One thing every writer knows is that, while we may love the holidays, they often interfere with our writing schedule. This week, many of my students were bemoaning the upcoming holidays and the effect it would have on their writing schedules. The common theme was, “I have to see my family and won’t have any time to write.” In my role of writing coach, part of my job is to help my students manage their regular lives so that they can write more effectively.
We writers write, in part, to maintain some control in our lives, even if it’s only on paper. So the real issue is that during this holiday season, we have even less control over things than normally, because of our obligations to friends and family.
So how can we manage our time during this tumultuous period?
The obvious answer is to schedule writing time in advance, either early in the morning or late at night. This is a good idea, but is not enough, since writing is not a normal activity that you can simply perform like doing laundry. (I wish!)
So here’s the tip:
Find one thing you schedule daily, that is not your writing, and do it every day during this period.
My colleague, Diane, a well-known film writer/director, was an aspiring, disciplined, but not successful writer. Suddenly, she received two assignments, one to write a TV pilot, the other to write a screenplay, both due right after – you guessed it: the new year. She was overwhelmed, yet managed to meet both deadlines, as well as participating in a family gathering. When I asked her how she had managed such an extraordinary feat, she said, with a wry smile, “ I knew that I couldn’t control the deadlines. I couldn’t control the holidays, how well I would write and I couldn’t control my family. In a moment of clarity, I realized that I had to figure out what I could control and focus on doing that.”
“So what could you control?” I asked.
Diane replied, “I knew that I could get to yoga class at 6:30 in the morning every day, so that’s what I focused on achieving.”
The point of her story was that by scheduling one routine, daily non-writing activity, the rest of her schedule somehow, magically, fell into place.
I was impressed with her answer and realized that all she had to do for yoga class was to show up, period. She didn’t have to produce work; so one layer of stress was removed. That was the key: by proving to herself every day that she could be disciplined in one area with lower stakes, it gave her enough confidence to find a way to write, a much higher stress activity.
I tried out this technique for myself, and found it worked like a charm, even when there was no holiday season to address. I also practice yoga, so I now get up in the morning and do yoga first thing, even if I only have time for a part of my routine. My days go like clockwork and the writing gets done. But if I fail to do it, I work twice as hard and am easily distracted by other things. My colleague, Paula, jogs, one of my best students, Jack, goes out to get a newspaper, and Fran, another private student, walks her poodle. Remember that the activity itself doesn’t matter so much as the scheduling of a regular time, and making the commitment to do whatever it is.
Here’s the exercise:
Step 1: Create a written schedule for the appropriate holiday period.
Step 2: Assess the degree of disturbance you will experience.
Step 3: Identify a daily activity such as walking a dog or yoga, and actually write the activity in your schedule as a daily appointment at a certain time. (If you see possible times to steal a few minutes to write, note those on your calendar – but don’t hold yourself to keeping them.)
Step 4: Keep the appointment you have made.
Performing the activity you have selected is a powerful process. Remember that your ultimate goal should be to make writing an enticing proposition no matter what the surrounding circumstances are. Let me know how this works for you and what activity you chose. There’s nothing more fascinating than what other people do!
Good luck and happy writing.