On Making Time for Yourself, Even When You Don’t Have Any

You are not your work.


You are not your work. Your success is not defined by the hours you put in, but the enthusiasm you have for life – which includes not just work, but also, simultaneously, play.

I write this as someone who spent her college years studying and working and achieving and very rarely smiling. Did I accomplish a lot? Sure. Am I proud of that? Sure. But what did I lose? Myself. My friends. Do you have any idea how many relationships I’m still, two years later, trying to put back together because I couldn’t put down a textbook long enough to have dinner with people I cared about?

What else? My health. My happiness, probably. My love of writing, for awhile.

A writer is ambitious in their own way. There is a dream there, an end goal, with a lot of prerequisites. You might think it’s admirable to give up sleep and real meals and game nights because you’re writing a novel, but if you still think that, you either have a lot to learn or you aren’t going to last very long.

It’s easy to think you’ll be fine. You’re writing; it’s what you do. Sleep and friends and everything you love will still be there when you finish your manuscript. Right? You’ll give up whatever you have to in order to write more. You’re strong. You’re determined.

But how long can you really keep that up for? Not for as long as you’re trying to convince yourself you can.

This idea that we aren’t allowed to relax, that we’re only going to be successful if we work harder and longer than anyone else, it’s misleading, exaggerated and unhealthy. Do you really think that just because you spend two extra hours writing instead of sleeping, going out with friends or watching a few episodes of a show on Netflix, it’s going to make or break your career?

Yes, going too far – doing other things instead of writing, always – is not productive. But writing professionally is not about extremes. It’s about getting your work done, balancing long hours with hours of brainless fun. We either don’t get enough writing done, or work too much, because we don’t know how to work and play. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. THAT is what makes people successful, is knowing when it’s time to work and when it’s time to stop.

You’re not doing any quality work when you’re forcing yourself to expend more energy than you have left.

Even if you’re up late, for example, doing work you actually enjoy, you still need to give your brain a rest.

Creativity cannot thrive if you’re too tired to think straight.

You can’t isolate yourself from everyone and everything because writing is more important. If writing is really that important to you, you wouldn’t feel the need to do it every second of every day. It’s not work, then; it’s not a project. It’s an obsession.

Make time for you, even if you don’t think you have it. Make time for family and friends and things that are good for your mental and physical health. It’s okay to take the night off. It’s okay to only write a few hundred works. IT’S OKAY TO RELAX.

As long as you pick your work back up again when it’s time.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Image courtesy of pexels.com.

Solution Saturday: I Have a Story Idea, but Lack the Discipline to Write It

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At least, that’s what you think.

Welcome to our first Solution Saturday, your chance to find solutions to the “writer problems” keeping you from achieving your literary ambitions.

There are a lot of people wandering around the globe with amazing ideas in their heads. For some reason, humans are really good at coming up with stories. We’ve been telling them for centuries. We’re constantly seeking out new stories to read, when it feels like we’ve run out of our own to tell.

Some writers are really good at transferring their ideas from head to hand. They can get an idea and start working on it instantly, if they want to. Some writers have a little bit more difficulty, as we like to say here, putting their ideas into words.

If the latter describes you, you’re in the right place.

Does this “writer problem” make you a bad writer? Of course not. Anyone with an idea can turn that idea into something real.

Let’s say you have this great story idea. You’ve had it in your head for a long time. You keep meaning to work it out, to start writing it even in small bits and pieces. But it seems you just don’t have the “discipline” to make any progress.

So. How do you change that?

Here are a few solutions to help you turn your idea into a real, physical piece of writing.

Solution 1: Talk About It

This isn’t necessarily a suggestion to drag your closest friend into a secluded corner of the nearest coffee shop and spilling your idea out on the table for them. But if that’s what you think might help you—if you’re one of those people who has to “talk out” their problems—go for it. Just ask them if it’s okay first. If they’re willing to listen, both of you might end up benefitting from the experience.

If you’re not comfortable telling other people about your ideas, this is where a journal, private blog, unlisted video blog or imaginary friend/stuffed animal/God can come in handy (if applicable?). Talk to yourself, for what it’s worth. The simple act of speaking or writing aimlessly about your thoughts might help you get a better grasp on what you want to do with the idea next.

Solution 2: Outline It

Okay, so you might not be a huge fan of outlining. Years of forced outlining for a grade in English class may have turned you off to the process a long time ago. But this is your idea, your work. You don’t have to do it in any specific format. You don’t have to explain your thoughts in detail, if you’re not ready to. It doesn’t even have to make sense.

Start by jotting down anything you think of when your idea comes to mind—in a Word document, on the back of a napkin, whatever works for you (just don’t accidentally thorw away the napkin). A place? A problem? A character’s name or a vague description of a made-up historical event? Think of the fragmented shards of information you may or may not have told someone else. It doesn’t matter how organized (or not) you present it. Sometimes, just getting it out of your head is the first of many triumphant steps.

Solution 3: Schedule It 

If your biggest struggle is finding the time to sit down and crank out a few hundred words here and there, you have to make it work to fit your lifestyle. If you work full-time and have evening obligations, you might only have time for 10 minutes of writing before bed. Ten minutes is better than zero, but the key here is to make the process part of your routine as soon as possible.

Five minutes of your lunch break, the commute home (unless you drive—please don’t write and drive!), between classes, while you’re waiting for your mocha Frapp at Starbucks—whatever works. It doesn’t have to take large chunks out of your day. Once you get better at keeping up with it, you can work toward dedicating more time to each scribble session. 

June already? Camp NaNoWriMo is upon us! Check out our tips for making time to write when you don’t have any.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re still having trouble getting your ideas out. It’s a skill, just like learning to read. No one is going to steal your idea. And if they do, well, they’re dumb. You thought of it first.

Give it time, and be patient. You are a writer with an idea. You are more powerful, and capable, than you know.

Do you have a “writer problem” that you can’t seem to find a solution to? Leave a comment or tweet @MegDowell with the hashtag #NRSaturdaySolutions and we might help you solve your problem in next week’s post!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Writing a Novel

It’s not an easy task, and not everyone can do it. But there’s no harm in trying.

My advice? One project at a time. Don’t cheat on your novel with another one. I hate it when I’m just browsing around discussion boards featuring novel-writing and I read comments like, “Well, I’ve started a couple books, but I never finish them, because I just keep getting new ideas that are better than the old ones, so I start a new one without finishing the old one.”

Brain implosion.

Don’t! Don’t do that! That’s bad news! You’re never going to finish ANYTHING if you let your ideas control you, instead of being the one to control your ideas. Write them down, plan them out, but DO NOT start writing unless you’re one hundred percent sure you want to abandon your current project. This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to drop a novel after forty thousand words just because you’re bored. You have to finish, because starting a novel should be like comitting to raising a child. How’s it going to feel if you just stop taking care of it? Exactly.

I’m not saying that, if you’ve never finished a novel, then you’re never going to be a writer. I’m not here to crush your dreams, unless that’s what you came here to find. Maybe, instead of trying to start so many novels, you could try getting your stories out on a much smaller scale, like a short story. Those are a lot less work, a lot less time, and sometimes a lot more satisfying. Try it sometime. And then, maybe when you think you’re ready, you could give the whole novel thing a try.

My last point? If you’re just going to talk about your ideas, there’s something wrong.

If you’re that passionate about writing, then you wouldn’t be telling me about your story—you would be on your laptop writing it. The excuse “I’m too busy” does not exist in the writing world. If you’re too busy to get your ideas down on paper, then you don’t care enough about them to write them down, or you don’t know how. During this past year’s NaNoWriMo, I spent four days out of thirty on the couch sick with the flu, studied constantly for the ACT, wrote three seperate AP English papers, went to school seven to eight hours a day, got an average nine to ten hours of sleep most nights, and wrote a 50,000-word novel. I also raised my grades and stayed on top of my homework, because I MADE TIME for my passion.

Yes, I was very busy. But my ideas needed to be written down, and they were.

I understand that there are people out there who write just for fun, and I admire that. My writing isn’t necessarily all business, either. I’m talking here about people whose dream it is to publish their own novels, who want to have what it takes to make it out there in that terrible market they call book-selling. If you’re going to make it, you have to put in the effort. You can’t just quit in the middle, and you can’t let other things get in the way.

But for those of you who just write on the side, who really don’t care whether or not you ever publish a short story? It’s all good. You have my complete and eternal respect.

And for those of you out there (Evie) who sit down and read every word of your aspiring writer friends’ novels? You’re awesome. You’re beijing (a.k.a. amazing). You’re the ones they’ll turn to as they struggle to acheive their wildest dreams. Whether or not they ever get there, you’ll be the ones they’ll always remember. You’re also the ones who they’ll be thanking when their first book gets published.

Wow. That was some rant, huh?

Love&hugs, Meg♥