Writing in “snippets of time”

Half of my teaching programs are on spring break this week. I intended to take time to write, revise, and work on projects. Instead, life has gotten in the way and I’m writing in snippets of time. I’ve shared this method with workshop students, who often express how they struggle in finding time to write. The “snippets of time” suggestion is simple: if you can carve out 15-20 minutes here and there, you can write a few paragraphs at a time until your draft is finished. Then you revise 20 minutes at a time.

Basically, if you badly enough want to write, you’ll find time, even if it’s snippets of time. My writing students appear dubious. Have I really done this?

I have. A one time it was the only way I could  make progress on my writing. During a five-year stretch, when I worked a full-time day job, I used my “snippets” during my lunch break. Later, when I found a job that allowed me to arrange a 4-day work week, I still used the “snippets” to work on one magazine article a week. At this job I received an entire hour as a lunch break. Though I didn’t need an entire hour to eat, I did need to get away from my desk. I began walking the two blocks to the local library and spent the rest of my lunch hour researching the next article topic, reading a book about writing, writing a few paragraphs, drafting a cover or query letter, or researching markets. During the weekend I revised the draft written throughout the week. Every Monday on my way to work I’d mail off a manuscript or query letter.

Eventually, the credits added up, led to other writing credits, and finally to my first book series: Kids Throughout History for the PowerKids imprint of Rosen Publishing. When I took on that project, I left that 4-day-a-week job for a half-time job at the District Library in that town. That job offered resources and encouragement from library staff and patrons. I doubled my output of writing—and accumulated bylines.

Now that I write full-time and teach part-time, I still use snippets on occasion. This method comes in especially handy during Season when the number of writing workshops I teach increases and it seems I’m teaching more than I’m writing. I can always find 20 minutes here or there to create a paragraph or a page at a time because writing is that important to me.

So, begin to think about when you can find 20 minutes here or there and see what you can accomplish in “snippets of time.”

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Nature-inspired Meditation

It’s Season in south Florida and for me that means teaching a lot of different writing workshops. I enjoy it but life becomes quite hectic.  One of my favorite ways to begin the day is to slip outside while the coffee’s brewing. I have an incredible view of a pond surrounded by greenery—trees, shrubs, and tropical vegetation—and a multitude of wildlife. The sun rises in the front of the building and I’m able to watch as it slowly illuminates the pine trees just beyond my lanai.

Squirrels play tag in the trees, causing the scales of pine bark to crackle and the needles to rustle as they bounce from branch to branch. Meanwhile birds sing and call as egrets and Louisiana heron stalk fish in the pond. I’m grateful for this natural serenade and beauty of dawn.

Once my coffee is ready, I sip it as I listen and watch, allowing my mind to ponder the drape of the long white pine needles or the patterns in the fanned palmetto fronds. It’s sort of a meditation, this routine; a quiet but energizing start to my day. It’s a luxury now, but one I can indulge more frequently during the summer. After this ritual, I’m ready to put pen to paper as I record in my journal the day’s beginning and then turn to filling a blank screen with words.

Drawing from the Creative Well

Both my writing and teaching draw from a large well of creative energy. Grading papers and editing or technical writing drain it. Some writing sessions energize me while others deplete my creativity a bit. (It depends on the project and where I’m at in my writing process.)

I always seek activities and tasks that refill the creative well. Reading books, watching movies, discussions with friends over coffee, and attending conferences and workshops all fill the well. So do my “productive procrastination” tasks. (These are non-writing creative endeavors such as creating character trees or scene collages, painting my “inspiration angels,” or cooking.) Different things fill the well in smaller amounts but they still help refill it.

I’ve had to work hard to see some events as beneficial to refilling the energy, such as the reaction of the children at the library after a story time, seeing things click with my students in creative writing classes, good editorial news (for myself, writing friends, or students), or discovering support in unusual sources.

Whether you realize it or not, you are doing things that also refill your creative energy or help you feel motivated to write. If you focus on what you enjoy about your writing and the success in small accomplishments, your creative well will replenish itself, too.