Finding Time but Losing Depth

As a stay-at-home mom, my schedule revolves around my 4-year-old daughter. This often means that my writing time is fragmented. I grab 15 minutes here, a half hour there. I have read tons of blog posts about how to squeeze the most writing time out of your day.

I never used to think I could write this way, but you do what you need to do when faced with reality. So I wring words out of my day, and usually manage to get a decent amount of writing done each day. I’m happy and left with a sense of accomplishment (no matter how small) when I see that at least one of my projects has progressed.

But. (You knew there was a “but,” didn’t you?)

I worry that I am sacrificing depth in this scattered writing style.

Pre-child, I could spend several hours at a time writing. I could “go deep,” getting lost in the world and the character. I would often finish a writing tear and look up, blinking, wondering where I was, what time it was—much like the feeling when you leave a movie theater.

I can’t do that anymore, and I think my writing has suffered. I find it hard to lose myself in my world or character in short spurts of time. No sooner do I feel comfortable than it’s time to leave. And since much of my snatched writing time also involves having my child around, my mommy ear is always listening for cries or yells that might indicate she needs help—or that ominous silence that means I really need to go see what she’s up to. So my full attention is not on my writing.

My biggest struggle at the moment is character. Readers do not connect to my characters. I used to do character well. I suspect that my “stolen time” model of writing is keeping me from plumbing the depth I used to in my characters, keeping me from finding their voices. If I can’t get lost in my characters, how can I expect my readers to?

I have also found that—for me—it is very hard to find that voice in revision when it is not present in the first draft. Character deepening in revision (and I like revising!) has never come out right. Perhaps I’m too caught up in the existing words on the page to want to change them enough to bring the character’s voice to the front. I don’t know.

All I know is I have three options: 1) find larger chunks of time to write (ha!), 2) learn to go deep faster, or 3) learn to deepen character in revision. I’m not sure which will happen. I’m not sure which will be successful. But something’s got to change for me to solve my character problem.

How about you? Do you find that writing in fragmented time lessens your ability to go deep? If you’ve mastered this technique, please share some tips in the comments!

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Creativity on demand

During our YA class this month, we talked about all the things that are time sucks in our lives – including the Internet (but not this blog, this blog is useful). Most of us are struggling with making the time to write. We have jobs, families, small children, and the million other things life throws in the way when we’re not looking.

Most of us said that we have fragmented writing time – an hour here, a half-hour there, and the like. We discussed strategies for making the most of this time, such as always having a notebook with you to jot down ideas or scenes when you get a free minute.

Then one classmate asked, “When you finally get your half an hour, how do you suddenly throw on the creative switch and dive into writing?” She said she often wastes some of the precious time getting into the proper frame of mind to write. As she said, “It involves a lot of staring at the screen.”

So I started thinking about how I do it. My writing time is incredibly fragmented, yet I am usually able to sit and start writing when I get the chance. I’ve defined three steps to flipping that creative switch on demand.

1. Plan what you are going to write.

When I get up in the morning, I decide ahead of time what I am going to work on when I get my writing moments. Am I going to edit my MG novel? Am I going to write a blog post? Am I going to write new scenes for my YA fantasy? If I know what I am going to work on, that’s one less thing I need to decide when I finally get time to sit down.

2. Rev the creative motor.

Because I know from the moment I get up what I am going to work on, I tend to think about it off and on all day. Any moments where I have free time to think, I think about the project. Laundry? On hold on the phone? Pushing baby girl on the swings? Bathroom break? Waiting for the toast to pop up? Any and all times when my mind does not need to be paying full attention, the project pops to the forefront. I run it through in my brain. If I’m working on a new scene, I will start writing it in my head. My creative motor stays in gear all day long. Then when I sit down, all that energy is ready to pour out, and I can leap into the writing because it’s been in my head for hours. Any writer knows most of your writing is not done on paper, and most writers will admit that they never stop writing in their heads.

3. Just write.

The two steps above help me be ready when my writing time comes. But the most important thing is to just write. It may be bad writing. It may go in the trash bin come revision time. It might be the worst rubbish I ever wrote, even though I had been thinking about it all day. But that’s okay, because none of it is a waste. Every word I write is a victory, and also a lesson. I learn from the bad writing, sometimes even more than from the good.

The answer to my classmate’s question, for me, is that I can turn on that creative switch “on demand” because I never really turn it off. By planning my writing goal for the day and then keeping it in my mind all day before I get to sit down, the creative switch stays On. And that helps me do the single most important thing for any writer:

Just write.

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