Miss Write's Advice: Using short windows of creativity

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Category: Writing

Our resident Agony Aunt is back with some advice on using short windows of creativity. If you've got a writing dilemma, don’t suffer in silence! Send your problems over to Miss Write.

I recently started a new job where I do shift work. One day I work in the morning, the next at night or even overnight in some cases. Are there any good techniques a writer can employ to maximise the short windows of creativity that is otherwise lacking due to a lack of routine. Nathan

It can be difficult to juggle writing with other commitments, particularly when work has the annoying habit of getting in the way. But don’t use your busy schedule as an excuse to avoid writing. By sitting down in advance and thinking about what you want to achieve and the realistic amount of time you have, I can guarantee you’ll be far more productive (and smug).

Here are my top five tips for maximising short windows of creativity:

1.    Plan, plan, plan

The boring part, I know, but planning is a necessary evil when you’re so pushed for time. Even if you only know your schedule a day or two in advance, you can still do some forward planning. Sit down and look at your work hours for the days or weeks ahead and work out the realistic amount of distraction-free time you have, not including time spent doing essential things like buying food and watching Netflix. Then, Write. It. Down. Once you see your goals on the page, you’ll be much more likely to commit. Be organised but flexible to deal with any last minute schedule changes which may occur.  

You can also plan in a much more practical way. Get your writing tools and snacks ready (you'll always need a lot more snacks than you think). Make sure you have plenty of writing exercises to hand for quick inspiration. This way, you won’t be able to procrastinate. I know, Scrooge.

2.    Set realistic goals

Once you've sorted out the practical stuff, it’s time to think about the creative side of things. What do you want to write? You could go with something as simple as ‘finish chapter four’ for your plan. We’re not concerned with the gritty details of that chapter, but setting down some specifics will give you a clear focus. 

If you want to be even more organised, create a long term plan which is broken down into smaller goals. If a word or page count helps, add that in. You also need to accommodate for busier times in your schedule. For example, if you know there’s lots of overtime coming up, adjust your word count for that week or skip it altogether and get back on track later.   

I’d also suggest keeping your definition of creativity open. You don’t have to finish a novel in a few months if you really don’t have time. You could just make notes or short sketches about your ideas and build your way up to a bigger piece.

3.    Be kind to yourself (but avoid excuses)

If you’re serious about developing your work, you will need to pull through and keep going when the excuses are just too tempting. Planning will obviously help you stay on track, but you’ll need to feel supported too. Talk to fellow writers and track your progress together. Having someone to answer to will also ensure that you get things done, even if it’s only for the excruciating shame involved otherwise.

But remember to be kind to yourself. If you don’t quite hit that word count one week, it’s okay. Your writing will still be there. Take a deep breath and keep going. 

4.    Adapt your routine

Being pushed for time also means that you have to be adaptable and creative with your approach to writing. If you haven’t got time to sit down and write a chapter from beginning to end, try scribbling down some keywords about your characters or interesting overheard dialogue at work*. Take a notebook with you everywhere. Give yourself the time to flesh out your ideas and you’ll be able to hit the ground running when you do have time to write full sentences. You can also write on the move - at the bus stop, during your commute, on your lunch hour - or use a writing app to boost productivity.

*I can’t, however, help with any subsequent lawsuits.

5.    Assess your progress regularly

Flexibility is important, so assess your progress regularly and if something isn’t working, try a different approach. Maybe your intended word count is too high or you just can’t concentrate when you get home from work. Remember that writers work in many different ways! You could also use competition deadlines or writing schemes like NaNoWriMo to push yourself even further.

Once you’ve established a routine-of-sorts which works, writing will eventually feel manageable and maybe even a tiny bit enjoyable. Even as little as 10 minutes writing a day will help you move towards your goals and you’ll have plenty of time left to rearrange your sock drawer, write to-do lists and watch ‘just one more episode.’

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or @ScottishBkTrust on Twitter, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

Get more useful tips from our new all-singing, all-dancing Advice and Resources for Writers pages or rummage around in Miss Write's archives here.

Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.