Skip to content

What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Writing Time

Courtney Cantrell's weekly writing advice

Writing time. Some of us have it, some of us don’t. Some of us make it, some of us don’t see how we ever can. More often than not, writing time is an elusive pot of gold, tantalizing us from somewhere beyond the horizon at the end of a hopeful rainbow — and every time we think we’ve found it, the Leprechaun of jobfamilyguiltdistractions makes off with our precious treasure, leaving us discouraged, frustrated, and convinced that our dream of steady, effective writing will never become a reality.

Since writing is my fulltime job, I probably have it cushier than most of you when it comes to making time to write. But in a way, my overabundance of time is as much a hindrance to the craft as the lack of time. I find myself leaving my boundaries too open, allowing friends, family, and circumstances to fill up my hours. Instead of holding my writing time sacred, I allow the everydayness of life to intrude. I end up feeling (a) irritated at other people for a situation that is not their fault and (b) angry with myself for not protecting what’s so important to me.

The Best Medicine

Oy vey and odds bodkins! My dear inklings, how do we get ourselves out of this depressive rut and back on the path of joyous, scribble-with-abandonment word-crafting? Well, let us not count all the ways, for they are legion, and enumerating them would be yet another intrusion upon our precious writing time! But there is one particular principle well worth contemplating, one of which we should never lose sight, and that principle is Be Able To Laugh At Yourself.

It’s amazing what rediscovering your sense of humor can do for your writing.

I’m a ruthless manipulator. Everything I have said thus far in this article is, of course, merely a platform from which to launch what follows — and I’ve wheedled you along with emotional maunderings to make sure you’d actually read what follows. So, without further ado, I give you the humorous crowbar I use to pry myself out of the muck of frustration. To be an ocean*, here’s a description of my typical use of my writing time. Or misuse, if you will. Or even if you won’t. Either way, read it and laugh!

Courtney’s Cure for the Common Writing Crisis

8:00-8:30 Get up. Lately, this has taken place 1-2 hours later than noted here, but who’s counting.
8:30-9:00 Check online stuff: messages, email, Facebook, Bloglines, what-hast-thou. Sometimes, this takes 45 minutes, but who’s counting.
9:00-10:15ish Prepare and eat breakfast while reading something not on the computer.
10:30ish Sit down at computer to start writing.
11:00 Force self to stop editing the results of previous day’s writing. Start writing for real.
11:03 Go to bathroom. Get cleaned up for the day.
11:30 Pet cat. Get something to drink. Wonder why that line of dialogue reads janky.
11:31-11:36 Really get down to writing.
11:37 Check Facebook.
11:38-12:00 Reply to comments. Read and ponder various status updates. Possibly post replies.
12:01-12:26 Alternate among: typing, leaning back in chair, backspacing, typing some more, turning around to fix back of chair, typing some more, reading aloud, deleting everything written today.
12:27 Wander into kitchen to check fridge for anything. Anything at all. Ponder whether or not Character X should just die and get out of the way.
12:30 Return to office with drink and stand there, staring at computer screen. Computer screen stares malevolently back.
12:31 Coo over cat and re-write scene in head.
12:35-12:55 Re-type scene with improvements, taking previous day’s writing into account.
12:56-1:05 Find favorite funny scene and read aloud, giggling.
1:06-1:30 Look up something on Wikipedia.
1:31-2:30 Prepare and eat lunch while reading something not on computer. Go to bathroom.
2:31-2:40 Check Facebook. Reply to comments. Ruminate on the benefits of moving on to a different scene and leaving current one alone until the Zombie Apocalypse.
2:41-3:00 Re-read everything written today. Write one line of dialogue and delete it. Copy and paste dialogue from Chapter 11 into Chapter 6.
3:01-3:45 Fix glaring plot hole in Chapter 6.
3:46-4:10 Check Facebook. Resist temptation to scrap everything written today.
4:11-4:30 Speed-type. Pass “Go,” collect 200 metaphorical dollars.
4:30-6:00 Housework, optional cooking, errands, bills, other such.
6:01 Return to office
6:02-6:21 Speed-write amazing plot twist that popped into existence while cooking. Hope the sudden mania is sated before husband walks in the door.

Voy-oh-lay. The truth comes out. Take it from me, folks, ya gotta see it to believe it. Well, maybe ya just gotta read it. Either way, I’m sure this day-in-the-life gives you a pretty good picture of my most common distractions. But we’re not going to name names, because that would just be rude, and we all like to play nicely, don’t we? Yes, indeedy.

Live, Laugh, and Learn

Alan Alda said, “Laugh at yourself, but don’t ever aim your doubt at yourself.” Humor is a writer’s best friend. We need to laugh, because the action of laughing pulls the lid off that well of creativity, giving us access to our most important and abundant resource. Yes, we need to take our craft seriously — by putting into action all the things we’re learning on Unstressed Syllables, for one thing. But we need to learn not to take ourselves too seriously. It’s when we become too somber and woe-is-me that we let ourselves get bowed down and forget the unadulterated joy that made us get into writing in the first place.

So when you get annoyed with jobfamilyguiltdistractions, laugh it off. Roll your eyes, shake your head at your own writerly flaws, and get back to your passion. Remember that you’re engaged in something sacred — but don’t forget to let it make you smile.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

*You know, to be Pacific. I mean, specific. ;o)

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

4 Responses to “What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Writing Time”

  1. Sounds a lot like my day but with a 3 year old instead of a cat! Thank goodness for TV….

    • Oh dear, don’t even get me started on TV addiction. I managed to break myself of the habit years ago but have been backsliding recently…especially since gaining access to Netflix! Oy vey!

  2. Carlos Velez says:

    🙂 you’re just too freaking awesome Courtney. I think we can all identify with that. Why do we procrastinate on the things we’re most passionate about? With all this talk of oceans, I think we should blame it on El Niño (or is that not cool anymore?)

    • Carlos, you made my day. I don’t know that I’ve ever been called “freaking awesome.” I love it! 😀

      I don’t know if El Niño is still in vogue or not…personally, I still enjoy making scapegoats out of gremlins. I guess those would be scapegremlins…

      Um. Yeah.

      Hee hee.