Write Now, Write Often

How do you quickly settle into “writing-mode” if you’re not a full-time writer?

As a full-time veterinarian, I don’t get much time off. When I do, I have to pack a lot of things into just a few short days before jumping right back in again. I find it challenging to make time to write, but I carve it out when I can. I need to write. It’s my escape into the other world—you know, the one where we tame dragons and live happily ever after? The world of endless imagination, where we can be anything or anyone, go anywhere, and our feet don’t even have to leave the ground.

Early to bed, early to rise? Forget it. I get in at 1:30am most nights from my daytime/emergency swing-shifts, throw some sweats on, and slink against the kitchen counter, petting my dogs and catching up on the day’s world events while the kettle heats up for a cup of tea. “Winding down”, we call it. Mentally, these shifts are often draining. Emotionally, they are exsanguinating.

So how do I come home and suddenly shift into writing-mode? How can creative flow just “click” into place? It doesn’t. I have to invite it in, one cup of tea at a time. One deep breath after another, a gentle neck-rolling, and eventually I’ll flip open my laptop.

Very briefly, I will shuffle through emails and any social media I need to respond to. I stay here no longer than 15 minutes. Once I am mentally warmed up, I find my spot on my chaise-style couch (think: giant, soft Ikea rectangle) where I can spread out all of my materials, blankets, a cup of something hot such as coffee or tea, and a stack of my current books I am reading. You know, for inspiration…or maybe they’ll just diffuse onto the page I’m writing. Hey—it’s only weird if it doesn’t work. 

Don’t laugh, but I use a curved nursing pillow on my lap to balance my laptop and keep my arms hanging at the right distance to prevent strain. It works great as a neck pillow too!

I use an ambient sound creator to add background noise in order to focus a scene towards a particular setting or feeling, such as Noisli (it’s FREE!) or Ambient Mixer.

Two apps remain open on my phone so I don’t have to switch screens around on my laptop: My Merriam-Webster dictionary/thesaurus app for quick word choice reference and The Brainstormer, a spinner-style solution for writer’s block that can quickly provide writing prompts and fresh ideas.

I write for 60 minutes at a time, averaging 3-4 hour sessions if it’s a day off from work, with a word goal of 500 words a day. Sometimes I reach this goal, sometimes I don’t. But I know I’ll never hit the end of my novel if I don’t keep going. If I have work the next day, I write only 25 words. Why only 25? Because at least that’s a couple of sentences I can get down on paper to keep moving forward, and it’s an easy goal to keep.

When I’m not writing, I keep a notebook and a pencil with me, including next to my bed, in case of emergency ideas popping up at 4am. They happen. Be prepared.

Where should I write? I find that sitting at my dining room table gives me about 5 minutes of functional work time…and then my seat goes numb and everything in my back aches. You can’t write when you’re uncomfortable. Find a spot that works for you—the floor, a couch, a hammock, a coffee shop, a large recliner chair, wherever fits your needs!

Dress comfortably. Avoid harsh waistbands or tight-fitting clothing, but don’t write in your pajamas during the day! Shower, eat, drink, and complete other tasks (laundry, dishes, you name it) before you start so they aren’t a distraction. Show up like it’s a job.

How much should I write? That depends on your goals. If you are writing a large piece of fiction (say, a 50,000-word goal), a daily goal of 500-1,000 words is a great place to start. By “daily word count”, this means only the days on which you write. This does not mean you literally have to write 1,000 words every calendar day. If you do, congratulations, you’re a full-time writer!

What if I just can’t get into it? If you just can’t find it within yourself to write, then read. If you don’t feel up to reading, then listen to an audiobook and set it to Sleep Timer mode to automatically shut off after a timeframe of your choice. Don’t fall into the video game or TV trap. Allow a quick lunch break for a single episode (no Netflix marathons!) if you must, then get back to it. Even better yet? Exercise! Go for a run or walk (bonus if you bring your dog). Increasing blood flow to your vital organs will increase oxygen and refresh your mind. Don’t sit there waiting for creativity to drop in your lap—it won’t happen. Go out and find it!

Happy writing!