Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If I Could Save Time in a Bottle---Finding Time to Write

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last night I went to my daughter’s parent/teacher conferences and one teacher asked me as I sat down, “Are you the Julie Bellon who writes books?” I told her I was and she told me she’d read All’s Fair and really enjoyed it. Then she said she’d had my older son in her class last year and we talked about my children for a bit and she sort of shook her head and said, “How do you find time to write when you have seven kids?”

I get that question a lot. The students that I teach at BYU have asked many times how I teach, have seven children, and write books. The ladies and girls I work with at Special Needs Mutual ask how I can be a Young Women advisor to these special people, have seven kids, and write books. The girls I coach in basketball don’t seem to wonder, though. Or if they do they keep it to themselves. Maybe they wonder, but they're so focused on the game and our big tournament coming up that they don't say anything. That's probably it. The point I’m trying to make, however, is that I am a very busy person, as are most people. So with everything on my plate, how do I find time to write?

First of all I should probably tell you why I write. Writing helps me make sense of my world. I have written in my journal since I was twelve years old and writing let me vent my fears, frustrations, secret crushes, and everything else in my life. My inner stories as a girl shaped who and what I wanted to be and writing those things down made me reach for my dreams. Looking back, I realize now that writing is my way of expressing who I am. Writing is my way to overcome a weary heart, an overwhelmed soul, or to express my happiness so I don’t burst. Writing is my therapist, my sculpture, my dessert, my stress reliever, my loyal friend, my enemy, my joy, my aching, my peace, and almost always my spiritual recharge. There is just something about creating a painting of words on a page—whether it’s something beautiful, something sad, or something so unique and private I don’t know that it can ever be shared. I love that feeling of molding, of creation, whether I’m writing a novel, writing in my journal, writing my missionary son, or just free-writing some thoughts I had. Writing gives me the time and space to get into my own head for just a few minutes, to be by myself, and collect my thoughts.

Since writing is so important to me, and is something that I need to have in my life no matter how busy I am, here are some ideas on how I find time to write.

Learn to write when you have minutes instead of hours. That is probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned as a mother, teacher, and writer. I can pick up a lot of minutes if I’m looking for them. And I know that I can write anytime and anywhere because I carry a notebook and I use it. I write in my notebook when I’m waiting for carpool, or waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or waiting on hold on the phone or something, and then I jot a few ideas down, or plot out a scene, or mold a character. If the baby unexpectedly goes down for a nap, I have a few ideas or scenes in my head I could go write in my notebook or go to the computer and get written down. If the dog needs a walk, I take her and think about my next scene, or how I’m going to flesh out that character. Then it’s all ready for my notebook or my computer files.

Know your schedule and plan ahead. With a large family, there has to be some planning involved or it would be chaos. I make menus so I know each morning what is going to be for dinner that evening. If I do a crockpot dinner and prepare that in the morning, then later that afternoon I’m going to have a half an hour free that would have been dinner prep, which is now writing time. Or, I know that my baby generally takes a nap in the morning so instead of watching her sweet angelic little face in repose, I already have some ideas or scenes ready that I’ve been thinking through in my head and waiting for a time on the computer when I could type them up. I have to be flexible, but prepared just in case I get a bit of time in which to write.

I try not to let myself get distracted. My time at the computer is limited and valuable. I could spend it checking email, checking Facebook, or surfing the net, but I want to spend it writing so I have to discipline myself. I also may not answer my phone during my precious computer time. I always call back, though, if I miss calls.

I don’t watch a lot of television. I have one or two shows that are appointment television for me (24 is great this year! Go Jack and Renee!) but other than that, I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the television. Where possible, I use that time for writing.

I try to keep myself in writing condition. There’s no point in finding time to write if you don’t have anything to write. I try to write something every day whether it’s novel writing, journal writing, letter writing, grocery list writing, or whatever, just so I get some practice and keep the old wheels in the idea department of my brain lubricated and working. It’s like conditioning when you’re preparing for a marathon. You do incremental exercises to keep yourself ready while you’re gearing up for the big race.

Be creative. I offer incentives to my older children if they’ll babysit the younger ones for a period of time. Depending on the incentive I can get a nice block of writing time that way.

Bounce story ideas off of your children. You’d be amazed at how much easier they make finding time for you to write if you involve them in the process.

Sit at the table with your children while they are doing homework. You can be doing your own writing while they’re working, yet you can also be a help and a resource if they need it.

If you linger under the covers in the morning, get up and write something. If you’re like me, sleep and lingering is quite valuable, so consider this aspect before you decide if it's worth it to get up or not.

Have your notebook ready while you’re cooking dinner. You’d be amazed at how much time there is to jot stuff down.

Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse/children for “me” time where you can write your latest and greatest. It’s cheaper than therapy later on and it lets your children know that grown-ups can have dreams and hopes, too.

Or, if that doesn’t work:

If you’re a nursing mother, learn to type one-handed and write while you nurse.

Tell your children you’re going to play a fun game where they’re duct taped to chairs for thirty minutes while you write a story about it and you need a visual to make the story realistic.

Duct tape yourself to your computer chair and tell your kids you have to work now, since you can’t get up.

Get your kids addicted to Barney. This will guarantee you a half hour of uninterrupted writing. And don’t let them tell you it’s a baby show. Give the old “it’s good for you” lecture.

Stop cleaning the house and doing laundry. That would give any writing mom plenty of writing time. Invest in dimmer light bulbs and it might take longer for the family to notice.

Tell your kids you’re doing a practice earthquake drill and not to come out from under their beds until you say so.

Hide in your bathroom and write until you see fingers under the door asking if you’re in there.

Really, the time you have for writing is the time you make for writing. If you love it, then you will make time for it, no matter how busy you are. Family will always come first, but there is time for your writing as well, and with practice you can find that balance in your life.

What are some of your suggestions and ideas for finding time to write?


At 2/19/2009 2:10 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Fantastic advice, Julie. And all of it is so true.

People wonder how we find time to write, but these same people often spend hours on television or hobbies. We just spend our time differently. If it's a priority, you'll find time for it, even if it is in fifteen-minute snippets!

At 2/19/2009 4:50 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Great post Julie. You summed it up beautifully how people can succeed in writing and still find balance in their lives. Of course, I still cling tight to my "reasons not to clean" list when I need that extra hour or two at the computer. :)

At 2/19/2009 6:52 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I'm all for taping the kids to their chairs. Wonder how long that would last?

At 2/19/2009 7:19 PM, Blogger Me, Myself and I said...

At 2/19/2009 7:51 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Of late, the formula is :

Less WoW = More Writing. =)

I like your duct tape suggestions, though. I can imagine doing something like that to the study door so that it looks like Spiderman was visiting.

On a side note, I discovered that the original batteries I put in my AlphaSmart over a year ago are still functioning fine. Best laptop ever!

At 2/19/2009 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't had a full night's sleep since last April. :)

At 2/19/2009 9:30 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

I found a long time ago that I can't find time to write; I have to make time.

At 2/20/2009 12:00 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

LOL, I like the duct tape and the no laundry suggestions!

Sitting in the car waiting for a child is a good time to grab a bit of writing time. I think it's the lack of internet that helps me stay focused better. I'm such an e-mail junkie that I'm always letting e-mail interrupt me when I'm writing at home.

At 2/20/2009 12:58 AM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

How funny, Julie! Love it, especially the fingers under the door.

For me, I rarely want to sit down and write. The thought of the blinking cursor makes me crazy. But once I do it and get into the zone, it's wonderful. My trick is just to get the rear end into a chair.

At 2/20/2009 3:34 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Loved the bathroom suggestion. But now that my kids are grown, it would be my husband poking under the door and his fingers are too big. :(


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