Friday, May 9, 2014

How to Keep Your Writing in Your Over-the-Top Busy Life: Helpful Techniques from the Experts

A particular exchange exists between the writer and her writing.  One feeds the other.  If you write, you write more.  If you stop writing, it's intensely difficult to get started again.

Not only that, your sense of your writing's quality and potential changes. 

After three days, some experts say, you essentially need to start over--the flow is gone and it's necessary to completely reacquaint yourself with the project and your vision for it.  Any momentum dies.  Regaining it can be hard work.  That's why many writers, once they stop writing, lose the rhythm of their practice. 

The Inner Critic steps up to the plate:  The writing begins to look much worse than it actually is.  I believe the IC protects us from creative risks, and writing a book is certainly that.  Sometimes, to add more fun to the mix, a crisis appears just at that very moment that drains all creative energy.  Days go by, then weeks, then months.  The writing languishes.

It's still there, of course.  But our attitude and guilt make it hard to approach again.  I've witnessed it countless times in my classes as well as with my own books.

We miss it.  Writing brings something to our life that nothing else can.  So we begin to ask--very quietly, or loud and desperate:  What can I change?  What can I get rid of?  What new habits can I start, to keep writing in my over-the-top busy life?

It doesn't take much, but it does take something.  I love the jumpstart techniques below.  They all work; they're all simple.  Which might work for you? 

Elizabeth Gilbert's Timer Technique
Gilbert is the well-known author of many books, most notably her memoir Eat, Pray, Love.  She wrote a wonderful Facebook post last week about using a kitchen timer to get writing. 

I love the timer technique.  I bought four of them to keep my wayward attention on track (when I am writing, I forget everything else; when I am not writing, I often need a timer to prompt me to get started).  To read Gilbert's suggestions, go to and search for Elizabeth Gilbert (scroll down; the relevant post is the one with the kitchen timer illustration).

Anne Lamott's Picture-Frame Technique
Long ago I bought a 2-inch square empty photo frame for my desk.  Lamott, author of the wonderful writing book, Bird by Bird, suggests it as a jumpstart for writing sessions.  She tells herself (and now I do too) that she only has to write enough words to fit in the frame.  It comes to about 25 words, I've learned.

Once you get over the 25-word hump, it's often easier to keep writing--and enjoy the flow again.

Eric Maisel's First-Thing-in-the-Morning Technique
My writing buddy Nancy McMillan recently attended a writing workshop at Kripalu with creativity expert Eric Maisel.  Maisel is known for his books on the creative process, including Fearless Creating.  Nancy brought back an effective and simple idea from Maisel:  Give time to your writing first thing each day, before anything else.  Even 20 minutes, captured before the day's pressures begin, allows you to keep writing.

Nancy's blog post is full of great ideas from the workshop.  Check it out here.

Jerry Seinfeld's Calendar Technique
Seinfeld used a big wall calendar to keep writing--he marked off each writing day with a red X and was loathe to break the chain.  It works for me too.  Read more about it here.

My Take-a-Class Technique
Exhausted from family crises these past months, as well as an intense teaching schedule, I had a hard time making room for my writing.  The thing that did it:  taking a class.  I signed up for two short online courses, which required writing each day, and I found myself engaged again.

The support of other writers, the joy of learning new skills, and the encouragement to show up and share all provide the accountability I personally need as a writer to keep going.  Many of my students say the same thing.

What keeps you writing?  Which of these techniques--or other ideas--get you to the page each day or several times a week?