There is a great quote on writing by E.B. White: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.” Keeping a regular writing schedule and devoting decent-sized blocks of time to the writing process is essential. However, it’s not always possible (for me) to work this way during the week. When that happens, it’s easy to fall into an all-or-nothing mindset: if I don’t have two hours to devote to a piece now, I’m putting it down because the whole thing is futile and I’ll never finish it.
To get around this way of thinking, I try to focus on getting bits of work done during “stolen time.” I’ll get up 15 minute earlier in the morning to write, take my laptop on the train on the way to work, bring my notebook when I grab coffee in the afternoon, or write for half an hour after dinner, before I start to wind down for bed. By getting something on the page—anything—I feel a little better about writing and that makes it easier to sit down again to write the next day.
I think this is true of reading, too. Anyone who writes loves to read, but there are only so many hours in a day. Everything I want to read and haven’t read yet can feel overwhelming. If I make the commitment to read two short pieces of fiction a day or several poems, I feel like I’ve accomplished something and that makes me feel less overwhelmed and able to pick up again the next day.
While committing to work in small increments of time can be helpful in overcoming a writing slump, distraction is still a stumbling block. I’ve learned that less technology is better when I commit to writing because plugging-in can completely kill my creativity and productivity. It’s so much easier to send a text or read another article online then to get 5-10 minutes of writing in, especially when I’m not feeling inspired. Despite knowing this, turning everything off feels unnatural. We’ve all become so attached to our phones and the feeling of constant connection. I have to force myself to unplug. I’m always glad that I made the effort even though I still find it so difficult.
Building a good practice is, like most things, a question of habit. It’s finding what works for you and sticking to it regardless of how overwhelmed you feel or how many rejections you receive. The more I practice being mindful of good writing habits the more ingrained they become—but it’s a constant challenge.
Courtney Hayden is from Saratoga Springs, New York. Her most recent piece appears in the February 2018 edition of Bird’s Thumb. She works in finance and has a degree in political science and economics from Union College.
Read Courtney's short story Still Life/Minor Accidents.