For many of us, this is an incredibly busy time. The holidays are beginning to peek over the horizon and nibble at our time (and if you want more info on how to deal with that in terms of your writing, subscribe to the Writing for Children podcast). Family and social demands increase. Those of us with young children are back on the “tote kids all over” route. And sometimes our writing is getting pushed further and further to the back of our “must do” list. We want to write. Really. But how do you make time when you live in the middle of chaos? And it certainly doesn’t help if those surrounding us are aiding and abetting the chaos, and acting annoyed every time we try to carve out some time for our writing. So what do we do about that?
First, Stop Beating Yourself Up
Yeah, I know you do it. And I know the script: “If I were a real writer, I’d write every day. If I were meant to write, I’d make the time. If my writing were any good, I’d get more support. If I were a good parent, I could do it all.” Well, you want to know something interesting? Nearly every writer, even the New York Times best-selling writers have periods when they bemoan their lack of time to write. The truth is that life is often not interested in making time for you, no matter who you are. So your lack of time to write is not proof that you’re not called to be a writer or that you’re not good enough somehow. It’s just proof that you’re human.
Pretty much the only writers who absolutely, positively always have time to write are those who are alone. And even they sometimes find that the demands of health, or writerly things like promotion bump out their writing time now and then, making them scramble to catch up. Finding time is always a writer’s issue. So stop smacking yourself over it. Maybe you’ll get some writing squeezed in and many you won’t, but neither is proof or disproof of your writing calling.
A Shield Helps
Many writers have a specific writing schedule that is carved into the day and is held fairly sacred (though not without effort). This does become easier as you get published more often. Why? Because the people who snatch and pull at your time will back off a bit once you start getting published. This is one reason why it might be worthwhile to look at smaller, easier to publish projects just to gather some publication credits and build yourself a shield against the time snatchers.
Now, normally I’m not a huge proponent of “write for free” because I think a writer is worthy of money, but there are many newer publishers and smaller venues and even charity venues that need writing but cannot pay for it. Submitting to these venues allow you a smaller pool of submissions to compete against (and often much faster turn-around times for acceptance). They also let you compete against people at your same level of publication. And sometimes a non-paid publication can pave the way to a paid publication (writers of fan fiction on free sites have been offered book publishing contracts, and I was once offered over $1000 by a testing company to use a story I’d written for an online site). That doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
Even when the publication doesn’t pay in money, it can give you a little bit of energy to continue when you’re feeling down, and being published does offer some credibility to your efforts to carve out writing time. One thing I often did early on was write craft how-to bits, just little things making crafts from paper, glue, tape –– easy to find, inexpensive items. Craft how-to pieces don’t pay a lot, but they allowed me to build a sizeable library of credits quickly because little activities and crafts are in high demand. So, sure, you want to publish a picture book or a novel –– but what if publishing a half dozen paper crafts bought you hours and hours of space to write. Wouldn’t that be worth it?
Of course, a shield is only helpful if you have time to forge it. What if you don’t even have that?
Stay in the Moment
An interesting thing about the chaos of this time of year is that it is full of stories. I am always looking for a good story. So when chaos happens, I immediately look for the story inherent in the moment. How could you turn this moment on its head a bit to make it funny — maybe making it more extreme or piling on the wild coincidences. As I turn these real life moments into wild tales in my head, they become part of the library of story seeds I’d dipped into many, many times. Now, personally, I’m always looking for ways to turn chaos into humor, but chaos is also full of touching moments or symbolic moments. I recently helped my daughter see the symbolic potential in a party she’d had, so that she could turn it from real life into meaningful story. So when you’re in these crazy moments, hold onto them. They often have incredibly valuable seeds that will grow and bear fruit in the future with a little coaxing.
Recognizing that time not spent writing can actually help make you a better writer (because you become a better storyteller) can also help with that self-shaming thing. As the end of the year gets more and more chaotic, there may be days with zero writing. There might even be weeks with zero writing. But find the story in the time, give yourself a break, and think about ways to forge that shield for next time, and you’ll come out a stronger writer just the same.
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.