A little less than a year ago, I published one of my very first posts on Novelty Revisions.
I told a little bit of my story, how I over-committed myself in college, stopped writing and pretty much lost myself for awhile. It was a good lesson, which was why I shared it.
The odd thing about some lessons is that we don’t just learn them once. We learn them, and are then placed in situations in which we have to apply what we have learned … over and over again.
The good news is, after a year of struggling to figure out where my writing skills could best serve the other humans of the Earth, I’ve finally started freelancing part-time (you know, the kind that actually helps you pay for things like graduate school and student loans). HURRAY!
Except now I have a lot less time to do all the things I’ve come used to doing in all my free time over the past nine months of not having a sustainable job.
And while this is the epitome of first-world problems and I am ABSOLUTELY NOT complaining about it, I suddenly find myself in an all-too-familiar place: searching for white space in my life, not finding very much of it and starting to panic a little (er, literally).
Over the past week I have been experimenting with time-management, optimal working habits (how to space things out, take breaks and not lose my mind) and how not to get distracted by all the things I’m not getting paid to do (but still really want to do).
I’ve certainly learned a few things.
1. A to-do list and a must-do list are not the same thing
On Wednesday I stuck to my usual to-do list, got all my writing done for the day and ended up putting off my homework until
the last minute later than I planned. I wrote two articles for work and then started a third one when I should have done one of my homework assignments instead. If I would have had a must-do list, the first two articles and homework would have come before the extra article I wrote for Women Daily, which could have waited until Thursday.
Never forget that, no matter what stage of life you’re at, you will always have something just as important as more more important than writing to do, and prioritizing is essential. And if you literally add white space into your schedule (write the word ‘relax’ if you have to), you will not regret it.
2. Some writing takes an hour, some takes an afternoon
It’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting into until you’re almost halfway through it. Sometimes the point you’re trying to make is already very well researched, and sometimes you’re trying to say something that hasn’t been proven but has evidence that could, if you spin it the right way, potentially lead to something. Which is time-consuming … and frustrating even when you’re a student with free access to databases and full-text research articles.
You have to space things out throughout your day or you will lose it. I wrote one article that took me about an hour and a half, had lunch, came back and spent an entire afternoon on another and watched a few YouTube videos before moving onto the next thing. Not because I was procrastinating (not entirely …) but because my brain needed a break. I needed some white space, and I let myself have it. It ended up being a good decision by the end of the day.
3. Start and end the day with your thoughts
For a long time I have started my day off journaling, which really helps me organize my thoughts and figure out exactly how I’m going to tackle the day ahead. (It works for writing or just work in general, and for the record, really helps if you’re anxious.) But I’ve also started ending every day with a few TED Talks. I might read, if it’s a lighter book, but I’m reading Angels & Demons right now, which gives me insomnia if I read too much before bed.
You can’t just wake up and start going 500 miles an hour, the same way you can’t jump right from writing an article straight into REM sleep. White space is like the bookends of your day. Start and end with a slower transition into and out of deeper thinking and work.
The truth is, you don’t automatically lose your passion and enthusiasm for writing the minute it becomes work. That has always been my fear, but I can assure you it’s not a worry you need to keep holding onto. The hardest part is finding the time to keep doing other kinds of writing, and things you really enjoy, in-between the work. Just like any other kind of job, if it’s all you ever do, you’re not going to last.
Good luck on all your projects this week (whatever you’re working on, big or small), and happy writing!
Image courtesy of Sarah Reid/flickr.com.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.