I find it hard to switch between writing mode and other modes.

When I have “writing time” not all of that is spent actually writing. Much of it is spent transitioning into a writing frame of mind.

I used to feel guilty, like I was using up my writing time with not writing, but I have come to recognize it as a part of the process. I need to decompress, move out of whatever mode I’m in, and get my head in the right place. Once I do that, then usable writing can come out of it.

A friend-of-a-friend wrote asking me about how to fit writing in with work and family. He described his writing times separated by other obligations as “islands.” What a wonderful metaphor! He asked me “Any advice on how to write from island to island of time?” and this is what I said:

“The hardest part of such island-hopping for me is transitioning into “writing mode.” That transition takes time, and I finally learned to not feel guilty when my “writing time” includes surfing the web, watching a recorded TV show, and/or playing a computer game. These activities (played while jotting notes and mulling story problems) help me move into a different state of mind. I’ve adjusted my expectations to include these activities. A four-hour writing time will frequently play out as 2.5 hours recreation simultaneous with note-taking, problem-solving, and scene sketching–then an hour or so of actual writing. Usually, the writing done in this way is “keeper” writing, so for me that is well worth it. Word-count targets help keep me on track, so I don’t abuse this latitude.

“I’ve also come to accept that there are stages in novel creation besides writing. Plotting, for example, is progress that doesn’t result in word count. Research, too. Brainstorming. I try to recognize the stage I’m in, and what I want to accomplish, so that I can recognize productivity that doesn’t involve words. A self-imposed, long-view schedule keeps reins on how long I linger in any stage.

“The most helpful thing has been that my husband staggered his work hours to start at noon so he could look after the kids in the morning while I write. For most families, this isn’t an option. I also work late when necessary, occasionally all night, and set the alarm when necessary, for early writing.

“External deadlines help. For my first book, for which I of course had no deadline, I aimed for entering a contest and worked toward its deadline. That kept me on track when I was tempted to slack.”

Turns out that I also have “email mode.” I go through long periods of reading email, answering only the time-sensitive ones. Then periodically I answer all the accumulated mail in a big go. I used to feel guilty about this as well, but I’m gradually accepting that emailing in slow motion is just how I roll. I get to it all eventually. (I think. I do try. To anyone who’s ever been forgotten by me: forgive!!)

(Turns out I have blogging mode too 🙂 Check out the date on all the recent posts. They’ve been on my mind for many weeks, but today’s the day for getting them out there!)