Write into the gaps

One important obstacle many of us face is the feeling that we can only do creative work in big blocks. We think “oh, I can’t do anything now, I only have twenty minutes.”

For a long time, I let this belief hamper my productivity.

The objection is that in small chunks you can’t get into the zone. You don’t achieve Flow. That’s true, but we can’t let the unavailability of a big block of time prevent us from making incremental progress. For example, you don’t need flow to proofread. Back when I worked at the newspaper, I proofread my entire hundred-thousand-word novel in thirty-minute lunch breaks.

Write Every Day
Photo by Kristen Stieffel

There are moments in our days when we’re in between other things. Waiting at the doctor’s office. Or having time to kill before you leave for a meeting. Or in the kitchen, waiting for a pot to boil.

You can train yourself to work into these small gaps.

The first time another writer suggested to me that one way to find more time to write was to write in these gaps, I dismissed the idea. There was no way I could get in the proper frame of mind in so sort a time. But I gave it a try, and she was right. You can do meaningful work in the gaps.

Be prepared to gather ideas at any time. Use a digital device, or a Moleskine. I like the five-by-seven-inch spiral notebooks with a plastic coil binding, because the plastic bounces back if it gets smooshed in my briefcase. If I’m carrying a smaller purse, I use a small stack of three-by-five cards held together with a binder clip.

When you’re heading somewhere you’re likely to wait, go prepared to work on a problem you’re currently facing. In your notebook, write at the top of a page the issue you need to deal with. Write the breakup scene or How will Heroine react to learning Hero’s true identity or Brainstorm ten flash fiction ideas.

Copy your manuscript to a digital device and do part of your read-through. If you proofread on paper, bring pages with you. (I did this in the orthodontist’s waiting room once and wound up with red ink on my fingers from a broken pen. That was attractive. Still, I got work done.)

Consistency is key

As with so many other things in life, consistency will get you ahead.

As part of ACFW’s Novel Track program, I have seen writers produce entire novels by faithfully writing 500 or 600 words every weekday. I’ve done it myself.

Terri Main, a prolific author of both fiction and nonfiction, wrote a post at my other blog about this principle of small gains. She notes that if you write 500 words a day—that’s two double-spaced pages—you’ll rack up 180,500 words in a year. That’s about 60 short stories, or six to seven novellas, or two to three novels, or one really epic fantasy.

The best way to ensure consistency in your writing output is to schedule it. It’s easier to keep that appointment with yourself if you say you’re always going to write for an hour in the morning, or a half hour at lunch, or forty-five minutes after dinner. If you try to write when you have “free time,” you’ll never write.

To support your consistency, develop a routine. The elements of your routine can become triggers that, when present, kick you into writer mode. These could be a particular piece of music, a flavor of tea, a time and place. Soon your brain will be trained to be creative when that trigger is in place.

This is one of the reasons we say there’s no writer’s block in a newsroom. Reporters are trained to get lots of writing done in that place, under those circumstances. By building writing into a routine you will train yourself to be productive.

Productive writers don’t wait for inspiration, they invoke inspiration through practice and diligence.

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  1. This is a fantastic post. It’s a great reminder for me — someone who always feels she has to have a block of three hours in order to write anything. This last week, I’ve forced myself to write every day (no matter how busy the day is) and it’s been great! I’m determined to keep writing into the gaps. 🙂

    Thank you, Kristen! Wise words!

    1. Glad it was helpful Nadine!

  2. […] know last time I said write in the gaps. This isn’t either/or. Do both. But to achieve flow you do need big blocks of time — so […]

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