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Writing Life: Making Time and Space

Three Ways to Free up your Writing Life.

Like most people in the twenty-first century, my brain is often full with to-do lists and tasks that need to be done. Buzzing devices demand my attention, and there’s rarely a quiet moment in my life where I’m just sitting still. Don’t get me wrong, none of those things are wrong, and for the most part I appreciate the things I do and the tools I use each day. But as a writer, I’ve tried hard to carve out a lifestyle where my imagination can thrive and my mind can wander. I find that emptiness, not busyness, is often the fertile soil for a good story. How can writers cultivate time and space in their lives that’s optimal for writing? Below are the most helpful ways I’ve found:

1. Start your day by reaffirming whose you are

Every morning, (at least every morning that I get up with my alarm), I sit down with my bible, a journal, and a big cup of coffee. Time with God in devotions and prayer is the biggest way that I clear my head for day to day. I receive daily bread, and look to my Creator to remind myself of what is really important in life.

When I don’t seek out God in my life, my mind is cluttered and busy, and I’m frantic and anxious because I need to worry about everything and take care of everything. When I do seek God, acknowledging him as Lord and trusting my weakness to him, so much of what I’ve been worried about goes away. Jobs are fine, and tasks are fine, but telling God my worries and entrusting them to him puts my mind where it ought to be, right at the very start of the day.

My dad once told me that you can tell a person’s priorities by what they do first thing. I’ve tried to copy that in my own life, by reminding myself every morning that I am God’s son, that he loves me unconditionally, and that he has promised to take care of me. God’s story in the whole world is the largest and richest of the currents of ideas that I swim in every day. When I write, I emulate his world, so I find that reminding myself of God’s story and his love for me every morning is the best way to prepare to write.

2. Make time to meet your goals

My wife loves to bug me about my alarms. I have about nine or ten alarms that go off at various times of the day, reminding me to do things as mundane as check email, eat breakfast, or as special as have devotions, or write. While my blood pressure may be a little high, these alarms actually calm me down and give me solid space that I can rely on.

What do I mean by that? Well, every morning at 6:15, my writing alarm goes off. I know that unless there’s a tornado or a house fire, I’ll probably have the next twenty minutes to write (and yes, this will change when we have kids). This is incredibly freeing because during that time I don’t have to worry about my work day, or the things that need to be done around the house, or anything. I’m free to write and put all of my energy towards one task: writing well. We work better when we mono-task and alarms are how I carve out that space in my day.

Alarms may or may not work with you: the important thing is to be intentional about making time in your life when you will do only one thing. There will always be times when you’ll have to run around after a hundred errands, but you should also make some time each day when you focus on one thing only. For me, these are my priorities: devotions and writing.

3. Free your brain of mini-stresses

Lastly, try to free up your brain in easy, simple ways. I like to think of this as “anxiety shaving” — something I do every day to trim out the needless anxiety my life is full of. For me, a huge way to put this into practice was my daily commute. I can be an aggressive driver, so my half-hour commute has often been stressful and draining. Merging, cutting over, and passing slow drivers leaves me grumpy and frustrated by the time I make it to work.

I actually changed this after reading a quick Desiring God article: Speed Limits are a Call to Worship. Pastor John argues that speed limits are an easy way to submit to the governing authorities, and, that speeding doesn’t save us hardly any time at all. It’s well worth the two minutes you’ll lose to drive to work in a prayerful, peaceful, mindset.

When I drive the speed limit, I sit in the right lane with my cruise set at 65MPH, and let the world go by me on the left. I don’t have to worry about much, and my brain is free to wander. This free-wandering time is a huge part of my day (it’s where this post was dreamed up) and lets me exercise my brain and make good use of thirty minutes of dead time. I’ll often turn over my story ideas during this time, or hash out a blog post, or just do some free thinking.

Those are my strategies for freeing time, shedding anxiety, and staying focused. I’ve found that they make me a better writer as well as a happier person. What are your own tips? Let us know in the comments below.