Writer’s Block Cause 2: Life

“I was going to write the next great, American novel; but life got in the way.”

Though it is the source of all our experience and inspiration, there are days when “life” can be one hell of a nuisance to a writer. Life doesn’t care that we just had a breakthrough on the blog post/essay/article/poem/novel we’re working on. There are still kids to be picked up, work deadlines to be met, laundry to be done, and bills to pay. (Oh, the bills!) There are family and social obligations, housework, homework, and busy work. There is no question that “life” can block our ability to write. Not only does it sop up precious keyboard time, it drains us of the energy we need to summon our inner muse and create.
Too tired? Too busy? Too bad. 

The reality of life is a particularly tricky piece of the writer’s block puzzle. Fear is easily labeled as something that emanates from within. It is a beast of our own creation and therefore one we should be able to un-create (or, at least tame). Life’s overwhelming demands, however, seem to come from without. They appear as an external force, bearing down upon us. We do not overwhelm ourselves, the world overwhelms us – the task at hand, the laundry, the work deadlines, our in-laws coming to visit. Without even realizing that we’ve done it, we subconsciously give up our power over the situation by living with the assumption that life “happens to us” and is outside of our control.

Not so.

Being overwhelmed by life is a mindset, one that many of us have been trained to adopt as our status quo. Americans are especially prone to constant proclamations of exhaustion, insane workloads, and unending obligations. With each new complaint and sigh, we invite these things into our lives and feel forced into letting go of the things most dear to us – like our writing, for instance.
But, I really AM busy! 

Of course you are. We all are. But, we’re never quite as busy as we believe we are. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is a hackneyed expression, but one that nevertheless holds a lot of truth. The trouble starts when we use “being busy” as a crutch – an excuse that keeps us from doing our great work. I readily admit that I sometimes make up “musts” and “shoulds” in order to avoid sitting down to write. We all do.

Automatically saying, “I don’t have enough time” is one of my favorite crutches. Those words have become so familiar rolling off my tongue; they are almost a reflex. I’m a single mom running a marketing and copywriting business, often working past midnight, writing for multiple blogs, and too often getting involved with causes and pro bono projects. I could easily be the poster child for people who don’t have enough time.
But, I’m changing that. 

I’m training myself to recognize the time I used to leave lying around. Though I at first hated to admit their existence, I now delight in discovering little pockets of time that I can use however I like. One of the best ways to jumpstart this practice is to stop waiting for a big block of uninterrupted time. I’ve wasted years waiting for a full day to write, or even a block of three or four hours. I’ve turned my nose up at the smaller, less appetizing handfuls of minutes that came my way almost every day. No more. Now, if I see fifteen minutes that I could scoop up and use to work on a project, I snag them and scribble away with all my heart.

I’ve also started putting time in my schedule for the things I want to do as well as the things I need to do. In addition to writing more, I promised myself that 2012 would be a year of more time spent with friends. I want coffee and lunch dates. Lots of them. And I’m making it happen. I’m just putting them on my calendar. I’m setting that time aside and putting a big, alligator-filled moat around it. You need to protect your “sacred” time – whether it’s for friends or writing or just sitting and doing nothing. Sometimes, you have to protect it from yourself – you need to make conscious and careful decisions: “Will I use the next forty-five minutes to write, or to watch a re-run of ‘Bones’ on Netflix?” (A dilemma I face quite frequently. Sometimes, ‘Bones’ wins.)

Lastly, I’ve stopped saying how over-booked and time-poor I am. I’ve stopped saying it out loud, and I’ve stopped saying it in my head. I’m trying on an abundance mindset when it comes to time. It’s working some miracles.  I’ve heard it said that we “create” time by how we perceive it. I’ve been amazed to find how much more open my schedule seems these days, now that I’m expecting to have time. It’s like magic, but suddenly I do have time. I’ve been reading more, writing more, and working on plans for some new projects. I’ve had more time with my daughter, more time to cook, more time to spend with friends. I wouldn’t have believed it, except that I’m living it.
You can change it too. Start by being aware and then get fierce. 

Start paying attention – really paying attention – to how you spend your time. Hear yourself saying “yes” to things that are going to take time away from your writing. Make a mental note when you choose time-wasters over writing. Don’t judge or berate yourself. Just notice.

After a while, you’ll start to see patterns. You’ll begin to dabble in reclaiming your writing time – a few minutes at a time. You’ll like the way it feels to bring that practice back into your day. You’ll want more. Start setting up those moats around your writing time and protecting them as if your life depended on it. It does – your writing life, anyway. No one else will make the time for you. No one else will push you past the blocks that life sets up for you. Only you can fight that battle and take back what’s yours.
So – what are you going to do? Are you going to let life become part of your writer’s block, or are you going to make your life feed your writing?
If you’re interested in more tips about finding/creating/managing time, you might want to check out Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours. I haven’t read much past the introduction so far, but from what I’ve heard it’s a great resource for learning how to see the time you have in a whole new light.

This is the second post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In the previous entry, we talked about fear. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

53 thoughts on “Writer’s Block Cause 2: Life

    • Exactly! I’ve been learning how to make good use of 15 minutes while my daughter is preoccupied in the back yard. I’ve been snapping up the few minutes I take to eat my lunch each day. I listen to audio books and brainstorm ideas while I’m in the car or out walking. Our days are filled with these small time treasures. We just need to be able to see them for what they are!
      Happy scribbling!

    • Glad you enjoyed it. And – as always – glad to know it’s not just me!
      Thanks for taking the time to read this one (it’s a beast!) … and make a point to say you liked it. Makes my day.

  1. Very timely! I’ve just spent this entire week saying to myself, “I’ll just get this (fill in the blank with grading papers, laundry, thank you notes, scrapbook, work, bills) done and then I will sit down and write.” That does not work!

    By the time I sat down to write today, all the ideas I had earlier in the week had evaporated. I need to write when my passion for the topic surfaces. Thanks for a timely post on how we need to give ourselves permission to move our priorities around a bit!

    • Oh, Heather, I SO know the “I’ll write after I _______” scenario. It’s amazing how many things we can find to fill in that blank!

      Yes! Move those priorities. Make them consciously and deliberately and then protect them from all infringements … especially your own.

      Good luck!

  2. This has been a very helpful article for a novice blogger! I’ve already fallen into the trap of thinking I need hours at a time to write. Now I know that’s not true. Thank you.

    • So glad you found it helpful, Lynne. If only we could count on routinely having hours to write, but – alas! – that’s not often the case. Glad you don’t feel constrained by that particular requirement any more – now you can write whenever you have the chance! 🙂

  3. My life IS feeding my writing, thanks be to God! I am so very blessed to be able to blend all the parts of the essential to-do list of my daily life into my writing and into my relationships here! No TV, no doing separate exercise and then driving into town(I now walk and save money, meaning I can live on my limited income okay and have more time to write), no gabbing on the phone (texting,FB,tweets,blogging are more efficient, more creative(get plugged into my writing products quite often!) AND avoid a lot of unnecessary confusion and misunderstanding and requests for repeated instructions, etc. I am just ON FIRE with my new life organization, which I am polishing and honing all the time, of course. You guys are SUCH an inspiration to keep me going in this direction! Thank you with lots of cyber hugs!

    • Love your style. I’m big into walking, too, and now live in a place where I can walk into town for almost anything (except my “big” grocery shopping). It’s so wonderful to be able to leave my car at home.

      Yay for being “on fire” and thank you for the cyber hugs. We love those!

    • ” … until they sink in.”
      🙂 That made me laugh. Believe me – they are still sinking in with me sometimes, too.

  4. Reblogged this on haiyotamie and commented:
    I am trying to manage my time of doing everyrhing i still can not handle them all reading this blog courage me and very interesting to follow thankyou so much to let me repost this

  5. This is so timely for me. I try to manage my time, but always seem to be pulled in so many different directions. I am finally starting to realize that I am the one responsible for my time and only I can control what I do with it. Thanks so much for the reminder and for writing it down in such a concise way. I will refer back often.

  6. Hey Jamie,
    As you know I don’t write for a living, not yet anyways, but I too make excuses why I can’t write. Well I used to anyways, lately I’ve been coming up with what I want to write about work out a title and save the draft and come back to it with “bits and pieces” until its finished and if I cannot get to my computer there is always a pen and paper with me for my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong I also sit and just write straight out when I get the chance, but I do also make time for my family and friends. What Im going to do to change things is make more time for writing is actually lifestyle changes.
    Quitting smoking is at the top of the list, exercise so I will have more energy later in the night when I like to write in the “quiet”
    Thanks for this post it is great as always 🙂

    • Hey, Jim!
      Take it one step and one day at a time, and you’ll get there.
      I’m working on getting more SLEEP … but, that’s a tough one. A girl can dream, thought, right?

  7. You did it again! You added a boost of confidence much needed. I will make a point to fit in more writing time in my schedule. There is more time than I realize I have. No more excuses! Thank you Jamie. 🙂

    • “You did it again!” … I had a sudden vision of Britney Spears. 😉
      So happy to hear this gave you a boost of confidence. It should! You can do this – anyone can do this. It just takes a little perspective and making conscious decisions.
      Go to it!

  8. I am SO with you, Jamie. I agree wholeheartedly, an abundance mindset with respect to time is the way to go. I appreciate your advice so much, I’m going to re-blog this post to pass it on to others and to keep it around as a reminder whenever I’m feeling I don’t have time to write. Of course I have time. It’s my choice how to use it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Saw your reblog. Thanks much for sharing. Very glad you found the tips useful. Love it when readers are saying, “Yes!” along with us. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

  9. Reblogged this on Valley Road Rambler and commented:
    I found myself saying YES a lot as I read this blog post, especially when she says, “I’m trying on an abundance mindset when it comes to time.” Exactly! You find time to write when you expect to find it. This is valuable information, and I just had to share it with my readers too. Enjoy!

  10. Thank you for this post! I am attempting to do much the same thing, harvest small bits of time, and pay attention to how I fritter away minutes on things like Pinterest. As you said, sometimes these other things win. And that’s ok too, because I recognize that I need some unfocused time in my life. But it is important to become aware of the time I have, and how I use it. Thank you for the encouraging words! ~ Sheila

    • I agree about it being okay for the “other things” to sometimes win out over writing. Life is all about balance. Sometimes it’s not time to write. Sometimes it’s time to watch “Bones.” Sometimes it’s time to go for a walk in the wind of an early March afternoon. And I LOVE unfocused time. It’s a rarity for me now, but I’m practicing building more of that into my world. The most amazing things happen when you let your mind stretch and wander.

  11. I am still learning to balance writing and living life. There are times when I do nothing but write and a lot of other things (like household chores) suffer as a result. (However the opposite is not true when I have a writer’s block, to the great dismal of my husband.) 🙂 Thanks for the great post. Cheers!

    • I know what you mean, Irene. There have been times when I’ve definitely gone way too far to one end of the spectrum or the other. I like it better when I’m in a rhythm between the two, but sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got! Happy writing! Thanks for stopping by.

  12. thank’s for your post, i already read and i know that’s ur story , but for me, everybody is different , not same. it’s not easy to change our self, and it’s little bit difficult to manage my time..

    i understand, it’s not easy to write this story, I appreciate your writing.
    thanks for ur time 🙂
    elbadru tamam

    • Yes, everyone has to find their own way. It has taken me a LONG time to make the little progress I have. There are no easy fixes to time management. You have to be ready for some changes. Good luck!

  13. After reading all these responses there is not much I can add.
    Thanks for the pep talk. Really needed it right about now. 🙂

    • You know me, Laura, always at the ready with a pep talk.
      So glad if this helped.

      Keep up the good work!

      • Yeah – that’s about it! And THAT’s why I keep coming back to LTW-WTL, cuz you girls are exceptionlly good at the pep talks! Love it. You help keep me going!

    • I have to agree. My daughter and I have recently greatly reduced the amount of TV we watch and it has had an amazing effect not only on our ability to get more done, but on the quality of our time together, and the strength of our connection to each other. We don’t miss it at all.

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  16. I love your comment about making your life “feed into your writing”. Exactly what I needed to hear today! Great post 🙂

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  18. When you have writer’s block, unleash the tiger- it is time to break the rules, the conventions…even write bad poetry to comment on bad poetry. Writer’s block is an opportunity to create the unusual- even if it does turn out strange.

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