Nature abhors a vacuum, or so they say. I find this to be especially true after I clean a garden bed. Weeds sprout, mature, and seed in record time. If I don’t keep ahead of these intruders, visitors who traverse the walkway to my door may emerge with tales of jungle adventures.
This phenomenon happens with time, too. Retirees can attest to how quickly their schedules fill. Authors who stay home to write full-time soon discover that unless they guard their time, other activities soon crowd their writing time.
Really, that’s true for all writers. Clear time to write and watch the weedlings take hold. It takes determination, discipline, and something old-timers called sheer cussedness to take back your writing time. It can be done.
One word of caution: it can take a while to clear an overgrown garden. If weeds have strangled out your time, it may take a little time to free your schedule. Let’s take a look at some potential weeds.
Let me first say that family relationships belong near the top of your priority list. I don’t advocate compromising their position. Often we need to give them more, rather than less, of ourselves. Having said that, sometimes family members can sometimes expect more from us than they should. It’s human nature to want others to do for us what we should do for ourselves. Setting healthy boundaries in all relationships is important. Understanding motivations can help you deal with unrealistic expectations. A litmus test in deciding where to draw limits is whether benefiting your family member retards that person’s personal growth. There are times to sacrifice your needs for others, but your needs should count as well.
My parents raised me with old-fashioned manners. Because we served guests first and best, I developed the habit of putting others before myself. While that may seem admirable, if all of us did this, no one would ever go first. This came home to me in the years I commuted by ferry from Bainbridge Island to work in a Seattle skyscraper. As the ferry neared the dock, the crowd gathered and, at the signal to disembark, funneled onto the narrow gangplank. When I first started commuting, I held back as others shoved in front of me. I soon learned that always letting others go first would make me late to work. I had to find a balance between letting others step in front of me and taking my own turn.
Owning things takes a lot out of us. They require we keep track of them, pick them up, clean them, and remember where they are. Even getting rid of them takes energy. When it comes to personal belongings, less is more. That value is not held by the culture in which we live, so living by it will set you apart as different. If you can manage not to mind that, you’re ahead. Not to be a hypocrite in this, I must confess that I live in a large home with far too much “stuff.” But then, perhaps that’s how I know. My family’s decluttering campaign is ongoing and aggressive because this particular weed is invasive.
I’ve learned to clean house in the way professional cleaners do. Rather than cleaning room-by-room, they clean by categories: vacuuming, dusting, glass cleaning, scrubbing. I’ve found that copying this system saves time because it eliminates many time-consuming transitions between tasks. I’m working to set up a garden, vehicle, and household maintenance schedule with reminders in Google calendar so I don’t have to think about these things any more than necessary.
I love to read and to learn new things. While neither of those are bad, if I indulge them to excess (by spending too much time surfing the Internet, for example), they can erode my available time. I’ve had to relegate my reading, researching, and Internet surfing to set times. I’ve also given up several online games because I was giving them some of the time I should have been writing or spending with my family. I’ve also almost entirely given up television for similar reasons. Other areas I’ve cut back have been personal phone calls and shopping trips.
Having attended several funerals in the past few years has helped my perspective. Life is fleeting. I want mine to count. That doesn’t mean I don’t give myself breaks or recreation, but I do so within bounds. It’s important to ask yourself and your family the quality of life you’d like to live. Once you get a vision for that, it’s easy to make changes.
This is another area that is not inherently wrong but can be misused. Much networking takes place online these days, and while I won’t say those relationships aren’t real (I’ve met lots of writers I connect with online at conferences), they shouldn’t dominate. Writers are particularly vulnerable to overuse of social media. After all, we’re expected to network as part of our platforms. All of that is well and good, but it should still take its place behind our writing and occupy a small percentage of available time, overall. If, like me, you wind up with too many irons in the fire, don’t feel like you can’t downsize. To survive you must.
I’m learning to assign the time I’m willing to give to social networking and not to go beyond it. Pre-scheduling tweets and blog posts helps. Also, finding efficient extensions and applications is important. My recent guest post for Wordserve Watercooler goes into this: 10 Strategies to Keep You Afloat in the Treacherous Social Media Waters.
Keep in mind that, like a garden, your schedule needs regular tending to prevent weeds from regrowing from roots or sprouting from seeds. Cultivating your life’s soil will reap a harvest of writing time.
In this post, we’ve looked at four potential weeds, obstacles that can hinder us from making time to write. Do you have any thoughts on those I’ve identified? Can you name more?