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:~: Tuesday, February 14, 2006 :~:

Finding time to write in today's chaotic world

One of the most common questions I get asked as a writer (after "Are you published?" and "Where do you get your ideas?" oh, and my personal favorite "Romance? You mean smut novels?" but that's a whole other topic) is where do you find time to write?

I am a mother of two girls, 13 and 9. Between the two of them, they participate in the Tae Kwon Doe, soccer, basketball, softball, tennis, horseback riding, guitar lessons, Girl Scouts, and school dances.

My husband is a Fire Captain for the California Department of Forestry and is often sent all over the state to fight fires. As I write this, he has been gone two weeks, hopping between a fire in Los Angeles and the threat of fire in San Diego. His profession renders me a single mom at least 2/3 of the time.

I work two part-time jobs. My first as a sonographer at a clinic near my home, and the second as a glass artist making and selling both glass beads and jewelry.

And then there's my writing. I average 5 hours of writing a day, 7 days a week.

Here's how I do it: routine, flexibililty and delegation.

Routine:

Anyone who really knows me is now laughing his or her ass off. If there were an antonym to 'Joan' it would be 'structure'. But when it comes to writing, I've developed a great pattern-every morning after I drop the girls at school, I go to my neighborhood McDonald's, get breakfast and write.

(Anticipated snickers from the audience here)

There's something about writing away from home. No phone calls, no unsolicited visitors, no washing machine beeping to remind you that you've got clothes to dry and fold, no chores pulling at you as you take a bathroom break... "Oh, I should really sort those bills, check my email again, make my bed, get on that treadmill, etc." I also find the quiet hum of activity in the restaurant soothing, like white noise. I slink into a corner booth where the sun doesn't reflect on my screen and just melt into the woodwork for two solid hours.

Okay, maybe not solid. After a couple years of this, I have joined the ranks of the other "regulars", all of whom are above the age of 65, and all of whom looooooove to chat. But they also give a lot of encouragement, and it's the nicest feeling to walk into that restaurant in the morning and have them smile and wave and ask what I'm working on now, or how the revisions on book four are coming or whether I've heard back from my agent this week.

And this, I believe, is the key to any routine-finding joy and comfort in the situation to make it stick. So whatever works for you, whether it be a lunch hour at your favorite bistro or curling into the sofa during the hush of your baby's naptime, make sure that the time around your writing involves something nurturing for you. If writing acts as replenishment to your reserves and nourishes your soul, you'll look forward to it everyday instead of avoiding it like another chore.

Mobility/Flexibility:

I have a laptop. I don't see it as a luxury, but as a necessity.

As you noticed above, I only write for two hours in the morning. Then I either go to the clinic and work, or to my garage and sit at the torch making beads. When those are done I shift into Mommy mode, picking up the girls after school, getting them to their activities, helping with homework.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I write in the car while I wait for the girls to get out of Tae Kwon Doe. There's 1-2 hours of solitude with the radio playing softly in the background, just me and my laptop. (I have both an additional battery and an extended life battery to allow me even more flexibility.) On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I do it again during my youngest's basketball practice and/or my oldest's tennis lesson. Fridays I find an extra hour while the little one is tooling around the ring on a horse.

You've got to take it when you can get it. For example, just yesterday, my last patient at the clinic came in early, which allowed me to finish her scan early, and I jammed out of work to grab a late lunch and spend an unanticipated hour on the synopsis for Love Sketch (my wip).

In the evening, my bedroom is always the hub of activity, and I can kiss my desktop computer goodbye. My oldest is doing research or writing a report; my youngest wants to play internet games. And while I give them time limits to keep the peace, I'm not frustrated because I've got my laptop, allowing me to get in another 2-3 hours of writing before bedtime.

But don't let the technology of a laptop hinder you. Many writers swear by their Alpha Smart. Still others thrive with pencil and paper, which I sometimes resort to for brainstorming or outlining. However you do it, if you've got kids, if you work outside the home, you have to be able to take your writing with you. ((Just a little aside, I've purchased my last two laptops on eBay for under $400, and they've both been awesome. eBay also sells Alpha Smarts. But know your prices before you bid or you could end up paying more than you would buying it outright from the manufacturer.)

Delegation and Letting go:
This is a non-negotiable element for me, and I urge anyone who wants more sanity and serenity in their lives to try it.

I've been married to my DH for 15 years. He's been a fireman for 24+. I learned very early my life could go one of two ways: 1) I could do everything for everyone else, get burnt out, resentful, and depressed, or 2) I could delegate and let the little stuff go.

The whole perfectionist-supermom syndrome went out the window first, and a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I found I could actually live my life instead of worry about it. My house is not always clean and/or organized, I don't cook elaborate meals (in fact I rarely cook, period), and I don't hit the gym every single day. But I'm one hell of a lot happier than I was before I shed the burden of those expectations (others and my own) . In fact, my kids and my husband are also happier because I'm happier and easier to live with.

My daughters have learned to cook-they are great pasta makers, quesadilla creators and can whip up a mean bowl of oatmeal. They've learned that if they mess it up, they'll be the one's cleaning it up and amazingly enough, aren't quite as messy as they used to be. And when DH is home, I do my best to lever things off my shoulders and onto his.

In today's world, with all the incredible demands on our time, creativity and flexibility are essential to carving out time in our day to do what we love.

Think about your life and where you might utilize your time better, multi-task somewhere to fit more writing time into your day. And share your secrets with us...we could all use a few fresh ideas.

7Comments:

Blogger Jennette said...

Fantastic post! Finding time to write really isn't about "finding" at all - it's about making time. That's a major challenge with a husband, child, full-time job, bookkeeping and promo for husband's business, and the occasional freelance design work I do. I watch no more than four hours of TV a week, and usually do something else while I watch - bookkeeping or freelance work, workouts, reading email. I also take my WIP to work on a flash drive, and during lunch hour I hide in an empty conference room with my laptop to write. The first time I tried it, I was surprised how much I got done in that hour.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

Jennette,

You make a good point about TV. I watch very little as well, and what I do watch are informational shows (mostly cop, science, history) that I use for research and background material. That's a whole other post. :-)

I didn't write when I worked in an office, but that's a great idea -- stealing the conference room. Nice and quiet!!

Thanks for the comment.

Joan

11:26 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

McDonalds? McDonalds! ROFL.

Actually, when I read that, I thought, "You know, I could do that." Um...well, I could if Gremlin #3 was old enough to keep himself occupied in the playplace. If it wasn't so loud in the playplace, if they actually had booths instead of uncomfortable picnic tables in the playplace.

*sigh*

Guess it'll be a long time before I'm able to go "out" during the day to find a place to write. ;)

In the meantime, I do my main writing at night after the Gremlins are in bed and whenever I can squeeze in a few minutes during the day. Like you, J, I've given up TV, scrapbooking and a lot of hobbies I used to do to in the evenings. Figuring out what works for you is the key.

Great post, J!!!

3:39 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

LOL, E. It won't be long!

J

5:13 PM  
Blogger Carol B. said...

Great post, Joan! I can total relate on the single-parent thing. Had the same type situation when mine were young - and even into their teens off and on.

Great tips and ideas. More and more I'm thinking about getting a laptop. I have an Alphasmart, but I'm a constantly editing and revising as I go and it's not wonderful for that. I thought it would get me out of that mode, but no.

The letting go thing I've got down, much to DH's chagrin. I cook a full dinner meal almost every day, but the housecleaning takes a back burner to writing.

7:45 AM  
Blogger Allison Brennan said...

Great post, Joan! You really nailed it.

People always ask me how I find the time. I tell them . . . I gave up television and my house is a mess. :)

12:24 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

Allison,

I'm sooooo glad I'm not the only one with a messy household!! And I can't imagine how you do it with all those kids of yours!!

Joan

11:32 AM  

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