The reality for most aspiring authors is that their writing has to give way to the realities of a full life outside of it. Most of the time, that means squeezing in time in between your job that pays you and other life activities. However, sometimes you can get lucky and have the opportunity to spend a large dedicated chunk of time writing without work getting in the way. Having neglected to use my vacation time much over the past few years, I found myself with time off to spare and resolved to take a work week off and write. And so, between Christmas and New Years I had nothing to do but write… and do family things for the holidays, of course.
This column is about getting the most out of your time during those brief times you ought to be able to dedicate to writing and coping with the inevitable interferences that will crop up.
Prepare the Environment
This is actually two-fold and refers to both your literal setting and social situation. Everyone has different things that help them focus, but for me, I like a clean working space. I can have piles of things, but they need to have a purpose. A few days before my work session I took the occasion to clean the closet, organize the shelves, and throw out what I could from my office. Some people need less, some people need more, but the best thing to do is make sure that the place you work won’t get in the way of you working.
Secondly, I managed social expectations. I told people I was off, but working around the house. I committed to family activities, while keeping my non-holiday vacation days mostly clear. I even told my girlfriend (whom I live with) to plan on me not being around as if I were at work, because even if I was around and I would love to get lunch with her, I did not want her to be disappointed when I was mostly toiling alone for the week.
Set Appropriate Goals
When you’re trying to get as much as you can in a limited time, there’s already a bit of pressure, but there’s also opportunity. For me, my list of goals were a wish list. I listed all the writing related tasks that I had to do and prioritized them. I had a ‘must-do’, a ‘should-do’, and a ‘can-do’ list. For me, I find that I rarely misjudge my wish list so grossly that I end up working too fast, but prioritizing my list gives me a few advantages. First, it motivates me do my ‘must’ list, but it gives me some other things to consider in case I need a break. As I lagged behind on my ‘must-dos’ I approached them with increasing urgency and a self-created ‘need’ to complete them. Secondly, it ensured that no matter how productive a spurt I had, I never felt that I could slack off during my specially allocated time.
Inevitably, real life will interfere in your work. You want to break up your writing to run needed errands, exercise, and interact with people. I find a few flexible chores each day are good because when I really got stumped I had a change of pace ready to help clear my mind. It helped me return to my project refreshed.
Unfortunately, things crop up that are unexpected and unpleasant. I watched a whole day slip away dealing with lingering Comcast Internet problems. It was incredibly frustrating, but when other things needed to get done even, the best thing to do is accept the setback and work hard to still meet your ‘must-do’ list. This is easier said then done. When I was forced to deal with these things I was irritable and cranky, but ultimately, I accepted the inconvenience and thought about getting past it.
So how did I do? My “must-do” list included a line by line revision based on a red-lined hard copy of Roland’s Legion from Andy and rewriting The Religion Subplot. I had about seven other things to do as well. In the end, I only got done my ‘must-do’ list and even that I had to use one of the days I had off for actual normal time off to finish. I was disappointed in the work I still had left to do, but ultimately, I completed the essentials and could live with that. My next column will be a book review and a companion piece on how I always read with an eye towards my own writing.