School and work are both important, but focusing on one or the other to the exclusion of all else can be dangerous. We’re often told to put these things above all else, which can lead to self-neglect and even self-hatred. Capitalism tells us to focus on what makes us money and ignore that which nourishes the soul. Since these beliefs have been drilled into us since we were kids, they’re difficult to ignore.
Unfortunately work and/or school will probably always be factors in your life. The key is to make sure that they don’t interrupt your writing time more than absolutely necessary. So how do you keep school/work out of your writing time?
1. Don’t take on extra responsibilities. If you don’t have to stay at work late, don’t. If you don’t have to join that after school club, don’t. If it’s not going to help you advance in life, say no. Remember that the writing won’t happen if you’re always exhausted when you get home. Remember that in ten years you’ll be more upset about not having finished that novel than you will be about missing extra hours at work.
Sometimes you’ll want to take extra commitments, and that’s fine too—as long as you still carve out daily writing time, and refuse to take on extra assignments that you’re not passionate about. Think about how you’ll feel in ten years. Will you be sad that you missed that extra workshop? Will you be sad that you didn’t help create the yearbook? Or will you be sad that your novel is still only half finished?
2. Work smarter. Find ways to complete your tasks faster without sacrificing performance. There are always short cuts. Look for the ones that won’t damage your grades or your career and take them. Finish as much as possible while you’re at the office or in the classroom so you can focus on writing when you get home. Often you won’t be able to control how many hours you spend at work or in class, but by working hard during that time you can minimize the amount of work you take home.
Stay focused at work or in class and you’ll get everything done in record time—and you’ll be able to write guilt-free when you get home.
3. Say no to social engagements more often than you say yes. Why is this under the school/work category? Well, odds are that you have some friends at school or in the office. And that those people invite you to dinner or to the bar or to different events. Say no twice for every time you say yes. Say no if you know it will cut into your writing time. Be willing to leave early to write—nobody will look down on you for leaving early, and if they do, they’re not good friends anyway.
Saying no is hard. I struggle all the time with saying no to social commitments, but I’ve gotten better at it over the last couple of years and I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then when you see how much progress you’ve made in that time you’d otherwise be spending at the bar, you’ll be happy you made the decision to say no.
On the other hand, maintaining friendships is important, so say yes once in a while. Real friends don’t mind if you’re busy, but they want to be valued too.
You’re probably going to be working or in school for a long time. Everyone has to accept that one of these things will take up five, eight or even twelve hours of their day, five days a week, for a large chunk of their lifetime. What we can do is make sure that we don’t let work and school eat our life to the exclusion of what really matters to us—writing, working towards our dreams and nourishing our souls.
How much does work/school detract from your writing life?
Don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series:
Hi guys, WordPress screwed me over and posted this on Friday instead of when it was supposed to go live, so if you’ve already read this, I’m sorry, but you can read a guest post by me today on Brianna Soloski’s blog Girl Seeks Place instead.
Today our discussion is about distractions that are at once harder to ignore and easier to eliminate than those caused by family: the distractions of modern day technology, specifically phones and the internet.
Phones and the internet—and phones that connect to the internet—are wonderful inventions that can easily turn into horrible soul sucking devices. How many times have you gone to email someone and ended up watching twenty cute cat videos? How many times have you picked up the phone and ended up talking through all your writing time? You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all done it. We’ll probably all do it at least once more in our lifetime.
But it has to stop. In order to finish that novel, non-fiction book or even one article, you need to focus. You need to ignore all those cute cat videos. You need to stay off the phone. You need to detox from Facebook until your project is finished, or at least your work for the day is finished.
How do you eliminate technological distractions? Check out these simple steps to a more focused work period:
1. Close your browser. I know you don’t want to. But if email is a constant lure for you, knowing that the window is already open will kill your concentration. You’ll be checking your email every three sentences, slowing you down quite a bit. Out of sight, out of mind. Close your browser window and hide the symbol somewhere you can’t see it without looking intentionally. It’s pretty common to have your browser in the tool bar of your operating system, but it’s also simple to remove the icon. Take the initiative and make it easy for you to ignore the internet.
2. Disable the internet. If the first strategy doesn’t work for you, it might be time to disable the internet altogether. This might mean disconnecting your computer from the internet. It might mean disconnecting your router and modem. Or it might mean downloading software that will block the internet during your writing time and turn it back on when you’re done without you ever having to move away from your computer. However you do it, try disabling your internet and see how much faster everything gets done.
3. Turn off your phone. Or, at the very least, turn it to silent. Odds are you won’t get any really important calls during the hour or two you’ve set aside for writing anyway. How many phone calls do you really need to pick up? Can you call back later? Do you really need to listen to your friend whine about her break up right now? As distraught as she is, she probably won’t be too upset if you call her back in an hour. You don’t really need to know every time something happens on Facebook.
Try turning off your phone during your writing time—or at least part of it—and see what a difference that makes. Try deleting most of your games and turning off those Facebook notifications permanently too. Limiting your access to time wasters makes it easy to get more done.
4. Switch technology. If you’re still struggling with technological interruptions, you might be better off switching to a word processor only device such as an Alpha Smart or even to pen and paper. Simply not having access to the internet will make it a lot easier. Turning off Facebook and email notifications on your phone or even having an older phone that isn’t compatible with Facebook or your email client can be of great assistance too.
Remember, technology is a tool. When used properly, it makes your life more comfortable and more productive. When used improperly, it can totally derail you from your goals and eat up your life so that you hardly exist offline. If you can’t use the technology properly, maybe it’s time to stop using the technology at all.
Everyone gets distracted by technology until they learn how to stop it. Different people are effected by technology differently. I’ve always been good at staying on task even with my browser window open and visible in the toolbar, but some people don’t write at all unless they completely remove themselves from the internet. It’s important to know yourself and to know which distractions you’re most vulnerable to and to learn how to eliminate or at least minimize them.
How do you keep technological distractions to a minimum?
Sometimes, life gets in the way of our writing. Some days, it’s all we can do to write a sentence. We have friends, lovers, families that all expect something from us. We are human, and like all other humans, sometimes our bodies break down and make it more difficult to focus on anything, let alone our writing.
Most of us also have day jobs or school to deal with, and how much time we have to devote to these things can vary from week to week.
Today I’d like you to do some introspection. Rather than discovering your characters, today I’d like you to discover yourself. And rather than prose, today I’d like you to make a list. A list that, I hope, will help you re-examine your life and find more time for writing.
Make a list of all the things that stop you from writing.
My first three:
1. School–This is the biggest time suck I’m dealing with right now. Not only am I expected to spend something like six hours a day on the premises, I’m expected to take work home with me and do it there. It’s frustrating, but, like the day jobs many of you hold, it’s something I have to do. I’d love to spend my whole day writing, every day, but I expect that after I graduate I’ll have to find one of those day jobs too. It’s a shame.
2. Friends–I have a lot of friends. Actually, I have a ridiculous number of friends. I have enough friends that I can barely keep track of them. Most of them don’t interfere with my writing time too much, but the sheer number of people I’m expected to keep in touch with take up quite a bit of time. I’m also the kind of person that will go to great lengths to help a friend–and sometimes I have to remind myself that my writing is at least as important as my friendships.
3. Email–No, seriously. I mean, most of my email is writing-related, but there’s just so much of it. I’m not even famous and I get about a hundred emails a day. I don’t read them all, but it still takes me an hour and a half to get through them. The amount of time I’ll have to devote to email when I actually do get famous is terrifying.
What stops you from writing? Please share your first three obstacles to writing in the comments.
The last couple of weeks have marked the beginning of school for many of us. Personally I’m very excited to begin the new school year, knowing that it moves me one step closer to graduation and from there I can begin the rest of my life. I’m also excited because I’ve got some great classes this semester–particularly Aboriginal Studies and Law–but all the excitement in the world doesn’t stop me from catching sick. Which is, unfortunately, what happened to me last week. I spent most of the weekend in bed, so this is a very short post.
Despite my sickness and not getting much done–I managed to forget my school binder at a friend’s house on Friday evening because I was so out of it–I did manage to write a Dear Diary entry each day this weekend. I didn’t do any editing and I did only a little bit of reading, but I managed to accomplish those 250 words of my character’s diary each and every day. I picked 250 as my word goal because it’s not too challenging for me–it still allows me to have time to write other things and to work on my homework–and because it makes the most sense for my character, who would write fairly brief diary entries.
I hope that you’ve picked a similarly easily achievable goal. Just remember each day when you sit down at your computer that you don’t have to write an epic. Your goal isn’t to write a novel this month, and it’s certainly not to drain yourself entirely writing extremely long diary entries. I’ve made the mistake of making the word count goal too high–1, 000 words–for this challenge before, and learned that long winded diary entries don’t really help characterization, they just get boring after a while. Each day is different, but there’s only so much in any given day that’s worth writing about.
Remember that while you are challenging yourself, it’s more important to learn about your character than it is to write x number of words. The goal is to learn a little something about your character each day and to get a little more used to their voice each day. Even if you can only push out one or two paragraphs on any given day, that’s okay. You can still learn something from those one or two paragraphs about your character. And no matter how sick or busy you are, you can always write those one or two paragraphs.
What is the biggest obstacle between you and your writing time?