Writing Time Stress Causes and Cures: Writing Creativity Killers, Part 3
So much to do, so little time. Does this sound like your life on an ongoing basis? You either enjoy the challenge, look wistfully back to when you had the freedom to create without a schedule, or both.
When your ambitions overwhelm your available resources, burnout isn’t far away. Determination can keep you going while tapped out, but your creativity inevitably suffers. Let’s take a look at some of the causes of time stress and how to remedy them.
Note to self: Time is not my enemy. It's not out to get me. It's not something I need to beat. It's not in competition with my goals. Time is a tool I can employ for my benefit or discard and let rust.
Wanting too Much, too Fast
Book contracts, agents, speaking gigs, movie deals, oh my! You seem to have come with a built-in drive to attain heights of success. Seeing someone else succeed sparks jealousy or makes you question your own worthiness as a writer.
None of these feelings helps your creativity.Much of the angst we feel as writers comes from frustrated desire. We want it all, and we want it now. This mindset can keep us awake at night, stressed over time. We’re like a child on a road trip, asking the eternal question: “Are we there, yet?”
Letting yourself be exactly where you are in your writing journey brings peace. At some point in childhood you were probably cautioned not to be in a hurry to grow up. In the same way, we travel the road to writing success more easily when it is paved with acceptance, patience, and humility.
Love them or hate them, deadlines are a fact of the writing life. Even if you don’t schedule them for yourself, they crop up as a natural part of working with others. You may find that having a deadline lights a spark beneath you. Or maybe the fear of not finishing on time distracts your focus. Either way, having a deadline to meet creates writing time stress that can bleed your creativity dry.
Take steps to avoid this problem:
- Don’t take on more than you can manage. Gauge how much you can realistically fit into your writing schedule while leaving a certain amount of time that is not designated. This creates a buffer to cushion you when life intrudes.
- Break your writing project into smaller chunks. Tally the number of days needed to complete a project and divide your word count and editing time accordingly. If you reach the end of a week and you aren’t up to the mark you set, use your time buffer to close this gap.
The world scrolls away as you step into your story world. The character you were writing about at the end of your last writing session beckons you onward. It’s all coming back to you…
The phone rings. Your child’s hand touches your shoulder. The dog touches your leg with it’s nose, letting you know she needs to go out. The washer timer buzzes. Someone rings the doorbell. Is that a friend’s car pulling into the driveway?
Your character waves goodbye as story world vanishes before your eyes.
Before you decide to become a hermit, give some attention to eliminating interruptions before they start. Not all interruptions lie within your control, however more of them are than you may realize.
Ways to avoid interruptions:
- At the start of a writing session, turn the phone’s ringer down or take it off the hook.
- Alternatively, clue those you know might call into the best times to reach you. They will learn to respect your writing time if you do. When they call outside the set time frame, don’t answer unless it could be an emergency.
- Explain to older children beforehand that you need them not to interrupt your writing session unless it’s urgent (as defined by you). For younger children, consider working out a babysitting swap or checking them into a childcare center for part of the day while you write.
- Take care of pet’s needs before you try to write. Banish from your work space any pet given to distracting you.
- If the washer alarm will pull you out of your story, do laundry at a different time.
- If sales people come by your house a lot, put up a ‘no solicitors’ sign.
- Let friends and neighbors who may visit at inopportune times know your schedule (and adhere to it, yourself).
Misuse of Time
I once asked a group of writers to help identify whatever disrupts, interrupts and otherwise wastes their time as writers. Here are the responses:
- Online games
- Obsessive social networking
- The Internet
- Excessive researching
- Facebook activities (games, surfing friend’s pages and chatting)
- Excessive reading of blogs
- Household chores
- Writers’ forums
- Phone calls
- Computer and technical problems
Some items might not seem to belong on this list. Shouldn’t we spend time with our spouse and children or on household chores? There’s a difference between wasting and spending time, and each situation is different.
Sometimes routine duties and even family relationships demand more than their share of time, but be careful here. Writing, as a passion, can consume time and attention that rightfully belongs elsewhere. You probably agree that writing should come after the needs of your family. However, if others are needlessly wasting your time, then you may need to ask for their consideration.
Things aren’t always what they seem. For instance, depression can masquerade as tiredness. If your days are passing in an uninspiring sameness, see if you can find the root cause of your doldrums. If you can’t pull out of it on your own, seek help. Tell someone you trust what’s going on with you. Pulling out of a depression takes courage, will power, and the help of trustworthy people. It also takes time. Give yourself grace while you recover.
If you’re caught up in too much social networking, you might need to develop some satisfying non-virtual relationships. Yes, these also take time but make for a fuller life. Excessive social networking, television viewing, engaging in online games, and the like might be providing ways for you to procrastinate.
Try to find the source of your procrastination. Maybe you’ve taken a wrong turn in your plot and don’t know how to proceed. Or the problem could be emotional. You might be afraid to test your self esteem by completing your writing.
Daydreaming can be the voice of inspiration. Perhaps you should embrace these interruptions and let them lead you. Turn off your inner censor and just listen. Take notes. If your inner sense tells you you’re using daydreaming to procrastinate, ask yourself why and address the real problem.
Computer malfunctions and other technical problems lie beyond your control. I confess that, being a creature of habit, I can find myself disoriented when my computer stalls. Accepting what I can’t control allows me to reformat my day and move on to the things I can. Maintaining my emotional balance helps me even out a disrupted day.
Knowing and confronting your motives will free you to arrest time wasters because you won’t have to fight a powerful adversary – yourself – to do so. Know your motives, but address your behavior, especially since habit will most likely be involved. Be patient with yourself. Breaking habits take time. You will have greater success if you substitute a positive behavior for a negative one. Ask yourself: What am I getting out of playing Facebook games? If the answer is a reward for hard work, maybe you can limit yourself using a timer rather than indulging in unlimited play time. Or, if that doesn’t work, try reading a chapter in a book you’ve been wanting to get to instead. It might be hard to break away from the computer the first couple of times, but soon you’ll look forward to reading instead.
Change your motivators as well. Embrace your passions fully, and there will be no room in your arms for substitutes.
Making the Wrong Promises
Words come easily while actions take more effort. Bear this in mind whenever you are tempted to make a promise before counting the cost. Promising less and delivering more will make you a hero.
Sometimes you shouldn’t promise at all. When a writing project doesn’t align to your brand, it’s usually best to turn it down. Even if it does, if you can’t make time in your schedule to complete it, you’re better off passing it up.
Getting your name out there isn’t enough. There should be a purpose for you in writing a particular project because, let’s face it, life is short and you have a lot to do.
Consider whether a writing project:
- matches your brand.
- furthers your career.
- reaches your audience.
- imparts something of value.
- is something you’ll be proud of writing.
- doesn’t detract from your other projects.
- could lead to valuable opportunities.
Some Final Thoughts from Janalyn
Sometimes I ask myself whether, if I had all the time in the world to write, I would feel like it was enough. Even then, I’m not sure I would say yes. The unction to write is part of the writing gift. Without it, many valuable manuscripts would be left unwritten. However, if allowed, it can consume an author.