The Craft: Rules for Writing, #4: Dedicated Time

[This is part of a continuing series on the craft of writing fiction.]

We’ve covered a lot of ground on my rules of writing, but there are still two to go. Today, is another simple and easily explained rule, (just like the first one). Again, the trick is in actually doing it.

by Matthew Kirkland

It’s simply this: Dedicate Time to writing. If you want to make progress with your writing you have to dedicate time to the process, time when you’re not doing ANYTHING ELSE. That means no texting, no talking on the phone, no reading, no surfing the Net, no blogging, no TV, no hanging out with friends, no lounging at a café or bar. It sucks, but you have to do it.

It’s not easy, take it from me. When I started writing, I just did it whenever, however, whatever. I left the phone on (and would pick it up if it rang), left the Internet on, read a book, answered the door, whatever. And that was fine for awhile until one day when I was writing a really good section: the characters would be speaking great lines of dialogue, the action would be terse, the descriptions taut, the writing just humming along and then—Bam!—a knock at the door, a ring of the phone, an email alert and I would break away. I came back to the writing 5 minutes or 15 minutes later and the moment was gone. The writing was wooden, the dialogue  forced and fake and the action just froze and I was looking at a flickering cursor on the screen.

Well, after that happened a few times I had about enough of it. I was writing in the LBC at the time and I started tuning the world out and the writing on—at least from 10 to 4  everyday. First, I stopped answering the doors—”Let ‘em knock.” Next, I turned off  the phone—the  cell and the land line—literally unplugging the later from the wall. I turned off the Internet too. That doesn’t mean I always wrote successfully, or at all.  Some days, my discipline slacked, I left the phone on accidentally, I surfed the Net, I read a book instead, I lounged. But pretty soon I got to the point where everything  was OFF, and I would either write or do nothing. And there were a couple of days when I did just that: I stared at the screen, I walked around the apartment, but I didn’t write. I didn’t do much of anything, but that was a part of the process, for me, of becoming a more disciplined writer. I haven’t had a do-nothing day like that in years.

It’s also important that my significant others and friends get this and support it. All my close friends know that I won’t be reachable on Sundays during the day because I’ll be at a café writing. My cell will be with me, in airplane mode, and not receiving signals. I don’t have any friends at the café, so no one will strike up a conversation with me and if they do I can get out of it quickly with a few curt answers about being busy. I usually have the Internet on, I admit it. But I leave it on because it hasn’t been a distraction and I have found it useful to warm up my brain by reading some news and I will sometimes do a little research in a pinch. But I won’t go on my blog or Twitter when I’m writing. [Although I do send a little update out on Twitter when I start writing and when the day is finished, just to keep everybody updated.]

So, that’s rule #4. It’s simple, hard and true. If you haven’t carved out a dedicated time to write, try it for your next writing session. Turn everything off and just go.

I realize not everyone can follow this advice easily (those with toddlers, primary caregivers, etc.), but in those situations you have to ask yourself  how you can carve out a little time (babysitter? late night or early morning writing sessions?), turn everything off and get to writing. Steal time whenever you can.

Good luck. It’s not always easy.

“There Is No Space and Time.” I’m not so sure, but Richard Ashcroft sure seems convinced.

In an ongoing sub-feature of the blog, I’m highlighting each time a reader from a new country comes to the blog. This week, we have three new countries:

  • Paraguay
  • Antigua and Barbuda (I thought Barbuda and Barbados were the same thing. How wrong I was!)
  • United Arab Emirates

Welcome, Everybody!

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