Writing Around Life

8 Nov

This summer when I was working, I’d get home after work, scrounge up some dinner and sit down to write a thousand words or do some editing. Every night. It was a routine that worked. But then, this fall I moved to Boston and started grad school and that’s meant some pretty major changes in the way I write.

Classes, homework, exploring the city, and a social life have all wreaked havoc on my writing life. Not only don’t I have a regular schedule, I’ve felt like there was no time to sit and write when there were a million and a half other things I could/should be doing. So, I tried taking a bit of a break from the project I was stuck on. I hoped I would develop more of a routine and things would settle down enough for me to have regular writing time again.

The problem then was that I hate not writing. It felt terribly strange not to be actively working on a project, like there was something missing or that there was something else I should be doing. I would get distracted at odd moments by the thought that I hadn’t written anything that week. And then I’d feel bad about it.

As you can probably imagine, this didn’t last very long. After a couple weeks I was putting off homework to fight with outlining. Also not the best plan in the world.

Balance can be difficult to come by, but there’s always a way to find it. It’s taken a while, but I finally think I’ve figured out a way to survive school, friends, and writing, again (somehow this was much easier in college).

Here’s a few things I do to make sure I keep writing:

-I bring a notebook with me and write on the subway on the way to school. This is also good for improving balance, but not so much handwriting.

-In between classes I grab a few minutes to jot down ideas.

-I use the time when I’m standing around waiting to plan out scenes in my head.

-After finishing homework for one class I’ll give myself half an hour to write before starting the next class’ readings.

More generally, I think it’s important to set goals for yourself. But also recognize that you won’t always met them and that’s OK. You can’t let missing one or two goals discourage you enough that you give up. Stay flexible, promise yourself that you’ll make it up later, and then actually try to do that.

Have a journal, a writing notebook, or even just some paper with you so that you can get something done during time that would otherwise be wasted. Carrying around a notebook is also great for writing down ridiculous quotes or the kinds of quirky behaviors we writers feed on.

Don’t get sucked into the wilds of the internet (but do keep reading Let the Words Flow!). It’s too easy just to zone out and then realize an hour has gone by and you don’t even remember most of the things you just read. Set time limits so that facebook doesn’t eat all your free time. All those pictures? Don’t worry, they’ll be there forever, you can look through them later, your WIP wants your attention more.

And don’t shy away from living life. Keep hanging out with friends, reading books and going to movies. As Billy wrote last week, you don’t want to end up brooding with no new sources of inspiration.

How do you all manage to make time for writing in a busy schedule? Do you have any tricks for getting extra time to write?


Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blogΒ here or follow her onΒ Twitter.


21 Responses to “Writing Around Life”

  1. Sam November 8, 2010 at 1:24 AM #

    This is a great post especially as a lot of us are struggling to keep up with our NaNo goals in the midst of work/school/etc.

    Also, I just realized you’re an archaeologist – good luck on your Ph.D. I’m currently in my fourth year of Anthropology and looking to get my. M.A. in Arch.

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:01 PM #

      Thanks! I’m glad the post was supportive πŸ˜‰ And good luck on finding the right MA program!

  2. Madeleine November 8, 2010 at 1:46 AM #

    I’m am suffering in this area!

    I started my freshman year of high school two months ago. I haven’t had time for *anything.* And when I *do* have time, I’m too exhausted to do much work at all. What do you do when the energy is sucked out of you and you can hardly remember what motivation means?

    It’s also difficult because the next stage with my WIP is editing, and that’s super hard to begin when I can’t dedicate very much time/energy to it. Any advice?

    Thanks for the post! It came at a perfect time!

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:04 PM #

      freshman year is a big change! my normal response to being totally drained is a cup or two of tea, but this might not be the best advice. a quick nap can also be a lifesaver.

      I’d say just take editing slowly at first. Take some time out to just think about what changes you want to make, maybe outline them, or come up with a plan, that way, when you do have time to work on your WIP you don’t have to sit down for long stretches, you already know what needs to be done and you can work on it in chunks.

      • Madeleine November 8, 2010 at 10:33 PM #

        Thanks for replying!

        Goodness knows I’m not the best outliner (I plan on working on that), but I’m great at leaving notes for myself, so I can definitely take your advice!

        I have a four-day weekend this weekend, so I’ll make sure to “talk to myself” and plan.

        And a nap sounds fantastic. πŸ˜€


    • Caitlin November 9, 2010 at 11:43 PM #

      Jenn has excellent advice, but I’d like to add that it might help to make small short term goals for yourself to achieve. Personally I would also have to put deadlines on these goals, but if deadlines don’t work for you than that might not be the right choice.

      Good luck and don’t forget to enjoy HS, I really loved my experiences in high school when I was in it, live in the moment when you’re out with your friends as far as it’s safe and won’t kill your future plans.

      • Madeleine November 9, 2010 at 11:51 PM #

        πŸ˜€ You can trust me not to screw up my future plans. They’re far too important to me!

        Deadlines usually work well for me, though I’d be worried that the stress would kill me (as I’m far too hard on myself). Goals, however, do me wonders! I think I’ll be setting a goal for Sundays soon, as they’re my most laid-back days.

        Thanks, Caitlin!

  3. MD Irvine November 8, 2010 at 2:50 AM #

    I was very excited to read this post because this has pretty much been my experience for the past year. When I graduated from university Dec 08, I had applied for graduate school for fall 09 so I had pretty much a year where I did nothing but write every day. I finished editing one of my novels and wrote an entire WIP. Then I moved across the country started graduate school and got introduced to a whole new concept of hectic. The classes did take up time but what seemed to suck up all my time was research (as I decided to do a research option) and I felt horrible about not writing but when I did get a chance to sit in front of a computer I was falling asleep on it. Deciding to do NaNoWriMo this year, although I am falling behind already, taught me that I can write something every day even if it is a hundred words scribbled on a note pad (yeah I started carrying a note book around even though I prefer typing). It might take me a little longer to get stuff written but what is life if not a balancing act

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:36 PM #

      That sounds a lot like my experience! Though I’m not researching yet, thankfully. Good luck on NaNoWriMo! I’m not even trying this year, so I’m impressed you’re taking it on!

  4. sdennard November 8, 2010 at 3:30 AM #

    What a great post! I really liked this part: “Stay flexible, promise yourself that you’ll make it up later, and then actually try to do that.”

    I am soooooo not good at doing that! I feel so guilty and beat myself up over not being productive enough… It’s something I know I need to work on.

    I have to say — I had a crap time balancing my MSc with hobby writing (pre-publishing-goal-day). Doing a PhD!? I can’t even imagine. I’m impressed you can manage your time so well. You definitely get a gold star for motivation.

    Good luck with it al1!! πŸ™‚

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:39 PM #

      Thanks, Susan! I’m really bad at being flexible too, I get so discouraged when I miss goals, but that only makes it more difficult.

  5. Glaiza November 8, 2010 at 6:26 AM #

    I really needed to read an article like this today – I realised that my NaNo goals really need to be super flexible considering uni exams, assignments and attempting to refuel and enjoy life in general πŸ™‚

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:42 PM #

      Exams and assignments will throw everything off, good luck on balancing it all!! πŸ™‚

  6. Rowenna November 8, 2010 at 9:55 AM #

    The best advice I’ve ever seen on balance with writing was somewhere out in webworld, and I forget where, but it was essentially: Something has to give. I work full time, am working on a master’s, have a husband and a house to take care of, and am heavily involved in the board of a nonprofit. And I write. Sometimes the laundry has to get put off another week because this Saturday I am going to write. Sometimes I have to skim-read a chapter for class because this revision is calling my name. And sometimes the WIP has to sit for a couple weeks because I just am not going to have the time to devote to it. Balance doesn’t mean doing it all, all the time.

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:49 PM #

      Yeah, there is only so much time in the day and usually no way to do everything you want to. I always have to figure out what needs to get done and what can wait a little longer.

  7. Chele November 8, 2010 at 10:06 AM #

    Such perfect advice for my guilty, guilty self.

    I started working full time a couple months ago and I’m still struggling to adjust to it and my new city and life in general – NaNo’s been taking a back seat like WHOA because of it all. Work sucks out all motivation to write like university never did.

    My current solution is having a notebook on hand all the time, too. I usually squeeze in a little writing before I start work, and a little during lunch… and sometimes when I just need a break from my office-y duties, haha. It’s slow going, but at least I’m getting something done! ;D

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:50 PM #

      I’m glad you’re still squeezing writing time in πŸ™‚ I’ve found it does take a lot of adjustment to get used to a whole new place and everything that goes with it!

  8. savannahjfoley November 8, 2010 at 10:47 AM #

    Great post Jenn, and super cute too! This article really demonstrates how being a writer is a lifetime committment… you’re ALWAYS thinking about it!

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:55 PM #

      Thanks, Sav! It is always hovering around in the back of my mind πŸ˜‰

  9. Victoria Dixon November 8, 2010 at 2:34 PM #

    This is so important. I’m finally getting some time or organization back in my life, but it’s easier right now because of the time change. I just received an early Christmas gift of an extra hour. I wake up automatically at four these days. So what happens when I lose that blessed extra hour? I need to set out times for myself and I have done some of that. It’s helped to have two days a week – maximum – to post blogs on. I try to comment more often, of course. I do that at night, but it still ends up competing with my hubby-time. I write in the morning, but there’s never enough time. I’ve got notebooks and bits of paper waiting for transcription from all parts of life. And then there’s the reading time. I ALWAYS have a book with me, one for audio in the car, one in my arms, but there’s again – NEVER ENOUGH TIME! Researching writing, agents, reading for *gasp* enjoyment. HA!

    Pulling my hair out. It’s a good thing I’ve got a lot of it.

    • jenn fitzgerald November 8, 2010 at 6:59 PM #

      haha there isn’t enough time, and there’s too many things to do! thought i have to admit whenever i start getting really overwhelmed i tend to think of dori from Finding Nemo singing ‘just keep swimming’ and while it doesn’t actually help me get anything done, I am a bit calmer about it πŸ˜€

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