We all struggle to find a few minutes in our day to write. Here are a few tips I've assembled in The Companion Guide to the Family History Writing Challenge. I hope it aids you in identifying opportunities in your day to make writing a priority.
1. Keep a Journal. For one week keep a notepad jotting down everything you do in the day, all tasks, household chores, work, lunch, making dinner, checking email, watching TV. Record all tasks, large and small for one week. This exercise will help you be conscious of how you currently spend your time. You might me surprised.
2. Identify the time stealers on your list. I’m sure there are plenty. These are items that you’re doing far too frequently with little to show for it. Are you aware how many times you check social media in a day and for how long?
3. Create a Plan to Minimize Your Time Stealers
Sleep. I don’t consider sleep a time stealer. However, I’ve always been envious of those who get through life on a minimal amount of sleep. No question the best way to add time to your day is to wake earlier and go to bed later. I have to be realistic, I don’t function on 5 hours of sleep nor can I make the jump from 8 hours of sleep to 7 or even 6 hours of sleep in one effort. I have been trying to wake earlier. Writing in the morning works best for me, but I also need my sleep. Every couple of weeks, I adjust my alarm clock 15 minutes earlier slowly adjusting my wake time and extending my day and writing time by a few more minutes.
Turn off the TV. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in several writing groups and classes and one common characteristic I have found among writers who are getting the work done…they don’t watch TV. Many writers have sworn off television or limit their TV time, instead they spend time with the more productive and rewarding task of writing.
Limit social media and email. Don’t constantly check your email and Facebook and Twitter accounts. Social media is a huge distraction. Identify times in your day when you engage in social media and email and stick to it, set a timer if you have to and shut it down when the timer goes off. When you sit down to write, create a distraction-free zone, no TV, no email, no social media while you are writing.
Set targets. The more you write, the more you write. That’s not a miss-print. When you first start it might take you 45 minutes to write 500 words, but as you progress you’ll be able to crank out 1000 words in 45 minutes becoming more efficient and productive. Set yourself a target, stick to the plan and give yourself a good 30 days to find a groove making writing a new habit in your life. Here's what I liked to do in the early days, when I needed a few minutes of distraction-free writing. I turned off all social media, and phones. I set my timer (a kitchen egg timer-for 30 minutes) and I began to write. Even if the telephone rang, I did not stop to answer it. It's about choosing to make writing a priority! When the timer goes off, I took a 5 minute break, got a drink, stretched, and maybe checked who called. I set the timer and repeated. I used this process regularly when I started writing. I can now write in 5-6 hour stretches in the right conditions with little more than a few breaks and shutting out all distractions. I accomplished a lot using this method. If you have kids it's also a cue to them, when the timer goes off mommy is available. I don't use the timer too often anymore, your needs will change as you begin to develop good habits and it will all become natural. Consider the egg timer to find your distraction-free writing time. Despite whether you use time or a word count as your measurement for daily writing, set a target to help keep you on track and measure your daily success.
Be Proud. Let your family know it’s time to write, that means declaring your intention to them and offering up cues when you mean business. That might mean closing the door to your office, or hanging a sign but without their support you’re fighting an uphill battle. Share your goal and enlist their support. If your family has an awareness of your goals, they are less likely to intrude on your writing time.
Carry your writing with you. I always have my writing with me; it may not be my entire project on my laptop on Scrivener. However, there is always a yellow legal pad on my kitchen counter to capture those thoughts when I’m making dinner. I keep a notebook in my purse and on my smartphone, again readily available to write at a moment’s notice. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t get into some heavy writing in the middle of the doctor’s office but I do on occasion get an idea, a word or a sentence that comes to me out of nowhere. I always have something available to capture it. I know myself and that thought will vanish in seconds if I don’t write it down.
Don’t cheat. Like a diet, it’s a slippery slope if you’ve committed to writing six days a week and suddenly you’re convincing yourself you don’t need to write today…or tomorrow. Before you know it, a week has passed without a written word. I also know that we are human and sometimes life just gets in the way. Don’t beat yourself up but get right back on schedule.
Schedule Your Writing Time. Seems like a frivolous task, marking your calendar with your daily writing time. However, writing is a mental game. You must treat writing as a concern in your life, and adding it to your daily schedule, making it a priority alongside all the other tasks you must accomplish in your day is important to keeping it front and center. If it’s not important enough to mark it on your calendar, it’s easily overlooked and soon will take a backseat to anyone of your other tasks.
Use the above techniques and the Family History Writing Challenge to create new habits you can stick with long-term.
Our Companion Guide Getting Ready to Write walks you through planning your vision for your family history book, organizing you and your research and outlining your first story. It will prepare you to begin writing on February Feb 1st in the Family History Writing Challenge and help you to sustain your goals when February is finished.