Crank Up the Awesome in Your Writing Days by Tackling This One Skill

By tightening our grip on just one skill in our writing life management, we can sharpen our focus, improve our ability to rest, gather momentum, and avoid burnout. What?! Yes really! Come check out this four-step tune up. |

Good Monday, my lovely lionhearts! How is all this spring cleaning treating you so far? 

At this point, we've clarified and updated our goals, we've replaced negativity with radically positive affirmations, we've dusted and decluttered, we've straightened up our online lives, and we've taken a much-deserved break from all the good noises around us.

Whew!! That's some incredible work you've been doing!

Today we're looking at another major area that can get cluttered up: how we deal with our writing time.

It's so easy for boundaries around writing time to smudge a little. To blur.

And then ... they can break down completely. 

Right? You know the feeling?

Protecting our writing time is one of those habits that requires continual tweaking and adjusting. 

OH, and by the way: feeling guilty about how you're doing with writing time management? Absolutely forbidden.

I mean it. 

So if even the thought of this is making you feel a little gloomy, just escort that sense of defeat right. out. the. door. 

Think of this as doing general maintenance around your house. We're looking at the fences, or the roof, or how the siding is holding up. The stuff that protects what's inside.

There's no point in getting upset at yourself because of hail damage on your roof, or because the fence is getting a little weak and wobbly and needs a few slats replaced.

Right? Stuff wears out, breaks down, needs strengthening and replacing. No big deal.

So we're just straightening up. And not bludgeoning ourselves for the fact that this habit, like all others, requires maintenance.

Okay? No beating yourself up.

So let's do an across-the-Internet high five, and then get started!

Here's our checklist for a writing time tune-up:

1. Starting on time is the nicest kickoff.

Whether that means 8 o'clock at night, or 8 in the morning: Whenever you've decided it's writing time, there's something mega-powerful about starting right on time.

Honestly, this is the one I struggle with the most! It's darned hard for me to get to my desk right on time. 

So this is the policy I'm adopting: I'm gonna aim to be at my desk at eight. But my honest-to-goodness writing time starts at 8:30.

I know that this strategy wouldn't work for everyone, but if I verbally tell everyone—including myself—that I've gotta be at my desk at 8, then when all the little last minute things happen (because they will), I can still make my actual start time of 8:30.

I get such a rush from starting when I say I will, as opposed to feeling like I'm scrambling to catch up. So I'm reminding myself that it's worth that extra effort! 

2. Ending on time respects both you and your work.

It's easy to feel like a productivity hero when you blast right through the end of your scheduled work day.

And when you're working from home, it's all too easy to get carried away and work later and later.

Maybe because you just love your story so much. (Yay!)

Maybe because you're aiming for a killer deadline. (Understandable.)

Or maybe because you got off to a really late start, and are desperate to make up the time. (I hear you.)

For whatever reason, it can be really tempting.

For the first few years of writing full time, I was regularly working at all hours. I especially loved working after midnight, when the house was quiet, and no one could bother me. 

But it turned into an ugly cycle.

Working late zapped my ability to get started early. It felt like the day was always half gone before I got to my work.

So I felt guilty and sluggish during the day, even though I was technically "catching up" by working late at night. (No matter what, I couldn't turn off the idea that I needed to get right to it.)

Also, I felt like work was always on my mind. (Hellooooo, burn out!)

I've realized since then, that if I want to be totally focused when I'm at my desk, then I need to also have times when I'm totally not at my desk.

I need a big chunk of time where my creativity can replenish itself, when I can actually do other things, and, you know, live.

My writing time needs a definite end point.

So I've gotten pretty consistent with this. Even when I'm in love with my story, I stop working when I say I will. (Lately, that means 5:30 p.m.)

I'll happily keep daydreaming about the story while I make dinner and chat with family. It will be there spinning in my head as I'm brushing my teeth. And I definitely jot down the ideas for plot twists, dialogue, and setting switch-ups as they occur to me.

But I'm not at the desk. My brain is allowed to breathe.

Even when I'm working on a deadline: I might let myself work an hour later, every other night, but then I definitely, absolutely stop. (And I'll even do the insane thing and give myself a mid-week day off to make up for the extra work!)

And if I'm tempted to work late because I got off to a late start, I try to let myself off the hook. I put in a half day and say, "hey, it happened." And I work to get there on time the next day.

Why? Because overall, it's just stopped being worth it to me, to plug away until my brain turns to lint. 

3. Taking breaks during the work day makes you stronger.

Taking breaks within the writing day is something that can feel totally lazy if you're not used to it.

Especially if you come from the school of thought that says, "When you're working, you're always actively working, all the time. If that cursor isn't flying across the page, you're doing it wrong." 

But that's exactly how I burned myself out. (Boo!)

So I've learned to embrace the power of a quality break, during the writing day. 

(This quick video on renewal, from The Energy Project, says it better than I could. Super inspiring! I'm all fired up now!)

Let's just remind ourselves: Taking breaks makes us better problem solvers. It gives us fresh perspective when we come back to the work. And our bodies need it

I'm convinced: Working without breaks isn't a badge of honor. It's a recipe for serious trouble, both creatively and physically.

So, if breaks aren't already a part of your writing day: add 'em in, my friend! Guilt free!

You can pick your work-to-break ratio: There's the Pomodoro method, which gives you 5-minute breaks after 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a bigger break after four rounds of pomodoro periods. (I love this one when I'm especially dragging my heels about a task for the day. You can get an amazing amount done in a focused 25-minute stretch!)

There's also a lot of buzz about 52 minutes of work, and then 17 minutes of break. (Somehow I can't wrap my brain around that one... But if you've tried it with success, let us know!)

Or, what I've settled on for most working days, is this: a solid 90-120 minutes of work (with a couple of stretch breaks in there, but all pretty close to the desk), followed by 30 to 40 minutes away. ... Which is long enough for a walk or some yoga! Hooray!

The point is, of course, to find out what ratio most rejuvenates you.

And you'll probably find that your ideal work-to-break ratio changes, based on what kind of project you're working on, how your health is doing, and what else is going on in your life.

So the most important thing is to definitely commit to a break strategy. And then, protect that time. Especially from yourself! From the impulse to run right over it.

When your timer or reminder alert dings, come to a stop in your work as quick as you can, and get up!

Believe that time away will actually make you better (clearer! more creative! quicker! more insightful!) when you come back.

Oh—and, for me at least, breaks are not the time to go through email, social media, answer phone calls, or other busy work.


That just clutters my brain and further drains me.

A really restorative break lets my creative mind keep brooding on the work, while the rest of me is chopping veggies, sketching, cloud gazing, or inching into a downward dog pose.

4. Protecting your writing time from those other people you know (including you!) is a vital skill. 

Oh, interruptions. What would we do without you?

When do we let other people in, and when do we strictly protect our writing time from spur-of-the-moment happenings?

I'll be the first to say: I'm not perfect at knowing the difference. 

Look: I live in a house full of the people I love most in the world. So, if someone wants to grab a coffee and talk, or dash out to do something interesting: it is super hard for me to say "no thanks."

Sometimes I stick with the writing.

Sometimes, frankly, I don't.

I've also taken extended breaks from writing (or at least downgraded it to Writing Lite!), because of family needs. 

And honestly, I'm okay with that. Family is one of my major values. I have incredible relationships with my family members, and that's just how I want it to stay.

So: I've made those choices (the occasional breakfast out together, or a few weeks away to help a sister), and I don't regret them.

(Okay, okay. I still kinda wish I had cloned myself, and had Lucy #2 scribbling away at the same time. Ah well. Maybe next millennium.)

Sometimes, the right thing to do, is to accept the interruption. Step away. Catch up with the person who is asking of your time.

At the very same time, it's important to know when you really do need to do your writing.

It's important not to skip it every single time. It's important that writing wins about half of those head-to-heads. 

And look, if this is hard for you, I get it. It can be really hard! Some of those lines are blurry. It's hard to make a decision that feels right.

What I can say to it is this: As best as you can, go with your gut.

If you know in your heart that you would really regret blowing off a writing session, then you need to stick with it.

But if you instinctively feel that this is an important opportunity to build a relationship that matters to you, or to take care of something that you need to do: Then go for it. 

If I'm feeling torn and really wanting to do both, it helps to give myself ten-to-fifteen minutes of writing first, before dashing away. Jotting down a list of writing stuff that's on my mind. Capturing a writing thought.

But then I go, and go freely.

After all, if you've decided that, at this moment, there's something more important than getting every inch of your writing done, then you definitely don't want to bog down that important thing with guilt! 

So yes: Now and then, it's good and right to let life break in to your writing practice.


If, on the other hand, the people around you are putting weird guilt moves on you, and you're feeling pressured to do crap you honestly don't want to do and don't NEED to do instead of write, then that's a whole different scenario.

And for those situations, I offer this genius quote from Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way.

It's a little long, but sit with it. It's totally important.

Cameron writes:

Often, creativity is blocked by our falling in with other people's plans for us. We want to set aside time for our creative work, but we feel we should do something else instead.

As blocked creatives, we focus not on our responsibilities to ourselves, but on our responsibilities to others.

We tend to think such behavior makes us good people. It doesn't. It makes us frustrated people.

DANG, right? Yes, that one zings me too. 

So when something shows up that would pull you from your writing, give yourself some time to really evaluate. Go with your gut. Make the choice that seems right, and then don't kick yourself for it later. 

And if it's something you really don't need to be doing, then honor your responsibility to your work and to your own self. 


Whew! Boundaries around time can get slippery in a hurry, right?

What's the trickiest thing to stick with for you? Starting on time, stopping on time? Taking good breaks? Dealing with interruptions?

And how are you thinking about repairing that boundary? What would you like to aim for, to bring it back into line?

(And just a reminder: I'm in the zone of relying on new systems, not strict goals. So play around with this, but without stressing. We're just cleaning up our good intentions.)

Maybe there's an affirmation you can use. Or maybe you can reconnect to your purpose.

Maybe there's something you can set up that reminds you of your amazing story (a sketch, a quote from your characters, a photograph that reminds you of your setting).

I'm so much more interested in enticing ourselves to our desks, you know? The way the scent of a warm apple pie entices everyone to the kitchen.

Okay? So let's not say "You must do such and such, or you don't really care."

Nope. Nah. Let's not.

Instead, what about using a wonderful, aromatic, delicious little invitation to get back to work? Some reminder that your story is where something good and juicy and incredible is happening??


THAT'S the kind of Call To Work that I'm most interested in!