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Make Writing A Priority

April 26, 2010

This week, I return to the subject of making writing a priority, feeling I’ve done the prerequisite excavation of my own writing life and where it has gone awry to have the credence to write this.

Make writing a priority. This was the tip I gave in an interview earlier this month, as part of the virtual launch of Absolute Xpress’s Thieves and Scoundrels Anthology, when one of the ‘audience’ asked how I balanced all the different things I do in life.

As I discovered last week, sometimes you need to stop and take a reality check to ascertain if writing is still a priority in your life and if you discover it has fallen off the radar, it is time to get back to basics.

Admit It

First up, you need to admit to yourself writing is an important part of who you are. Just as oxygen and water are needed to sustain your physical body, writing and other creative pursuits are needed to sustain your inner realm.

Many of us spent years as closet writers (or perhaps are still there), afraid to come out and brave the harsh light. Maybe your dream of writing was ridiculed when you were younger. Perhaps you were given a harsh and unjust critique from someone. Whatever the reason to hide and allow other things to take priority, it is time to come out – even if it is only to admit it to yourself.

For those who have lost the way (like me) it is OK to admit this, and to begin the journey back. And reminding yourself writing needs to be a piority is good place to start.

‘Life’ will always vie for your time, energy and attention though. And you need to aware of this. In order to write you need to carve out time to write. And it doesn’t need to be to the detriment of your job, your family or your friends. In fact, you will find when you start taking time out to write, you will be happier, calmer and easier to get along with!

How do You Make Writing a Priority?

Evolution didn’t happen over night – it happened in tiny incremental movements and this is what you need to aim for, rather than revolution. I offer

1. Choose one morning/afternoon/evening for your ‘writing time.’

Choose a time which can be just your’s and your writing’s. Carving out time can often mean forgoing something… an hour or sleep to get up or go to bed later, time with the TV or in the company of video games.

Friday night started out as my writing night. It coincided more or less with me giving up alcohol which meant to I wasn’t interested in sitting around with my partner and flat mate drinking, chewing over the fat of the week. Friday was also football night, so no one really missed me tapping away at the keyboard.

This has moved on to Tuesday night and I now participate in the Australian Online Marketplace Writing Races. It means asking my partner to get my son ready for bed and my son to forgo me reading him a story before bed. It is only an hour but in what has become a hectic professional life, it is a good grounding.

What you should focus on, is the time you set aside being for downloading stories. The actual process of writing is just the tip of the iceberg. Much of the plotting, character development and such can be done in our head, as we’re commuting to work, working in the garden, cooking dinner or doing the laundry. Motherhood was the best training ground for me as a writer in using my actual, physical writing time efficiently.

2. Commit to Write Something Every Week

Write something every week for public consumption. This can and often, goes hand in hand with point number one.

My favourite writing communities swing into action every Friday. Here at Write Anything we have [Fiction] Friday, set up with the specific intention of getting writers writing every week and is intended as sharing at a first draft level. JM Strother’s #fridayflash is a growing communities of writers, showcasing their writing via Twitter and most stories are of a second or higher draft level.

Part of my commitment to Friday night writing came from [Fiction] Friday and the impetus to produce something every week. Many other writers can trace their writing origins to contribution to some type of weekly writing meme. Tony Noland talked last week about how #fridayflash contributed to his writing practise and Emma Newman’s Split World stories for #fridayflash were the impetus of her committing to spending a year and a day in this world as foundation writing for her next round of novel writing.

Many writers use [Fiction] Friday as a five minute writing exercise and everyone has five minutes to spare. There is absolutely no excuse not to write something every week… and this is something I am reminding myself.

And when you have weekly down pat – you can consider making writing a daily practice.

3. Write collectively

When I wrote my revelations post last week I was amazed at the number of writing colleagues who rallied with similar stories and support. It made me grateful for belonging to a wonderful group of writers. Only writers really understand what it is like to be a writer, and they can offer support and encouragement when friends and family may just shake their heads and wonder. They can assist you in keeping writing a priority.

Writing is said to be a lonely occupation but it doesn’t need to be in the 21st Century with technology which connects people across the globe.

Joining a group of writers can help keep you on track with your writing goals. Your writing group can be an online one or a group which meets face to face in your local area.

A writing group which meets monthly or fortnightly brings with it a deadline and an impetus to write.

For the past two and a half years I’ve been meeting with the same women in a wonderful apartment above the Brisbane river. These meetings have kept me honest to my craft, producing work, having it critiqued and discussed. They also keep me focused, reminding me recently they see a slew of first drafts but rarely see where they end up.

If you can’t meet with writers in your area, there are plenty of places to meet writers on line and form online writing groups. Many groups spring from involvement in online writing exercises or writers sites/forums.

Another form of collective writing is collaborative writing. Annie, Paul and I fell into writing Captain Juan by pure accident in 2008. It became one of the most active and productive areas of our writing lives that year. Annie and I have often joked it is our ‘writer’s candy’.

4. Treat Yourself as Client

When you work for someone else you tend to go to great lengths to ensure you meet deadline, create amazing work and generally, keep the happy client happy by being (sometimes) at their beck and call.  So why don’t you treat yourself as a client?

This line of thinking came to me during a particularly gruelling publishing project, where I slept little, worked long hours and put everything else on hold in my life. One of my twitter followers wrote: “I was thinking, I should tell myself (my book’s) for some one else, I bet I would get it done faster…”

I always get things done faster for someone else. I never slack off on writing this column and when I wrote for another website I would often get up at 5am to have it written – fitting it into my weekly schedule that way. I’m not sure about you, but the only time my creative writing takes this kind or precendence is during November.

This is my current challenge to self, to find ways to honour myself as client.

5. Make Monthly Writing Goals

Creating a set of goals each month keeps writing a priority in your life. They don’t have to be extravagant goals – simple goals are best. Use the writing memes, writing groups and comnpetition entries as a frameworks for your writing goals.  Setting goals keeps in the forefront of my mind what needs to be worked on not just each month but each week, and allows me to best utilise and budget my time. This is one way we can treat ourselves as client.

Benjamin Solah commented last week that he’s submitted more pieces of work for publication in the first half of this year than for all of last year and contibutes this in part, to his monthly goal setting (and keeping!)

One Last Thought

For the longest time I’ve considered life as a balancing act, but last week I gave this up as a metaphor for how to live. Instead life is jigsaw with many pieces which do eventually fit together.

It is your job to squirrel away the pieces which relate to your writing life and make it a priority to find their place in the puzzle. The art of jigsaw relies on a number of qualities, but the two which resonate most with me are resilience and persistence – two things I learnt from hundreds of hours of piecing together rhododendron bushes, palatial lawns and medieval castles. The right fit exists but it isn’t always easy (think of a hundred pieces of blue sky) but it is always worth it in the end. And once you’ve finished, it is time to embark on a bigger more complicated one armed with the lessons and experience you’ve gained.

Jodi Cleghorn was just thinking the title of this article sounds a little like a campaign slogan. If you don’t want to cheer yourself on, then no one else is going to want to cheer you on. A sobering thought! You can find more of her musings at Writing in Black and White.
  1. April 26, 2010 12:18 am

    commitment is very much needed for a writer as the world is mostly against them. I myself have faced the situation when drawn by comments of others I walked the wrong path and am still sorry for having lost so many of my precious years. But now, I have realized and am working on it. Still, at times, only due to the lack of commitment I miss out the fiction friday thing here.
    Cheers! To writeanything for giving such great insights and to fiction friday for making us give priority to writing.

  2. April 26, 2010 1:30 am

    There are some excellent tips here; some I’m doing, some I’ve done but forgotten and some I haven’t thought of.

    Goal setting really has been an excellent help this year. I do need to work on writing something every week though, not just [Fiction] Friday or #FridayFlash but fresh words that go someway to something publishable.

  3. adampb permalink
    April 26, 2010 5:09 am

    As a novice writer, this is timely and sage advice. Right now, there are many paths I could travel, but I am aware that the weekly goals I have (participating in Fiction Friday and 6 Sentences every week) are all a part of honing my writing skills, getting me ready to move to the next stage of submitting works for publication.
    I have loved this site, coming back day to day to glean more information.
    Jodi, I hope that you have found the corner pieces of your puzzle, and that the final picture matches the one on the box.

  4. April 26, 2010 7:20 am

    Great post with lots to say about how to make time for writing. I definitely squeeze the most out of the hours the kids are at school. When I think of the time I wasted before I had kids it scares me. I am more productive now with less time.

    Collaborative writing is a great way to motivate yourself. Something like Nanowrimo or a deal with another writer to work on something over a period of time and exchange work helps drive the writing.

  5. April 26, 2010 8:26 am

    Adam – I’m glad the ‘sage’ advice comes in handy. There were several cornerstones of my early writing practise which I am now, three years down the track returning to. They were:

    1. Fiction Friday every week.
    2. Blogging
    3. Writing Captain Juan with Annie and Paul
    4. Reading

    Along with the other gems I wrote about here, I’m hoping to fill in the jigaw (we always created the frame and then filled it from there – and interestingly, see this is not the way my son wants to do puzzles!)

    Dan – like you I shudder at all the time I wasted before children. I have been far more productive and successful as a writer since Dylan’s been in my life than at any other time since high school. I’ve also discovered editing in the past five years – though it is a bit of a double edged sword and seems to never truly find its ‘right’ home in my life.

    Ben – you are the king of goal setting and the way you do it really gels with me. I can thank you for all the goal setting I do everyone month – and now weekly I hear. Thanks for keeping me honest.

    Sunny – thanks for continuing to drop by here. We love regular ‘faces’ and comments.

  6. April 26, 2010 9:57 am

    Writing a serial is one of the best ways I can think of to make time for writing. It’s an ongoing commitment and it makes you write something new every week, and the security of a continuing story removes that fear of the blank page.

  7. David Gillaspie permalink
    April 26, 2010 10:46 am

    I like the part about treating yourself as a client. It makes a little more space between writer and screen, a little more air to breath.

    A serious writer who went through the Iowa program lead a class once. Very serious woman with important ideas. She said every morning she warmed up by writing about her funny neighborhood, and that was the book that got published. It made her more fun.

    I came away thinking that what drives people to write is different than what drives them to write better. So I blogged it. Thanks for the extra lift.

  8. April 26, 2010 11:18 am

    Writing a serial is a brilliant way of turning up to the page each week. I actually had a dot point for serial writing and then cut it down to just the small sentence at the end of writing collectively. D’oh.

    I’ve seen so many writers go from strength to strength writing serially – and I have a much neglected serial which I need to decide it’s future. Perhaps it needs to stick around to be a NaNo project?

  9. April 26, 2010 1:22 pm

    When I read the title to this article the first thought that came to my mid was “Whoever wrote this read my mind.”
    I’m only a teenager who’s starting out as a writer, but lately I’ve also come to realize that writing is a priority for me. It’s what I want to do with my life, so why should I consider it as important as things such as my school work and extracurricular activities? The truth is that it’s just as important as those things.
    I can’t abandon school work for writing, but I can’t abandon writing for school work (or college work, as it is soon to be called) either.
    Thanks for the tips!

  10. April 26, 2010 10:18 pm

    Zora – when I was completing my final year of high school I was able to combine writing a novel with an English communication work, which was one of the four major pieces of work for the subject that year.

    I look back in awe on that project. Not only did I manage to complete a novel (when technically I was banned from writing because of carpal tunnel damage in my write hand), but I got it critiqued by an editor at Random House (who in truth probably on read five pages of my handwritten scrawl and sent me off a standard rejection letter) and managed to make contacts in all places, in the days before the internet or Google.

    It is finding a way to make writing part of your school work so you can manage both. I was often found submerged in my novel writing when I was meant to be doing other study or homework. And I saw all writing as writing – meaning I loved creative writing equally with writing essays in Economics, Legal Studies, Ethics and History.

    Keep up the good work… you’ve already had a great epiphany. Stop back in soon.

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