challenge. Life keeps getting in the way.
At the Chicago Writer’s Conference last September, Ines Bellina gave us her top tip for getting work done despite the distractions of daily life.
“Write for 15 minutes a day. Every day. Before you do anything else. Because no matter what else happens that day, you will have at least accomplished that.”
I thought to myself — fifteen minutes. With the exception of family emergencies, almost anything can wait 15 minutes. Bellina works her 15 minutes immediately after breakfast, but that doesn’t work for me, because The Eight-Year-Old needs to get to school then. But I can fairly reliably predict an open space of time at ten o’clock, when The Eight-Year-Old is at school, Michael is at work, and I have the house to myself.
So I tried it.
For two weeks, at ten o’clock, I set my phone aside in another room, opened my computer, and worked on my fiction for at least 15 minutes.
The good news is, I made a lot of progress. Much more than I expected. Just as Bellina said I would. The bad news is, the practice kind of broke my life.
The 15-minute frame makes writing fiction everyday sound simple and doable
It’s freed me from thinking that daily writing can only happen if you can somehow set aside hours of time every day to give to it. Theoretically, all I need is 15 minutes.
In practice, my writing sessions always lasted much longer than 15 minutes.
Turns out, 15 minutes is exactly the amount of time I need to really get going on something. Once I’ve leapt that hurdle, I don’t want to stop. I remember all too well how hard that sucker was to leap in the first place.
Most days, this isn’t an issue – at least not schedule-wise. If I have something pressing that I can’t afford to miss, I set an alarm so that I will reemerge from my writing haze in plenty of time to do whatever that can’t miss item is.
This tip would be a game changer for me if the only piece of writing I were thinking about everyday was my work-in-progress.
But I’m also trying to maintain a blog here at BostonWriters, a blog over there at Caterpickles, and a Twitter feed that has something in it other than simply links to my various blog posts. And all of those have suffered these past weeks. (As has my laundry pile, the family cave, my bedroom, kitchen, office, and front room, but let’s continue to pretend those things don’t exist, shall we?)
The effects aren’t so obvious here – this blog has always been irregularly updated at best. And I can fake Twitter by retweeting lots of other people’s work to obscure the fact that I’m not really producing anything original of my own. But my Caterpickles readers have noticed the gap (check the comments). And that bothers me. I’ve worked hard to maintain a regular schedule and readership with Caterpickles.
So what to do?
Not finishing my historical fiction novel is not an option. I’ve put too much into it, and am too close. Not finishing Ebenezer Rabbit, Dragon Hunter, my other work-in-progress, is not an option either. The Eight-Year-Old would kill me.
I don’t really want to give up my blogs. I don’t use this guy much, but I love having it as a place to process the ups and downs of the writing journey. And I honestly enjoy writing Caterpickles. Giving that up would be like giving up a piece of myself.
Perhaps what I need to do is pay closer attention to Bellina’s original tip.
“Write for fifteen minutes a day. Every day.”
Just fifteen minutes. Then go do whatever it is that needs to be done that day.
In the past I balanced blogging with writing by setting aside a day or two, sometimes up to a week, to preparing up a week’s or month’s worth of blog posts in advance. That would free up the next few days to write fiction. When my well of pre-written blog posts ran dry, I’d dedicate a day or two to refilling it. And so on.
By using this method, I was teaching myself that it was impossible to both blog and write fiction on the same day. But that’s ok. Writing is writing, right?
What if the real trick to balancing the writing/blogging life is not to assume that doing one sort of writing makes it impossible to do the other on the same day? Maybe what I really need to do is to set a timer on my blogging days, so that I put my manuscript aside at the 15-minute mark and attend to the blogging before I use up all my words.
Maybe the presence of the timer will get my mind off the time and allow me to immerse myself into the fiction that much sooner. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will only take 5 minutes to get into the flow.
Folks with works-in-progress and active blogs, how do you balance the writing and blogging life?
Bonus Writing Tip:
The other trick I discovered this week, completely by accident, was leaving my manuscript up on my computer when I put it to sleep. That way, the first thing I saw when I woke my computer back up was my work-in-progress, not my email or web browser. That makes it much easier to stick with the “I write for 15 minutes before I do anything else” part of the plan.