Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

Is It REALLY About Finding the Time?

Tonight, I have to go and talk to a local writer’s group about time management for writers. It occurred to me as I printed out my handouts that many writers that I have met—and spoken to on this very topic—return again and again for the same lecture.

It’s not because they weren’t paying attention the first time. It’s because, I think, they are hoping that somewhere amongst my tips about getting up earlier, taking the work with you and having a notebook in every room of the house, they’ll find the secret to why they aren’t writing.

You know what I think? I think it’s not about how much time you have or don’t have. We all have twenty-four hours a day. I spend my twenty-four differently than you do; you spend yours differently from your neighbor. Whether you choose to set aside one minute, one hour or no time at all for your writing is all your choice.

And that, my friends, is, in my opinion, the real problem for many writers. It isn’t about tips and tricks on fitting more into your writing day. It’s about deciding that finishing that book or short story is a PRIORITY to you and then making the time, wherever you can find it.

To do that, you first have to look inside you. Are you afraid to write? Hands down, that’s probably the number-one reason most people come to me, month after month, looking for a magic cure to their “block.” Guess what?

There is no magic cure. There isn’t, in my opinion, such a thing as writer’s block. There’s only you and a piece of paper. Either you choose to fill it or you don’t.

There’s the key—you CHOOSE to fill it. You CHOOSE to ignore your doubts and your fears. Heck, yes, you might get rejected or get a bad review. I don’t sell everything I write, nor does everything I publish sell well. Just because you’re published doesn’t mean the gates of publishing heaven open and everything you write is brushed with gold. You can write something phenomenal and panic because it hits a bestseller list (and how on earth are you going to do that again?) Or write something that struggles and needs major revision. It happens to all of us.

For the record, revision is a GOOD thing. It’s the best thing you can do to teach yourself how to write better. All writers, whether they have been published once or one million times, revise and polish. My first drafts always end up with a lot more red than black on them. I whittle down all the junk, keep just the good words, then revise it again. And again. Until I’m sure it’s as good as it can be.

I also battle the temptation to play Words with Friends instead of work. The parts of me that doubt I can do it again urge me to put the book off, set it aside, ignore it, do something far better with my time (like shop and spend money I haven’t earned yet).

Hmmm…sound familiar? Ask yourself, is it REALLY about finding the time to write or is it about finding the COURAGE to face that page?

You’re reading this because you want some tips, some magic cures. I’ll give you a couple—but remember, the real cure is right inside you already.

  1. Do it for one minute. Baby steps, said Richard Dreyfuss in “What About Bob?” Start with a baby step. Sit down and write for one minute. Put on a timer, grab a pen or a keyboard and just write for one minute. Then two. Then five. Then thirty.
  2. Realize the words don’t matter at first. You probably read the first tip and said, “But I don’t know what to write about! I have no plot, no characters, no what-if situation…nothing.” Fine with me. I start that way a lot. I don’t care if you write the words to the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the point is to get something on the paper. Sean Connery tells young Jamal in Finding Forrester, to start with someone else’s words until your own start coming. Do that. Write your opinion on a news story. Write a letter to your grandma. Write a list for the grocery store, then when your fingers get comfortable, start with anything you think of for your story.
  3. Stop pressuring yourself. Lots of us expect this great story to start leaping off the page right away. Hah! When you find the secret to that, let me know because it would save me a lot of effort. Give yourself permission to write junk, to write pages and pages of basically regurgitated words. Why? Because once you get those ones out of the way, you’ll get to the true story. It’s there, just waiting for you to get past the other stuff.
  4. Don’t be your own worst enemy. You know how this works. You sit down to write and suddenly remember the Rose of Sharon bush needs pruning or that denim jacket you hate to wear needs to be mended. Your “what if I have to finish this, what if some editor hates it, what if I can’t write, what if, what if, what if…” mind can find five hundred different excuses that stop you from writing. Tell it to SHUT UP and let you just do what you came here to do.
  5. Remember this is fun. Writing is not supposed to be torture (okay, there are days when revising is not fun and I just want to be done with the book, but overall, nine days out of ten, I am having fun). If you are dreading every second, then you are either writing the wrong thing or thinking the wrong thoughts. Give yourself permission to have fun with the words, laugh at your own jokes and cry at your own drama.
  6. Stop looking for a secret. Use the tips you find for what they are: tips. The true secret, however, to finding the time to write is MAKING IT A PRIORITY. Deciding this is important to you and carving out time every day, whether it’s ten minutes or ten hours to devote to it. Deciding that this priority is more important than your fear of failure, your fear of the unknown and your fear that you really don’t know what the heck you are doing.

Remember when you were a little kid and learning to ride a bike without training wheels? It was a scary time, wasn’t it? You could fall, break your head open (as your mother often told you, though I’ve never seen a head broken open), or worse, you could be the only kid on your block still using training wheels in the eleventh grade.

But you persevered and kept trying and falling, trying and falling. Putting a little time in every day after school because your goal was bigger than the what-ifs. Eventually, the training wheels came off, you were on a “real” bike and the guys from the Tour de France had some competition in the neighborhood.

Take the training wheels off your writing. The time is there; you just have to reach out and grab the handlebars.

Teacher

Shirley Jump

Shirley Jump is an award-winning, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Amazon, and USA Today bestselling author who has published more than 80 books in 24 countries. As an editor, she has edited more than 100 books in a variety of genres. She specializes in helping her clients turn the jigsaw puzzle of their idea into a book that not only stands out in a crowded marketplace but is also engaging and unforgettable.

Check out the BUZZ about Shirley Jump’s novels:

“Sweet is the word for this anthology from four top Kensington writers…Jump’s office romance gives the collection a kick, with fiery writing.” — Publishers Weekly

4 1/2 Stars, “With Jump’s trademark comedic touch, readers are treated to a well-crafted story about what it means to come home to face yourself and your past. The main characters are sympathetic and intelligent, and the narrative is constantly smooth and compelling.” — Romantic Times Book Reviews

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Mastering Point of View with Shirley Jump

Mastering POV

This hands-on class helps writers understand how POV works, which POV to use based on …
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Deep Revision with Shirley Jump

Deep Revision

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