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The Writing Schedule
When I started this 3-part discussion of my writing schedule, I struggled with deciding which order to put them in. Do I start with the practical diligence of intentionally setting aside time to write, or should we first talk about setting priorities and figuring out what, if anything, should take precedence over it? Or would a better start, given this intensely capitalist world, have been to remind you that rest is an important part of being human so definitely don’t forget to do that (and that also, btw, if you don’t rest, the other two things may very well fall apart anyway)?
They could really go in any order, but I wondered how it would best come across. I’m still not sure I made the right decision. I’m not sure there is one right decision for all readers.
In the grand scope of a writer’s life, they all factor in. When I look at my schedule, I can see clearly that all three elements play a role in what I write, when I write, how often I actually finish something, and how satisfied I am with it. They’re all important.
They’re just not equally important all the time. And this realization has been such a saving grace to me, especially as I read what other writers are doing and inevitably start comparing myself to them. When I have an incorrect assessment of where I’m at, even the gentlest nuggets of advice or most innocuous comments can land as harsh judgment, especially if they’re coupled with some unreasonable expectations from the story I’m making up in my head about where I think I should be.
But when I take a moment to notice all that is going on and figure out what I need, I am better able to embrace the element of my writing schedule that requires the most attention right now. I’m better able to celebrate how well what everyone else is doing works for them without feeling bad that, in this particular season, it doesn’t work for me. I am better able to enjoy my writing life right now, even if it doesn’t look like it used to or how I want it to look in the future.
The part that is most important to me right now is rest. Protecting my downtime. Even more fiercely - some of you long-time readers who have followed me over from my personal blog might want to prepare to be scandalized - than protecting my writing time.
There are many reasons why this element is my main focus right now. I’ve had a few minor health challenges that have needed my attention lately. My full-time job is ramping up for our busy summer season, so when I get home from that, I need a significant breather. I am also in a season of pushback against the idea that every second of the day has to be accounted for/monetized to be worthwhile. Finally, I want to be a kind person, which is not always what happens when I’m perpetually overstimulated and overwhelmed.
I call my rest periods time-outs. A little throwback to my days of working daycare when the kids (and sometimes the teachers) just needed a little break to go sit and chill for a minute and then come back to the group to work things out. [PSA - time-outs work better (read: at all) for both children and adults when they’re given as opportunities for rest rather than punishments. They’re meant to be restorative, not retributive.]
As an introvert, I find that a certain amount of downtime is always crucial. I take frequent breaks at work, and I budget carefully (and have two paying jobs) so that I can afford to live alone and have space for some solitude. But prioritizing time-outs means that the chunks of time I’m putting aside for it right now are huge. Sometimes they’re for an evening; sometimes they last the whole day. The main requirements are that time-outs must be:
at least 5 consecutive hours
devoid of any plan or expectation so that I can spend it all doing absolutely nothing if I need to
at least twice a week.
I usually end up spending these times at home reading, tinkering on the piano, or tidying. Sometimes I color or knit or do something crafty. Sometimes I play games on my phone. Sometimes I watch TV. Sometimes I nap. Sometimes I even leave the apartment to leisurely browse through a bookstore or library or take a walk around the neighborhood or do something else that’s fun. The key is keeping the time open to do (or not do) whatever I want in the moment.
Making this happen has been a creative enterprise all by itself. I didn’t have 5-hour chunks of unscheduled and unplanned time before this year. Ever. Even when I planned not to leave home all day, I still had a to-do list a mile long that included reading a certain number of hours and cleaning and bulk cooking and at least one large writing session, and I felt bad if I didn’t get it all done. Days off were not really days off. They were a time for getting everything done that I didn’t have time to do the rest of the week, and they were chock full of high expectations that often turned out to not be feasible.
When the frequency of my panic attacks rose from one or two a week to three or four a day last summer, however, I figured something was up. Something had to change. And probably pretty drastically. It took six months to find something that helps me get the rest I need and make room in my schedule for it. It has not been easy, especially the part where I’ve had to accept that there are some things I’m just going to miss out on and some people I’m just going to disappoint.
But it’s working so well I’m not sure I’ll ever go back. I kinda like making rest a priority.
Which element is your primary focus right now?