When Life Gets in the Way

I often hear my friends say they couldn’t write this week/month/year because life got in the way. And I’m as guilty as anybody. It’s easy to imagine that once we finish this project/season/insert-almost-anything-here, life will calm down, and we will be able carve out a peaceful space for our writing. Yeah, right. Never happens.

What I've been doing this week--vacation with the family.

What I’ve been doing this week–vacation with the family.

Because life goes on in all its messy glory, continually bringing new chaos. Work, kids, health problems—everybody’s challenges are different, but we all have them. Now sometimes there truly is something extraordinary happening in your life that requires all of your attention, but what about the rest of the time? How do we continue to make progress under less-than-ideal circumstances? Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

Prioritize. Take stock of your life every once in a while and think about what is most important to you, then continually remind yourself of those priorities. Don’t let all the ephemeral day-to-day concerns, like whether your house is perfectly clean before your friend comes over, steal all your productive hours.

Clear out the clutter. Hey, wait, didn’t I just encourage you not to spend so much time cleaning your house? I mean life clutter. Facebook games and TV shows you don’t even care about and all the little time sucks that are lurking out there waiting to get you. I’m soooo guilty of this one.

Find your happy place. Maybe you have or can create a home office. Maybe you like to write in a coffee shop, or a park, or your bed. The brain learns to respond to familiar stimuli, so having a favorite writing spot can help you slip into your creative mode more quickly.

Schedule writing time. Make it sacred. Make it happen. It works best if you can set up a consistent time, like writing an hour or two every morning before you begin your day. If your life doesn’t allow for that, don’t worry—you’re in good company. Look at your schedule for the week and find some time each day you can devote to writing. If you don’t plan ahead and put it in your schedule, chances are your day will slip away without a good time to write ever presenting itself.

Get your family on board. Let them know that writing is important to you and what a challenge it is to find time to flex your creativity. Make sure your family knows when you’ve scheduled certain times for your writing. If they understand what you’re doing, and that you’ll be available to them again soon, they’ll be more likely to leave you undisturbed.

Find a writing buddy. If making a commitment to yourself to write at certain times isn’t motivation enough, make that commitment to someone else. Set a date to meet a friend for writing time, either in person or online. Agree to write for half an hour, an hour or whatever works for you, then compare word counts at the end. The goal isn’t necessarily to write quickly, but simply to stay focused on the task for that period of time.

Grab snippets of time where you can. I haven’t been able to make this one work myself, but I have a friend who turns out amazing word counts this way. Carry a small computer or notebook then add a few sentences whenever you find yourself with a free moment—waiting for your lunch order, at the doctor’s office, you get the idea. Just like adding pennies to a jar, these little bits add up.

And with that, I’m off to squeeze in a few words before a vacation day of go-karting and swimming with the family. What are your ideas? How do you keep life from getting in the way?

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33 thoughts on “When Life Gets in the Way

  1. Sue

    What great suggestion! I know you said not to worry about cleaning, but I’ve found that a clean, uncluttered workspace helps me focus. It might be the only clean place in my house, but it works. 😉 thanks for the timely post!

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Good point! I know a lot of people can’t function in clutter. I’d say the key is just to pick and choose which tasks are most important so you can find your own balance.

      Reply
  2. Cara Bristol

    All good suggestions. Writers want long, uninterrupted blocks of writing time, but if circumstances don’t permit it, remember this: one page a day equals 365 pages a year. That’s the equivalent of one novel or two novellas.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Exactly! My progress has been slow compared to a lot of you, but little by little I’m getting there. I’m still dreaming of those long, uninterrupted blocks once my boys are both old enough to be in school (a girl can dream, after all), but I’m not waiting for it to happen.

      Reply
  3. Allison

    Yep, it’s very important to set aside time for writing. We have terrible TV reception and I refuse to pay for satellite, so the TV isn’t much of a distraction for me. But between my husband and our dog, well, sometimes I have to force time to write. I like to do it in the evenings or at night best.

    Great suggestions, S.D. Have fun with the go-karts.

    Reply
  4. Wanda

    I try to take my laptop to work as often as possible. We get an hour for lunch so that’s a good block of time for me. Have a hard time getting up early and after work I’m usually exhausted and ready for a beer. I also try to write a lot on weekends.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Using your lunch hour is a great idea, Wanda. After reading your posts about your job, I can understand why you come home exhausted. But you’re finding those bits of time and making progress toward your goal.

      Reply
  5. Beth Carter

    Great suggestions and tips, Sharon. I get so mad at myself when I’ve wasted time on FB or Twitter for hours. Of course, it’s a necessary evil to a point, but when I find I’m just socializing, I get irritated with myself for not spending that time on my writing.

    I used to use the phrase, “When life gets in the way” but I stopped after I realized my writing was always enriched by the most mundane chores. I always get fodder for writing when I’m out and about whether it’s character descriptions, new settings or dialogue by evesdropping. 🙂

    And you’re right–we all have distractions and reasons for not writing. We just have to make time to do it and make it a priority.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      It can be such a hard line to draw. Social media is part of the gig, and simply socializing has its value too, but if you’re not careful, you won’t have any time left to write.

      I love the way you draw inspiration from everyday life, by the way!

      Reply
  6. Tessa McD

    Great tips! I always remind my writing students that we have to “make” time – we’ll never “find” time. My life goes smoother when I write – and I have no trouble ignoring the housework!!

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      I’m afraid I’m extremely good at ignoring the housework. When I start to feel bad about all the clutter, I just remind myself that I’m setting priorities and living my life accordingly. 😉

      Reply
  7. Brandy Nacole

    Great post and advice S.D. I have three kids under the age of 5, and sometimes, okay most of the time, my schedule gets tossed out the window. But I have done a few things to help with this, and your post has given me a few more. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      So true! Schedules are nearly impossible with little ones. Every single day is different in our house, and I only have two to deal with. It keeps life interesting!

      Reply
  8. georgianaderwent

    Thanks for following, I’ve now followed back. I really agree with this article. It’s all a case of prioritisation. There are some weeks when with the best will in the world, you’re not going to get any writing done, but most of the time if you want to do it enough you can. Definitely agree about cutting down on cleaning and time spent messing about on the internet or watching random TV shows.When I’m trying hard to finish a book, I also try to avoid reading other books as it’s too easy to get sucked into that story, but on the other hand, some reading really helps inspire my own writing.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      That is so true about reading other books. Right now it’s helping to inspire me, but there have been times when I completely stopped writing because I was too absorbed in someone else’s fantasy world to create my own. Thanks for stopping by and following me!

      Reply
  9. Lisa Medley

    Gosh, if life didn’t get in the way…we’d probably have nothing TO write about 🙂 The more I plan to write, the less I actually write. Proof positive I’ll likely die a pantser one day. Hopefully, I won’t die FROM pantsing 🙂 That would just be sad.

    Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      You hit on two more topics I’ve been considering blogging about: drawing inspiration from life and plotting vs. pantsing. But I have to say, imagining you dying from pantsing has put some very strange images in my head. 😉

      Reply
    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      Toddlers are the biggest time suck ever! It gets a little better as they get older and more independent, but I have a feeling you’ll add one or two more before you’re done. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Pingback: Happy 2014! | S. D. Keeling

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