I’ve recently undertaken a major organizing project at home, tackling boxes in the basement that have nagged at me for years. Now that I’m in the thick of it, I want to work on it all day every day, which leaves little time to focus on writing. And yet, working at my writing every day is a top priority as well. How to balance the two and still have time to take care of family and the usual demands of life?
I try to have periods of intense focus each day on both tasks. Time in the morning totally focused on writing, followed by an hour or two in the afternoon totally focused on the organization project. This sounds so much easier on paper (or computer screen) than it is in practice.
In practice, each of these tasks can easily be derailed by an entire day of random small tasks–kids, walking the dog, exercise, paying bills, answering email, blogging, etc.
It’s possible to accomplish a great deal even when time is limited though. If my morning writing gets squeezed down to a half hour or an hour, I know that if I stay totally focused for that amount of time, I will be happy with my progress. I found myself with only an hour instead of my imagined 3 hours to write today before the kids got home from school, and within that hour, I reminded myself of all the reasons I love being a writer. Within that hour, I reached a state of flow.
You’ve probably heard of flow, and I dearly hope you’ve experienced it. It’s the only feeling I can think of that would compel a person to slog through writing an entire novel–or ten entire novels–without ever knowing if another person will read it. Certainly not limited to writing, anyone can reach a state of flow doing any demanding but potentially enjoyable activity, whether it’s rock climbing or painting or sculpting or karate or doing taxes (okay, that last one’s a stretch). It’s the deeply satisfying state of total focus that occurs when we practice a skill we love to practice.
We can’t make it happen every time we write, but we can set up the conditions that make it most likely to occur. Schedule quiet time to write, sit down and do it without doing anything else (no checking email or Facebook!), and every time your attention wanders, bring it back to the manuscript. The longer you stay focused, the more likely you are to enter flow–and find yourself exhilarated and happy at the end of your writing session.