Juggling To Write: Brainspace, Keystrokes and Time

My calendar is not really blank!

As my writing commitments have increased, the good news is that I’ve been doing a lot of writing. The bad news is that I haven’t found the time or energy to write here on the blog. I apologize to my readers, but also to myself because I truly enjoy writing this blog. I’ve done some brainstorming about a new schedule that will take into account the growing number of deadlines I have taken on. This new schedule will start in November, since in October, I will be making the 30 Day Spiritual Exercises, and I will be completely offline for about 35 days.

My experience of writing during these nonblogging months has alternated between intense writing weeks and weeks where I simply “reconnect” with my writing projects in a minimal way, so that when I get back to them, I can dive right in. It’s been quite challenging. Here’s a list of what I’ve been up to:

July

  • Completed revising one of the books of saints’ biographies that I co-authored
  • Finished rough draft of book of meditations for Eucharistic adoration

(August–updating and vacation)

September

  • Revising the  second book of saints’ biographies
  • Wrote my first (monthly) blogpost for The Catholic Writers’ Guild blog, which I’ll be re-posting here next week
  • Gathering feedback on the rough draft of my book on Eucharistic spirituality (If you make Eucharistic hours of adoration and are interested in giving me feedback on a chapter, contact me here!)
  • Developing a treatment for our first two digital video productions which I’ll be writing in 2013
  • Writing my first article for The Catholic Register (yes, I’ll be a regular contributor starting this month!)
  • Prepping my September and October DVD reviews for Salt + Light Radio.

November and December of 2012 will be taken up with my on-going writing commitments, an in-depth revision of my rough draft of the book on the Eucharist, and developing the content for my author website–which I’ve dreamed of doing for several years!

To me, this feels like a long list for a part-time writer (I write in the mornings four to five days a week, depending on other commitments). Now that I have more short-term deadlines, I wonder how other writers juggle book-length projects with the shorter stuff that has regular deadlines. (Please share below in the comments!) At the moment, these are the tools that are helping me juggle brainspace, projects, and time:

  • Focus. Most writing sessions have a clear focus that I determine early in the week. Usually, this means I don’t have to waste time during the writing session deciding what I’ll work on. Then, while I’m taking a walk or brewing my cup of coffee that will take me through my writing session, I start thinking about the article or chapter I’ll be working on, even before I sit down to write.
  • Realistic scheduling. I create a writing schedule going into every new big project–usually for six months to a year. This schedule includes my big nonwriting commitments, and some “extra” time for writing projects so that I actually have time to brainstorm and plan, a step I used to do but never used to plan time for.  Throughout the project, I check back on how I’m doing with my schedule every month, so that I can make adjustments if I fall behind or get ahead. (This is really helpful because one of the few times I am consistently unable to write is when I’m super-anxious about a tight deadline. Giving myself extra lead-time and setting false deadlines so that I finish projects early enables me to avoid the time-killing anxiety.)
  • Respect for my writing rhythm. If I haven’t been able to write for a week because of my other commitments, I plan at least two days of “lighter” writing sessions to ease back in. Also, when other projects prevent me from writing for more than a couple of days, I find ways to “check in” with my current writing project–for example, ten minutes of brainstorming each day about a particular chapter means that when I am finally able to open my Scrivener project file, my subconscious is prepped and it’s easier to start writing.
  • Take the pressure off quantity and focus on going in deep. I try to “judge” my writing sessions by the time I spend writing, not word count. As long as I have been faithful to putting my attention towards writing (and haven’t “caved” into the pressure of running errands or answering email), that’s a good writing session. Even if I’ve only written 50 words in a couple of hours, I know that in another session I’ll be likely to write 2000 words.
  •  Use “writing help” books which prevent me from panicking when I am either overwhelmed with too many ideas or can’t find an original thought: Roy Peter Clark’s Help! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces and The Writer’s Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques from Your Writing Career Coach by Christian Katz. Since in the past I’ve focused more on long-form (books on spirituality and feature screenplays), I currently find these two books help me to think more creatively about my smaller, nonfiction projects, and how to deal with tighter deadlines.
  • Begin with an act of faith. For me, writing is part of my mission of living and communicating Christ. Since I almost always start a writing session feeling inadequate, I begin not just with a prayer for help, but with an act of faith such as, “Lord, Your grace is enough for me” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). This act of faith reminds me that the cares I bring to this writing session are in God’s hands. It enables me to put aside all other concerns so that I can listen deeply to what the Lord is inviting me to say, and to what people might need to hear.

What are your “juggling tools”?

One final note: we are having a Come and See Discernment Weekend Retreat in Toronto next weekend, and I’m sure the five participants would be grateful for your prayerful support as they enter more deeply into their vocational discernment about Pauline religious life.

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