This is a magical time of year. I’m done with my day job for the summer, the kids are still in school for the next few weeks, and my calendar is more white space than blocks of color. Ah, free time. I should be a writing fool.
But last fall when I cleared my calendar for a month to finish the novel, I discovered that more time on my hands didn’t translate into more chapters on my hard drive. What happens to me when the calendar sits open for too long is that I fill it with coffee dates, that appointment with the dentist. I clean for the first time in, well…you don’t want to know. I spin, spin, spin until the clock winds down.
More time to write can be just as daunting as no time to write.
So, what to do this time when I’m gifted several days in a row with few, if any, of life’s obligations? Learn from experience and follow the advice of other writers who’ve also learned from experience.
Start with Steve Holt’s article in the most recent issue of Writers Digest. In “Take Your Writing Away,” Holt talks about physically getting away by planning your own writing retreat, which I have done before. But, his tips on making the most of your sacred writing time out of town work just as well when I need to stay close to home. Every inch of his article is worth reading, underlining, and quoting. Today, though, I’ll hit on three of his points that stand out to me most.
“Choose the location carefully.”
“…with as few distractions as possible,” he says. For me, that means leaving the house. I’ve talked before about my challenges with writing at home. While I can tackle some projects in tiny increments in between sideways glances at the dust building up in the corner of the dining room or the laundry growing cold on the couch, I am much more productive with one hour off-site at a busy coffee shop. Give me two hours and I can crank out a significant paragraph or two on the novel (I measure my progress in inches down the page) and do some revisions on a short essay. So, figure out where you write best, block out your calendar, and stake your claim at a table there for as often as you can during the days you have free.
You know what else happens to me when I find time to write? I eat. At that happy, little coffee shop, I feel I must buy a big fat muffin or that huge chocolate chip cookie. It’s like a reflex. In taking up space, I think I should fill up my coffee cup at least twice. Even with creamer–wait, especially with creamer–I’m riding the low end of the “healthy” continuum. Be healthful. I’m still working on this, so if you see me standing at the counter about to place my order, push me in the direction of the fresh fruit or that cup of herbal tea.
“Reflect on your routine.”
Here Holt talks about writing after the fact on “how your schedule is flowing, how the accommodations are working out, notes about each writing session….” For me, this kind of writing happens before I open a draft: what day it is, where I am, how much time I have in front of me. These reflections are more like a release. I not only scratch out any frustrations I just walked away from but also any anxieties I have about delving into chapter 9 or 10 or that 400 word essay I really want to re-submit. But, I think Holt’s point and how I look at it are the same: clear your mind. Examine what works, what doesn’t, and what gets in the way of this writing session or the next.
If Holt’s article were online, I’d say bookmark it. As it is, you will need to get a copy of this month’s Writers Digest to read the article in full–worth every penny, as he also shares a daily schedule that balances writing with other activities, keeping the mind creatively engaged but not overwhelmed.
How do you schedule your free time?