Writing Without Time

One of my goals this year was to write two new twelve week articles (as well as revise and resubmit the one that was rejected). Swept up in the enthusiasm of the new year, some friends and I created a new writing group. Armed with a fresh Scrivener project and a conference paper to revise (analyzing the history of archeology through the early twentieth-century excavations at the Quiriguá site in Guatemala), I’m off to an excellent start.

I expected this time around with the Twelve Week article method to be easier, as this was my second time writing a twelve week article. I was pretty sure that I’d learned everything I needed to know about article writing when I’d written the last one. I expected to identify similar obstacles to writing. However, I discovered that this time, I was facing a different set of issues. Right now, the biggest problem is lack sufficient writing time.

The editing biz has been slow for the last few weeks, so I decided to get a temp job. After years of part-time graduate school employment, I’d forgotten what it was like to work forty hours a week for someone else. Despite angst about participating in the gig economy (more on this in a future post), I remember how much I enjoy going to a regular job. I like feeling like I have co-workers. I like having an actual office. I most especially love being paid regularly.

However, there are some serious downsides. My time is now so often not my own. I’m working on other people’s projects and helping other people achieve their goals. I have little time to write.

I felt so crunched for time that I wondered if I should tell my writing group buddies that they’d have to continue without me. I felt myself succumbing to the myth that I could only write if I had long, uninterrupted stretches of writing time. I felt too busy to write.

But one of my 2016 goals was to write another article. If I wasn’t going to write an article now, when exactly did I think I would? Besides, I didn’t want to let my writing group down.   

Recalling all of my experiences from the last twelve week article, I realized that I needed to schedule short writing sessions during my small blocks of free time. When I looked at my schedule, I panicked a little bit, horrified to realize how precious little writing time I really had. I ruled out writing during my lunch hour, as I’m trying to squeeze more walking into my life. I didn’t want to write after work, either. I’m tired after work. I don’t feel motivated to work on my article after staring at someone else’s computer screen for eight hours a day. I can only imagine how people who have demanding jobs and small children to care for must feel about their lack of writing time.

I realized that I would have to schedule my writing sessions early in the morning before leaving for the office. Sure, I’d love to have endless blocks of time to write. However, I’ve often only got thirty to forty minutes in the morning before I have to start getting ready to leave home at seven, so I have to take full advantage of that little window of time. This week, I scheduled my writing time from 5:15am to 6am, Monday through Friday. I planned my writing time on my calendar and then tracked my actual time with Toggl. Much to my surprise, I stuck to my schedule.

In other words, I was accomplishing actual writing despite feeling like I was too busy to write. Magic!

Writing first thing in the morning has had the unexpected advantage of literally making my writing my first priority. As I wrote about in this post, I often struggle with the idea of prioritizing my writing because I’m really struggling with the idea of prioritizing myself. When I leave early in the morning for my temporary office, I feel good knowing that I’ve already accomplished the most difficult part of my day.

Writing first thing in the morning has also done wonders for the anxiety I feel whenever I’m staring down the barrel of what seems like an overwhelming writing project. As always, it’s the act of not writing that causes shame and anxiety; the act of writing is the cure. If I have learned one thing about being a productive writer, it is this: write a little bit every day.
Seriously, those people who say we need schedules for writing are absolutely right.