An Ode To The Writer With Too Little Time To Write
by A A Miller
Here on Rock Paper Spirit, we like to welcome guest writers, particularly if they are other authors. Today we welcome A A Miller! Contact details for this author are at the bottom of this post, where you can check out her website and social channels. Today she’s going to talk a little bit about our most precious assets as writers; time!
A few years ago, just months into my still new-ish adventure of writing a novel, I recall reading an article that had came to my email entitled ‘Tips to Writing a Manuscript’. I had clicked on the link, hoping to find tips I wasn’t taking into account. Number one on the list:
Set aside 45-60 minutes every day to writing your manuscript.
Sounds semi-reasonable most of the time. I had been, after all, a full-time working mother—still am. I needed to be realistic about the whole ‘every day’ bit. I’d continued to read as the article went on to elaborate:
If you can’t do this, you’re not serious about writing a manuscript. Period.
My cheeks had flushed as a rush of blood flooded my face. But why the sudden surge of anger, you ask? I had taken this piece of advice—and the declared consequence of failing to follow through—incredibly personally.
When I started this endeavor of writing a novel with Anne, my co-author and another busy mom, I quickly learned that time was my most precious asset. Not my creativity. Not my average grammar skills. Not even my computer. I have a job, a husband, and two children; my time doesn’t belong to me. And if you finish your project to the glare of a resentful spouse or awash in the apathetic attention of children used to being ignored, can you really call that a win?
I’m not saying I don’t spend my share of Saturdays without showering while the kids binge-watch nonsense. I’m not saying I don’t think about all the things I could be doing as I read to my littles. I do, however, attempt to remain vigilant of the time suck factor when my attention is dragged away. I know I need to be aware when my million-miles-away thoughts are going to negatively affect my family. When your time isn’t your own, you need compromise, understanding, support, and communication, and that needs to come from both sides.
Ask for the time you need from the people in your life, but be willing to read the signs that point to ‘no’ when you haven’t been doing your part.
So what do you do about your limited amount of time when you have a huge goal in mind like writing a novel? Try out a few different methods to boost your productivity. Test out your most efficient time of day. Set your alarm for an hour before everyone else gets up. Establish 1 or 2 nights a week that your spouse is “in charge” of the household. And once all parties have agreed on your time, make sure you own it. And don’t beat yourself up if you just can’t commit to every day.
You’re not alone.
So how do I (attempt) to do it? Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up to boost my productivity:
Dedicated blocks of time focused on predetermined goals, scheduled in advanced
This method has benefited my time management more than a daily 45-60 minute window ever could. Think about taking a day off from work when the kids are in school. Use that leave for yourself. You know you want to. Go somewhere that’s not home, where you won’t be distracted by the things you “should” be doing.
Using my daily commute
There are several ways I’ve found to use my daily two-hour commute. The first is using a text-to-speech app. I will admit, this method takes an acquired taste, but I personally rely on it heavily. If you’ve ever tried one, you’ve probably given up on it pretty quickly. They’re robotic, they make goofy pronunciation mistakes, and they just don’t have any heart.
I managed to find a British accent named Daniel on my Natural Reader app, and was able to stomach his voice long enough to get used to the sound. Daniel has read my manuscript to me dozens of times. Multiple dozens of times, helping me keep fresh on my details and sort out quite a few problems in my writing.
I also use the speech-to-text feature on my phone to make notes on what to fix later as I listen. It also comes in handy to get the words out when inspiration strikes. Hands-free, of course. I’m not a maniac.
Another important use of my commute is listening to audiobooks. Reading is a fundamental building block of writing. Never stop reading. And yes, I consider listening to an audiobook reading, so deal with it.
Grasping at mere moments as they arise
This last method may toe the line of the whole “being present” goal—I did mention my lack of perfection, right? I use the power of my Google Drive and Google Docs connected smartphone to take advantage of random moments as they arise. How did authors do this before technology? Those moments can pop up when I least expect them. They may be just minutes, or if I’m lucky, they may add up to a bit more.
I’m grasping right now, in fact, waiting on spaghetti to boil. Eight extra minutes of productivity, check.
I do run the risk of being that parent with their nose buried in their phone with that last method, so I have to watch myself. But now I wonder if those parents are just trying to do the same, stretching their productivity in any way they can.
Nah, they’re just playing Candy Crush.
So, that’s what has worked for me. You need to figure out what works for you, and just as importantly, those around you. Know when to give and when to take. And make sure you do take, because dammit, you deserve time for yourself!
We’ve admitted we can’t commit to writing every day. Because of that, you may still question whether Anne and I are 100% serious about writing. You bet we are, but we’ve also accepted life doesn’t stop for our novel. Life just gets more complicated because of it. We’re faced with challenges. We’re limited on time and resources. We’ve made mistakes and slipped up on priorities. But somehow through this process, we’re growing smarter with our time yet.
Whatever venture you’re in the midst of, or about to take on, just remember that accomplishing your goal will be a trial-and-error process. Life is not one-size-fits-all. We all have our own distractions and obligations, and balance is an art that takes practice. So don’t get discouraged when obstacles are thrown into your path!
You may have to push your project aside here and there, but at least you won’t have missed out on what’s important, damaged a relationship, or created a negative stigma. If it takes you five years to write a book, build a business, or finish a project, but you feel good about how you chose to spend your time, then your venture was a success. And don’t let anyone calling themselves an expert tell you differently.
Time is your most precious asset.
And in the words of Albus Dumbledore—or more accurately, JK Rowling:
“Use it Well.”
Crystal “Alise” Miller
of AA Miller