Writing Around Life: General Tips (Part 1)

First of all, Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day! Go give your local indie bookstore some love! They’re all that’s standing between us and Amazon’s total domination of everything. <_<

That said, let’s jump into our writing around life tips! Today we’re going to look at some basic tips that should be applicable to most people in most situations. We’ll start with the most important first.

Look at your schedule for available time.

A lot of writing advice advocates getting up earlier or staying up later to make time for writing, but a lot of times that doesn’t work. I don’t know about you guys, but by the time the kids go to bed, I’m pooped. Sometimes I can squeeze out an outline or a few hundred words, but a lot of time I just want to sit and read. And that’s okay. I know that about myself. If you can’t drag yourself out of bed at 5:30, don’t force it.

That being said, we all have little bits of time scattered throughout the day that we’re not using efficiently. Maybe we’re playing on our phone on our break. Maybe we’re staring out the window on the bus. Maybe we’ve got twenty minutes between classes. Look at your day and take note of when you’re doing other things that absolutely have to be done. Then look at the spaces inbetween. What are you doing during those times? Is it something that you need to do, or something you enjoy doing? Or is it time that you can grab and use for writing? Even 15 minutes can be enough for decent progress.

There is a process out there where you break your day down into 15-minute blocks. Then, over a week or so, you fill in what you spent each fifteen minutes doing. This helps you identify open blocks of time, activities that could be combined and streamlined, and if you’re spending too much time on something simple that could perhaps be done by another person or in another way. It is also understandably intimidating, so if it sounds like something that’s untenable, every time you find yourself doing nothing or doing something that is not fun or necessary, take note. (It does help to write things down so you can see patterns.)

Go for consistency.

Once you find a time period that will work for writing, stick with it. Consistency is, unfortunately, the best way to build habits. If you decide you’re going to swing by the library on campus and write for twenty minutes before the bus comes, then you do that every time. Otherwise it’s too easy to get distracted by other things. If something comes up, that’s one thing (class runs late, you need to coordinate a group project with a partner, you’ve got to pick up your final project from another professor), but otherwise you should be using your chosen writing time for writing.

Pick a place that’s good for your flow.

If possible, pick a place to write where you can focus. It’s not always possible–you may have a limited radius before you get too far from where you need to be–but do the best you can. If you need quiet, look for secluded lobbies, empty classrooms, outside, libraries, etc. You can also adapt your surroundings somewhat, by bringing noise-cancelling headphones or music. Move around until you find someplace that works. It might not always be the first place you think.

Always have writing supplies with you.

It’s easier to write when you find yourself with some free time if you have something to write¬†on. Most people have a preference for typing or handwriting, but bringing both or either should work for most writers. If you prefer a computer, you can carry a laptop around with you if appropriate. (For example, when I was in college, I often had my laptop with me for schoolwork, so it was easy to bring up a story and type on it when I had spare time.) However, it may not always be easy to carry one around with you. Notebooks are fairly portable and come in all shapes and sizes. I like the steno-pad size (somewhere between 5 and 6 inches wide and 8 and 9 inches tall) ones myself, since they can easily fit in most purses, but they do make literal pocket-sized ones. There is also the option to voice record, which can be done on your phone with the appropriate apps (and if you don’t mind looking like you’re talking to yourself).

The point is that you can make it happen if you’re prepared. Wait at the dentist taking forever? Lunch meeting canceled last minute? Child wants five more minutes in the restaurant playground? This is all time you can use if you have something to work with.

What do you think, squiders? Things to note about these tips? We’ll have more next week. I may also start up a readalong in the near future, if people have thoughts on standalones vs. series or recommendations on what to read.

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