Harvesting Writing Time

Last time I wrote about the wonderful opportunity I had to hole up in a hotel for a weekend and do nothing but write the whole time. One of my takeaways from that weekend was how much easier it was to gain, and maintain, writing momentum when there was nothing else to occupy my brain space. Pretty obvious in retrospect. But now that I’m back into the flow of things, I wrote about how it felt like writing was like watching a moving in five or ten minute chunks over several days, frustratingly slow and disjointed. And I lamented that there was little I could do about it, as I had already harvested all the possible time out of my day I could to get writing done.

So this entry I thought I would record for posterity how I manage to scrap together the time I’m able to at this point in my life. This year also happens to be the first year I started tracking how much time I’ve been spending between certain writing tasks, so I actually have some numbers to go along it.

As mentioned throughout this blog, I wake up early to get the lion’s share of my writing done. And I am not a morning person. Never will be. I look forward to the day I can follow my body’s natural circadian rhythm, but for the foreseeable future that just isn’t possible. The saying is true that “you make time for things that are important,” and writing is important to me. So I set my alarm for four a.m. every morning and drag myself to the computer screen (coffee in hand of course).

I’ve had the best success with writing in short sessions (30-45 minute chunks) with short breaks in-between (to check email, make coffee, go to the bathroom, etc.) and then daisy chain them together. So I start every morning with a 45 minute session, and then depending on time (when I actually made it to the computer—more on that below) and what is going on that morning, I’ll add in another 30-45 minute session. So I generally log between 75-90 minutes every day first thing in the morning.

The alarm might go off at 4 a.m., but with a baby I can count on waking up with once a night, a dog with terminal cancer that needs to be let out once a night and a toddler with random nightmares thrown into the mix, quality sleep is hard to come by. And though the spirit is willing, sometimes the body has its own opinions about what’s best for it. For a stretch there I had a terrible time getting up, and overslept to 5 a.m. (the horror!). It got so bad, that I started researching alarm clocks to try and find a solution. I finally settled on “Sleep Cycle” which is able to track your sleep cycles and wake you up at the optimal time in a given window you set. I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect or what, but I love it. It’s not a silver bullet for waking me up, but it’s close. I’ve been far more consistent waking up on time using it. And it logs your quality of sleep and how long you sleep. For the record I average 6 hours 14 minutes a night and never log better than 75% quality sleep. So if you ever meet me and I look like I’m about fall asleep, now you know.

But back to eeking out writing time throughout the day. The early morning writing sessions are the only static, consistent time I can count on. But I have a handful of other times I’ve been able to find on occasions. The first of those is my lunch break. It depends on what’s going on at work, but sometimes I can use my lunch hour to leave work, find a nearby coffee shop, and write for 30 minutes. It doesn’t happen every day, but I actually really enjoy that time, and in a words-per-minute sense, it’s my most productive time. I think because I only have 30 minutes (I set a timer) before I need to stop and get back to work, that helps give me focus so as not to waste the time.

And then, as you can imagine, the only other time to write is then in the evening after the kids go to bed. But this can get dicey on when they go to bed. Because don’t forget—I have to wake up X amount of hours for the morning writing sessions. So some evenings, I can squeeze a session in, but it depends upon the combination of how long a session would be before I need to get to bed and fatigue. My general cutoff is, if the session would be over 20 minutes (regardless of fatigue), then it’s a go. I’d say I’m able to pull this off maybe two to three times a week. Generally, by the time the kids are tucked in my wife and I are both almost always running for the bedroom to go to sleep.

That’s a typical weekday, and the weekend is actually very similar. Except instead of work in the middle of the day, it’s spending time with the kids, which I don’t regret in the least. You make time for the things that are important, and those two little girls are substantially more important than writing.

Hmm, this post is already rather long for me, so I think I’m going to cut it off here. So with the times I outlined above and according my handy-dandy tracker, I’ve averaged 2 hours 12 minutes a day so far in 2016. Not too shabby.

This post I wrote about what works for me in terms of writing. Next time I’ll write about all the experiments/methods that didn’t work for me personally.

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