Like many other writers, my dream is to be a Writer with a capital ‘W’ – to make a healthy and satisfying income purely from writing and writing-adjacent endeavours. Also like many other writers, this is not yet my reality, and reality currently involves a real job, piles of responsibilities and a good helping of commitments I can never bring myself to shed. I am determined to get that capital ‘W’, though, so finding the space for my creative outputs and ensuring productivity is a must, because ultimately, if I don’t, who is going to write that book I so badly want to finish?
Now, there are lots of ways people approach this problem, and mine is just what works for me. Others handle this through regimented routines, writing retreats or support groups, and that’s what gels with their work style, their family’s needs, their sleep schedule and their personality. You do you, obviously. Me, I’m a hyper-productive, overly-ambitious introvert with no children, multiple demanding but flexible jobs that wax and wane according to the cycles of the school year, and a blog post to write, so I’m going to talk to you about how I create the space for creative productivity (let’s call it writing) in my life.
You must be so organised!
In the past ten years, I’ve finished two degrees, commenced a third one, written a thesis, written and released four novels, edited and published numerous works for other writers, all while either teaching classroom full-time or, in the last two years, lecturing part-time. I also write hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction between books, manage this blog, mark a lot of assignments and consult for an independent school as a board member. I am often asked how I get through everything. “How do you find the time?!” is frequently expressed, as is “I wish I had the time to write a book!” and “You must be so organised to have all that going on!” And honestly, the first thing I feel when someone suggests that, is I feel like a fraud, because if you’ve ever seen my desk, you’d know organised is not a word I connect with. If you saw the inside of my mind, you’d cringe – wonky mismatched filing cabinets spilling old printouts, discoloured folders, polaroid photos, streamers and glitter all over the floor, with handmade cards and scribbled to-do lists sticky-taped to the sides of every cabinet. I know very few creatives who consider themselves organised.
What I am, in fact, is determined.
I rarely feel organised. But organisation looks different in every instance, and it’s still a useful word to describe the approach I’ve taken toward my creative life to get where I am so far on my journey. My creativity is important to me, and finding space for it in my schedule is a priority. But often, as busy people will attest, the time isn’t there in the schedule. What are we supposed to do with that?
Two options, the way I see it: accept it, or make it.
Accepting that the time simply isn’t in the schedule sounds like giving up, but I don’t see it that way unless you forget to put the compulsory ‘yet’ at the end. At this time of year, setting up a classroom every morning, teaching every day and laminating late into every night, the time to write simply isn’t in my schedule, and even if it was, I don’t really have the inspired brainpower left at the end of each long day to produce anything more substantial than this blog post. My priority is setting strong expectations in my classroom and transitioning the children warmly into their new school year, and given that this early, more-exhausting-than-usual phase of this job is temporary, I consider these days without writing as an acceptable loss. I know that freer weekends and even freer holidays are on the horizon and on those days, I will make up the lost time and word counts. Later in the year, I’ll have weekends packed full of birthday parties, or a fortnight of solid marking, or a big study deadline, and to me, it’s reasonable to let writing take a backseat for a short period, because those are priorities at those times. I’m determined to attain that capital ‘W’, so I know I will shift my priorities back as soon as I can. In that way, I suppose, I am constantly organising and reorganising myself.
An appointment with the muse
The alternative, when the time isn’t there to be found, is to make the time. This is the part with the hard calls and the tough self-talk. “You say you really want to write that book, do you, Shayla? Okay – what do you want it more than? Another episode of Stargate? An evening playing the Sims?” I’m not going to lie, sometimes I do choose Stargate or the Sims, but making time means becoming aware of these subconscious choices. We all have the same twenty-four hours available to us each day that we can distribute between our priorities. We all make reasonable allowances for major commitments – children, sleeping, work, and these differ for everyone – but how we spend the rest of our time is up to us. Twenty minutes browsing Facebook is time not spent writing. A two-hour film is two hours not spent writing. Which would you rather? Because it is a choice. Either choice is fine, but only one gets more words on your page.
Making the time to write in my schedule means treating it like it matters. Is it more important than Instagram? Yes, so in this moment, I’ll choose writing over Instagram. Is it important enough to commit to, like an appointment, or does it get pushed aside whenever something else pops up? I have turned down social invitations in order to spend a day writing where I have set the day aside for that purpose, and I have wonderful friends who understand how much I look forward to my writing appointments the way they look forward to yoga sessions or watching sport. My friends are cool – they’ll still be there tomorrow or next week, and I’ll be able to tell them how much I got written down on my writing day. I create the space in my schedule by prioritising my writing, as appropriate to my personal rules and standards, and by treating my time flexibly.
So not organised…
While I still don’t view myself as an organised person, I do manage myself, my time and my thinking a lot, which could be interpreted as organisation, in order to live a productive and creative life amidst my busy chaos. The determination to succeed at my many endeavours, and especially my capital ‘W’ dream, is best supported by a series of systems (lists, diaries, word count goals, study and writing appointments) and an awareness of my own choices regarding my approach to time. I definitely mismanage my time a lot, and I am far from a perfect role model when it comes to balancing creative career with reality. But this self-aware approach has worked for me – the awareness that I’m in charge of my time and my writing, and that I can make the judgement call as to whether to accept that the time isn’t free yet or to dig in my heels and carve out the time I need. It’s an approach that respects my many other responsibilities and the cyclic nature of my busy working and study life, but does nothing to dampen my determination.
I hope that for some other busy, exhausted, determined writers seeking that capital ‘W’, this post can serve as a friendly reminder that ‘too busy’ does not preclude ‘successful’ and ‘getting that book finished’.
Shayla Morgansen is a writer, editor and educator from Brisbane. You can find her YA fantasy series, ‘The Elm Stone Saga’, on our webstore, and you can find her on Facebook, Instagram and her website.