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.


Life is all about juggling, right? We’re always prioritizing something because our to-do lists never seem to get any shorter. We also have to juggle because so many things on our to-do lists require input from other people—and other people are not always as on top of things as we’d like them to be.

So I, like all of you, am juggling. I’ve got my 18-month-old daughter’s needs. I’m buying a house, so I’m neck-deep in the needed inspections and paperwork. I do have a husband, too, although sometimes he’s hard to see through the piles of diapers and mortgage paperwork. There are, of course, the hundreds of things that crop up that can’t be scheduled—like the air conditioning going on the fritz. And amid all that, there is my writing.

My writing time is precious (about 2 hours a day). In that time I not only have to write, but I have to keep up with the social networking that is so crucial for every author today. I read blogs (and write them!), as well as check in with Facebook and Twitter. So even within my slice-of-heaven writing time, I must prioritize.

As far as the actual writing goes, I am juggling two projects. They are both novels in the later draft stages. One is a middle grade that is undergoing a seismic shift into a different genre. The other is a YA fantasy that is in the middle of a post-beta-reader revision. Two very different projects that have the same deadline—December.

As an unpublished writer, I have the luxury of being able to work on what I want when I want. But as a serious writer, I know that giving myself deadlines and sticking to them is necessary to get ahead in my career. I wondered how best to break up my week between the two books—in chunks such as 3 days in a row each or alternating days.

I chose to alternate days. I think springing back and forth between the two plots and the two genres will help keep my mind nimble and my enthusiasm fresh. And it allows me to always have a feeling of forward progress on both projects. So far, it is working for me.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you juggle multiple projects?

Internet Down, Productivity Up

My Internet was down for three days. Now, I use the Internet for communicating for work, but also just to stay connected with the outside world. Any of you who have been stay-at-home parents will understand the need to reach outside the house every now and then. The need to communicate with someone who can actually speak in complete sentences! So it has been something of a lifeline in that way.

That said, I had an extremely productive three days. Got lots of projects done, things I’ve not gotten to because I didn’t have the time. And so I started wondering, “Do I really spend THAT much time online?”

Although I do check in with Facebook, and check emails when they come in, and have certain blogs I follow daily, I am pretty good at not getting sucked into the time warp that can happen online. It is so easy to follow an interesting link that leads to another and another…addictive. But I’m fairly adept at avoiding that (unless it’s during genealogy research – which is why I don’t do that during work hours!). So probably my actual amount of time spent READING what I get online is between 1-2 hours a day – not a workday, but a full 15-hour day. That’s not bad.

So why was I so much more productive without the Internet? I think it was a combination of two factors: information and fragmentation.

Everything I read – blogs, status updates, and emails – contains information. And if I could just read the info and walk away, that would be fine. But a certain percentage of that information demands a response. I may want to comment on a blog, or a friend’s Facebook post. And emails, whether for work or pleasure, often demand a reply, if only a short one. All of which eats into my time, but in such small increments that I don’t notice how much it’s taking.

Those increments are insidious because they are fragmented – I don’t notice them in bits here and there, yet at the end of the day they have added up to a larger number than I expected. But the other killer is a different kind of fragmentation – the fragmentation of concentration.

When the Internet is functioning, there is the pressure to deal with things as they come in. Someone responded to my Facebook status? Gotta see what it says, keep the dialogue going. A new email in the Inbox? Hafta see who needs what from me now. The Internet is wonderful in facilitating fast communication – but it also brings the pressure of instant communication. Like I have to respond now, at once. And this constant checking to see what’s going on out there breaks up the large chunks of uninterrupted concentration I often need to get projects, both work and home related, done efficiently.

So what to do about it? Self-discipline. I have to devise a strategy to somehow avoid the pressure to check frequently. It may be as simple as actually closing my browser except at certain times of day, so that I don’t see those updates popping up, demanding my attention. We’ll see how it goes.

How do you avoid the lure of the Internet?

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