One of my school visit presentations is titled: The 7 Pieces of the Storytelling Puzzle. In it I talk to students about the seven pieces I think are necessary in putting together a solid story. Do you know what piece #1 is? The element that is more important than any other? Here are the clues I give the students to help them figure it out.
The answer? Time.
Just like any other skill, writing requires and investment of time. Want to be a fast swimmer? Gotta get in the pool. Want to improve your free throw shooting percentage? Better get on the court. Want to be a better writer? Then you need to spend some time getting words on the page.
But it’s more than that. I also ask them to raise their hand if they go to t-ball practice. Swimming lessons? Dance class? Karate? Church? Inevitably every hand is raised. Do we just show up for these activities whenever we feel like it, I ask them. Their heads furiously shake no. “You’re right!” I say. “We show up for these things at a specific time. Every week.”
The same is true for writing. I tell them about my writing club that meets twice a month. I tell them about waking up at 6:30 am to write before my family is out of bed and writing after my kiddos have been banished to their bedrooms each night. I show up. Consistently. And that is how I have been able to write 8 books and a weekly blog post and, and, and…
Without TIME, nothing will happen. Your tiny seedling of a story idea will shrivel and fail to light your imagination on fire. And that’s a pretty sad thing. I don’t want that for you.
Time spent doesn’t always look the same. Here are a few examples and ways that you can invest in your writing.
In addition to my writing time, I also spend time listening to podcasts and reading articles from magazines like the ones pictured below. PW KidsCast, the SCBWI Bulletin and Writer’s Digest are among my favorites. Trade publications are a crucial component of the time I spend.
A new writing acquaintance of mine has a weekly tradition she calls Library Fridays. It is exactly what it sounds like. Each Friday she goes to the library. While there, she reads books in the genre she is trying to write. This ritual was born after a particularly painful critique in which she was told her work wasn’t living up to industry standard. It wasn’t following the genre structure. It wasn’t a good fit for the age range she was attempting to target. She needed to study up, to spend some time. And so, she has made a commitment to her story, to her craft. When we spoke, several months into her journey, she could rattle off a dozen favorite titles in her chosen genre, the authors as familiar to her as friends. I am willing to bet that her investment of time is paying off big time in her writing.
Some writers do a prompt a day, a poem a day, a short story a week or some other routine challenge. Ross Gay just published a book of essays, a collection of one year’s worth of daily reflections. The Artist’s Way and it’s theory of “morning pages” is a classic in the writing world and is a good place to start when thinking about starting a daily writing habit. I know many friends who a big fans. When I taught middle school full time, I asked my students to write for ten minutes every day. I gave them a prompt, and once they were started, I often wrote as well. I miss this short daily writing time, especially when I look back at the quantity of words I was able to produce. A plethora of story ideas were born within the pages of the notebook I kept for this single purpose. If you want to get started with a quick prompt a day habit, join my eNewsletter for 5 free prompts, or go to this collection of 1,000 writing prompts for students gathered by the New York Times. If you are more of a visual person, the NYT also posts a picture prompt each day!
Next month I am facilitating a writing workshop that will give you the precious commodity of time. During the Story Seedlings Boot Camp, you will block off seven hours to explore a new story idea. Two of those hours will be completely devoted to actual writing, all alone, with your thoughts and ideas. No interruptions from humans who need you to make food, clean something, drive somewhere or focus on a distracting task. Participants will also leave with materials to help them continue their story journey and tips for making time in their real life to write.
A few final words of wisdom on the topic of writing time…
In addition to training yourself to respect your writing time, you must also train the people in your life to respect it as well. Back when I was working full time, I wrote every Wednesday from 3:30-6. (Writing Wednesdays!) Eventually even my mom quit calling me during this time because she knew I wouldn’t answer… because I was writing!
Start small. Try just ten minutes of your lunch break. If you plan to go whole go straight from the start it may be hard to maintain. Instead of feeling good about the time you’ve spent, you’ll feel guilty about not writing for as long as you wanted. The guilt, if nothing else, will convince you to stop writing. Don’t sabotage yourself, there will be plenty of other obstacles.
Carry a notebook everywhere you go. Having the right tools at hand is half the battle. These are my favorite notebooks. Sturdy, lays flat, high quality paper.
If writing is in your heart… a part of who you are as a human, I hope that you take this post as a gentle but firm reminder to give yourself the gift of time.
Happy writing, Amanda
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