Finding Time (and Place) to Write

I have deadlines. Most of us do. For instance, I just finished a conference paper on Dracula and venereal disease… Then, I have two chapters to finish up for my manuscript (by July 10th)… After which, I will return to the conference paper and magically re-invent it as a full-length article, (by August). I am also guest editing a special issue this summer as well as co-editing a book of essays on “monstrous reproduction.”


And I am completing the edits to both YA series’ first novels, while working on a sequel.

Let’s face it: the problem for most of us is that being an author is only one of several jobs/careers. But we must write. Really. We have to. So the question is, when?

Finding the Time to Write

There is a useful write up on making time by Stewart O’Nan (from Nieman Report–worth reading!). In it, he cites Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), who said that the most difficult thing about writing was the starting and the not stopping. But of course, our schedules often dictate that we have to do both, at regular intervals. Start. Stop. Come back. Start. Stop. And for me, the most difficult thing might be the code-switching. Writing fiction is NOT writing research because, while the topics often cross-over, the audiences are very different.  How do we manage not only finding the time, but actually being there (mentally as well as physically) once we have found it?

  1. Finding your chronological M. O.
    Are you nocturnal? Diurnal? Crespuscular? (PS: there’s one for that quote book–it means ‘most active at dawn and dusk’.) Your chronological modus operandi is important. Granted, we may not always get what we want (we have to go to work at specifically dictated hours, after all), but since writing is a portable activity, we have some freedom to choose our operating hours. If you are not a morning person, fine. Write at night. BUT (critical, this) don’t just write at night. Write in whatever scraps of time you can get. Just save the best brainwork for nighttime. Write always, write often, but be mindful of your own clock.
  2. Finding your happy place
    Let’s face it, we all have places we prefer to work. But it is important to assign appropriate tasks to appropriate locations. I have a work office, a home office, several coffee shops, a good living-room chair and the dining table. They each have a purpose. Course prep: work office. Research: home office. Fiction: living-room chair. I-don’t-want-to-do-this: coffee shop (the air itself is caffeinated, which keeps me focused on my work and not, say, my naptime). I-really-cannot-do-this: dining table. Proximity to kitchen has a soothing affect. (Don’t believe me? See the comments of Eugene Wrayburn in Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. The domestic influence. Something to that, really.) Having different work spaces for different kinds of work helps with the code-switching process. It also gives you a change of scenery, which is welcome in the work-a-day world. Believe it or not, your choice of clothing can help, too. I actually have an “I’m researching” outfit. It is, above all else, quite comfy.
  3. Chasing your muse
    Now, this last bit is very important. Let us imagine that we have chosen the optimal time. Let us imagine that we are in our happy place, wearing our fiction-writing gear and poised over the keyboard or notepad. But nothing happens. Muse has not shown up. Muse is on strike. Muse broke up with significant other and islocked in the bathroom singing that ballad from Nightmare Before Christmas. Worse–Muse has hit the road with a series travel playlist and no forwarding address. Now what? Ah. This is the fun part. Now we chase. Do not give up–hunt that wayward creature down. I have hopped coffee shops (three in one day). I have driven to a different town. I once drove to a different state. I have taken showers, changed clothes, changed background music. I have invented strange meals involving chocolate and hazelnut creams and alcohol to appease the wandering spirit.

But if, in the end, I can’t pinion that muse, I settle on a perch and I write anyway. And I write. And I write.  Like dispirited felines, the muses return. Never worry about that. Life interrupts. Jobs interrupt. We must not interrupt ourselves. We can, however, be creative about how we manage the obstacles.

Write when you can. Write all you can. Write every little bit. It is, after all, a writing life.


TOMORROW: the interview with poet Kim Roberts! Stay tuned.

And for the locals: The Book Shelf in Winona, MN is having its annual clearance sale! Which explains why I was drawn there today, like a moth to flame. Cosmic shifts and book sales. That’s how I roll.

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