Every writer I know complains about not having enough time to write.
I thought so.
I just got back from a week-long writing retreat at a remote location where there wasn’t anything to do besides write. And take walks to moo back at cows. And share Happy Hour with the other writers, but that’s another story.
I was in heaven. I loved having nothing to do but work on my novel (and moo). I vowed to bring some of how I felt home with me.
Then life rushed in. All of the appointments that I’d put off to go out of town, clients who wanted sessions with me, family members desiring to spend time with me.
But here’s the deal. In all of this, I remembered a valuable lesson.
It isn’t always a lack of time that keeps us from writing, but a lack of energy.
Because, yeah I had time. (And so do you.) I was just exhausted from the sudden onslaught of being back in the busy, busy city.
When first I started coaching and teaching other writers, I sanctimoniously told them to take advantage of the small bits of time we get throughout the day.
Waiting to pick up a kid? Pull out your notebook and take some notes. Time between appointments? Write a scene. Also, who needs to eat lunch? Write instead.
Yeah, right. Because, two things:
— This was in the days before our devices took over the world.
— This kind of time utilization takes a shit ton of mental energy.
How to Establish a Regular Writing Practice
So here we go with some advice on how to establish a regular writing practice.
And we don’t have a shit ton of mental energy!
Why? Because we’re all so bombarded with information and distractions we often can’t focus. But it can be done, of course, because millions of people do it every day. Here are some tips.
Cultivate Your Mental Energy for Writing
My eyes pop open at 5 AM and I’m up and sitting at my computer as soon as I have coffee in hand. I love to get up early and launch into my day. My friend Robin, on the other hand, stays up late, until 2 or 3 AM, and sleeps late. If she went against her natural tendencies and tried to get up early, she’d be really cranky. And exhausted all day long. If I went against my preferred sleep schedule and stayed up late to work, I’d be fighting drowsiness the whole next day. So figure out your natural rhythms and go with them.
Do What’s Most Important First
Whenever you can, give your best energy — that which comes at the start of your day or work session — to your most important goal. If it is writing a novel, work on that first. If it is working on a book proposal, spend some time on that first. Committing your best energy to your main goal will feed your energy for the rest of the day or work session.
Move Your Bod
This comes in two parts:
— Throughout the day
We’ve all heard the studies that show if you sit at a desk all day, you’re basically unhealthy. Even if you go exercise after that day of sitting on your ass, you’re still unhealthy. This is an occupational hazard for writers. So, move throughout the day. Get up every hour from your desk and walk around the office or house, or stretch. And, every time you are on the phone walk (if you can) or stand.
— 30 minutes a day
Or more. Exercise is as vital for the brain as it is for the body. Creativity and walking has long been linked, because when you’re out walking, ideas just seem to come. Walking is easy, free, and convenient. However, do whatever you love, whether that is swimming or biking or dancing.
Drink a ton of water
This is terribly inconvenient unless you’re always near a bathroom. But many of us writers work at home and we need to remember to consume liquid by the gallon. Okay, quart. Also this helps you with 3A above, because you’ll be getting up a lot more to use the bathroom. And, weirdly, or maybe not so weirdly, drinking lots of water gives you more energy.
Experts are now touting interval training as an efficient way to get optimal exercise in and you can follow this same theory for writing. Set a timer or agree with yourself that you’re going to write for 45 minutes and then go full out for that time. This means don’t look at email or the latest on Twitter. Just write. When time is up, take a break for 15 minutes. This is when you get to look at email, talk to your dog, call your girlfriend. And then launch in again. This gives your brain focus time and relaxation time. It will help guide your energy levels.
Understand Creative Cycles
Just as the year progresses through the seasons, so too does your creativity progress through stages. You may be writing full out for four months and then not scribble another word for two weeks. After I got my MFA, I could barely write for six months. Two years of intense deadlines had done me in. It is naturally to have periods of intense activity and times when you are less energetic. Use the latter for less demanding tasks, like note-taking and so forth.
Sometimes I may have time to work on my novel, but I know the energy isn’t there. So that’s a good time to shift to other activities that don’t take quite so much brain power. (Well, okay, all writing takes enormous brain power, and don’t underestimate that, but some is less taxing than others.)
Get the hell away from your devices
She said, putting down her phone after glancing for new emails. I don’t even have to say more, do I? But I will. Because not only are they a terrible time waster but they drain your energy as well. Save it for your real work — writing.
I hope these tips help you cultivate your mental energy!
Charlotte Rains Dixon is the author of the novel Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior (Vagabondage Press, February 2013), and articles published in magazines such as Vogue Knitting, The Oregonian and Pology, to name only a few, and her short fiction has been published in Somerset Studios, The Trunk and the Santa Fe Writer’s Project. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Spalding University in 2003, and has been teaching and coaching writers ever since, both privately and as an adjunct professor at Middle Tennessee State University’s Write program. She’s been blogging about writing, creativity, and motivation at charlotterainsdixon.com since 2007. She is repped by Erin Niumata at FolioLiterary. Visit her website at charlotterainsdixon.com and her travel site at letsgowrite.com.