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Free Mini Teleseminars in March 2013
I'm giving two free mini teleseminars for writers with Tania Casselle on March 13 and March 16, 2013.
Basically it's a conference call - you just dial in.
Our subject: 3 Top Tips to Keep on Track with your Writing with time for Q&A. This 2013 event is now over. Sign up for my newsletter (above) for notices on future free teleseminars.

THE WRITE PRIORITIES: How to Give your Writing the Energy it Deserves

I haven't cleared my desk all summer, even though there are tall piles of important, official-looking papers glaring at me. It's a shocking admission, I know, but it just hasn't been a priority compared to my writing, and I don't have time to do it all.

There are several friends I owe a call to (and really want to call! I'm sorry if you are one of them....) but they've had to wait too. I've let email stack up, and not checked it for several days, even though it takes serious discipline to resist it. And one of my favorite jazz musicians, Frank Morgan, lives in town and has given several recent shows I've had to skip, much as it pains me. Amazingly enough, none of these omissions has ever led to any terrible consequences.

It's hard to find clear chunks of time for writing without letting everything else take over. Even though I've published 4 books, I'm in the same boat as everyone else on this. I don't earn enough from publishing to devote my entire time to writing – few authors do – so it's a juggling act as I struggle with the competing imperatives in my life. And fragments of time - a half hour here, or an hour there - just aren't as effective for me. I need to enter the work for longer periods. As our world gets busier and busier, this has become an issue for every writer I know.

I've discovered that to do what I need to do in my writing, sometimes I just have to let other things slide, even if they seem important too. (As long as the bills are paid and the electricity is still working!)

You might know the old Time Management equation about urgent/not important tasks, versus tasks that are important, but not urgent. It's too easy to let the urgent but not ultimately important things claim all our energy, while the important but not urgent elements of life slide right by...

One of the greatest distractions is the media: newspapers, magazines, television. We all want to keep up with current events, and in fact have an obligation to do so, especially in difficult times like these. But most of what we read and watch is extremely repetitive. Although my latest novel 'The Time of New Weather' is politically and socially topical, I found while working on it that if I looked at newspapers or magazines once a week, that was enough to keep me abreast of what was happening in the world.

I often tell my writing students to skip reading the daily paper, ignore magazines, and forget TV altogether, if only for a month. They're amazed at how much time they suddenly find for their writing. And let's face it, the mass media is rarely truly inspiring. If writing is our priority, isn't it better to use our precious free time in the service of things that inspire us and support us in our writing – a great film or a good book by that author we've always wanted to read?

Many of my students say they don't have time to read books (although they know this is essential to the development of a writer's craft). But they spend hours a day scanning magazines and newspapers or watching TV. Checking in with a good online news source for 15 minutes will provide an excellent summary of world events. Once that's taken care of, we can return to the business of our writing. This is how we writers do our work of contributing helpfully to the world. And remember, inspiring ourselves is fun, and builds energy, rather than draining it.

It's a question of maintaining a balance, as best we can. Sometimes we have to make hard choices about what things we can put aside, at least for a time. And when we lose our balance and fall over (as is inevitable), we have to keep in mind that this is natural, we all have commitments, life emergencies happen or fun stuff comes up that we simply can't refuse. We all have crunch periods, and once those are over, we just do what we can to get back on track.

The biggest problem for me is that I have to remember to get myself back on track as soon as possible after being diverted, or weeks can go by before I'm back in the groove.

Here are some things that might help you if you are in the same situation:

a) Make a writing plan, with deadlines. The more specific the better. For some people a plan is as simple as "I want to get into the habit of spending 3 hours a week on writing, with an eventual goal of 5 hours a week." For those working on a specific project, you'll maybe outline the elements of your project that you aim to complete by a certain date. Block out time in your weekly/monthly calendar to DO this. Then stick to that time, the same as you would any other appointment. If you have to change it, reschedule for another time.

The value of a weekly/monthly plan is that at the beginning of each week we don't have to struggle to get our head around what we're going to do - we just dive in and do it. So it saves mental energy and confusion, and wasting time considering all our options.

The plan is always open to adjustment of course, and we'll often have to adapt it to circumstances, or even throw it out the window for a week or two. But at least it gives us a starting point.

b) If YOU don't prioritize your writing, nobody else will. Make sure writing is a clear priority - meaning it goes near the top of the list of things to do, not near the bottom. And once you start taking it seriously - as seriously as you take a dentist appointment or a date with friends - then it actually becomes easier to carve out time.

c) Get away once or twice a year for a weekend, or even a day - someplace where there is no voice mail, email, snail mail, TV, internet, etc. I just did this for 5 nights in a cheap, rural cabin. Without the distractions of everyday life I finished 1/3 of a screenplay, and still had time to exercise and meditate every day. I rarely get 5 clear days, but even one uninterrupted day can really move your projects forward and revitalize your writing energy.

d) If you have a writer friend, then take a weekend together (put in a silly bid on Priceline for a nearby hotel!) or meet at one of your homes. Agree to write separately/in silence all day, and meet to chat about your writing and read what you've written to each other over supper. Although maintaining silence for a day can seem awkward at first, you'll be amazed at the energy and time that is freed up for your work. Be creative in your strategies to give yourself clear, uninterrupted time. The creative act doesn't just take place on the page or computer screen, but in the whole of our lives.

e) Don't expect to be Superman, or Superwoman. Live with your own imperfections and forgive yourself if you let things go. As Tania, my wife, says, she can't finish her novel AND dust the bookshelves. And I don't even have time to think about dusting the bookshelves. So we have very dusty bookshelves. This has never resulted in any great trauma or tragedy – but reaching the end of our lives without having done what we really wanted to do would be truly tragic.

As for me, now that I'm finally off deadline, I plan to clear that pile of papers on my desk. Maybe tomorrow....

Sean Murphy

©2006 Sean Murphy. www.murphyzen.com