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All I want for the holidays: time to write

Virginia Woolf famously asked for a room of her own. Not as a holiday gift, mind you. She insisted that to be a successful creative depends on having a dedicated space in which to sequester oneself from the distractions of the mundane: the housework, the children, the grocer or the dairyman at the door. While we no longer have a grocer or dairyman to distract us, Woolf’s premise still holds true.

As much as I applaud Woolf’s efforts to point out the need for our own writing nooks amid the clamor, I also recognize that it is often an impractical goal. Lucky indeed is the writer who has an entire ten-by-ten office, complete with bookshelves and file drawers and a lock on the door to keep out anyone who does not respect boundaries.

Instead, what most writers crave is time. Never mind the room of one’s own; give us an hour to ourselves!

But there are only twenty-four hours in a day and one still needs to pay bills, maintain a semblance of hygiene, and for many of us, keep offspring alive, all while carving out time to create.

A friend of mine recently finished a revision of her 80,000 word adult novel, adding sixteen-thousand words and a brand new subplot, in less than four weeks, which she then submitted to her agent. She did this while teaching a university writing course, raising three young children, including a toddler still at home, and battling a bout of bronchitis that lasted two of those four weeks.

How did she do it? She is part of Twitter’s @5amWritersClub, which is a group that—you guessed it—writes at five in the morning and then tweets when they’ve done it. It’s simple accountability and it helps increase word count.

After writing for an hour, putting her kids on the bus to school and pre-school, she goes off to teach. After school, it’s the usual running around for after-school activities, doing homework, making dinner, putting kids in the bath, and then sending them off to bed. When the rest of us would flop on the sofa and zone out to Fleabag or Mrs. Maisel, my friend writes. Her dedicated writing time is before the kids wake and after they are asleep.

Another friend of mine has had two books release this year, has two more releasing in 2020, just announced another for 2021, speaks at conferences across the country, and edits anthologies as well. And she has five kids! She is always posting photos of herself on Instagram in which she is at her kids’ sporting events, in the lobby of the orthodontist’s office, or waiting in the car outside music lessons, laptop in the foreground. The caption is always, “#ondeadline again!” In other words, this friend makes use of every single spare minute she has.

What about those of us who need creative boundaries forced upon us? Try the FocusMe app, available for both Mac and Windows. You determine which websites you want to block, when, and for how long. The app prevents you from fiddling away on social media or getting lost in research rapture. And it’s impossible to subvert, even if you delete the app. It also includes built-in breaks so you can refill your tea (or put it in the microwave twelve times if, like me, you let it get cold every time you get in the writing zone). Do you use the Pomodoro method? It has that built in, too. It does have a small monthly fee.

For free options, there is SelfControl, an app that works with Mac-based operating systems, and StayFocused, which is a Google Chrome extension.

There is also a unique app called ColdTurkey, which has some of the same features as the three above, but it also allows you to turn your computer into a typewriter, which means you won’t be able to do anything but write until you reach your goal (either by time or word count).

For those of us who are easily sidetracked, these productivity enhancers can be game changers. There are dozens more out there, so find the best option for you, whether an app or a browser extension, a free version or a paid one. You’ll be surprised how it improves your output.

However you decide to change things up, remember that it’s about prioritizing you and your creative goals and setting boundaries. But it’s also about showing our families that we matter, what is in our souls matters, what we need to feel complete matters. When we value our creative endeavors and treat them as more than hobbies, assigning them the time they deserve, then we encourage our families to pursue their own passions. To stifle creativity leads to depression. Research shows that children of depressed parents are more likely to become depressed adults. So give yourself, and your family, the gift of time to create, without distractions. If you can do it in a room of your own, Virginia Woolf would be proud.

Jay Whistler provides developmental edits for picture books, middle grade, young adult, and adult novels. She also offers editorial assessments, query and synopsis critiques, and more. Find out more about Jay here.

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