How To Become An Insanely Productive Writer

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!

Laptop lady
Laptop Lady by Aidan McMichael (used with permission)

If you really want to become a good writer, in this lifetime, you have to write. You have to write a lot.

Here are seven of the best tips from last year’s StoryADay participants, to help you become an insanely productive, happy and sane writer. Plus one bonus tip and a question for you, at the end.

“Nothing will work until you do.”
-Maya Angelou

Insanely Productive? Yes, Please!

1. Have ideas ready to go

There is nothing worse than carving out some time to write and then being stuck for a place to start. So start now: pay attention to all the ideas you have, all the time, when you are away from your desk. Carry a notebook around. Capture snippets of conversation, what ifs that occur to you as you people-watch, thoughts spurred by other people’s stories. Write them all down, ready to be picked up again when you sit down to write.

2. Write First

When you sit down to write, actually write. Don’t check email, don’t check Twitter, don’t even check the StADa site (unless you need the daily prompt). Just leaf through your ideas until you find one you can work with, and go. Turn off your email notifications, close all the browser windows. Don’t worry about fonts and formatting or whether it’ll be any good. Just write.

@Gabi If I think too much about writing before I actually start doing it, I tend to psych myself out. Instead I just start writing and before I know it, I’ve got a bunch of words on the page and it’s time to call it a day.

3. Keep writing until you finish

Starting stories is all very well, but anyone can do that. The point of StADa is to help you learn to craft a whole, finished story. Keep writing until you finish. Even if you hate it, keep writing. You’ll thank me later.

4. Unless you must take a break

Obviously, if your kids are screaming or someone comes to the door to tell you you’ve won $10million in the lottery, or your boss calls to ask where you are, you might have to get up from your desk before your story is finished. In which case, go. But keep thinking about your story. Leave it in the middle of a sentence, so that you’re ready to leap back in, and go. But keep thinking about it. When you’re walking to the coffee machine, wonder what your characters will do next. When you’re doing some menial, mindless task (can you tell I’m a mother?) let your mind wander and picture how you’re going to resolve the central mystery of your story. If someone turns on a radio, listen to how people talk and steal yourself some dialogue.

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day.

5. Make it priority #1

You can put off watching TV shows and you can turn down an occasional invitation for coffee without your life falling apart. Tell people you’re working on your writing this month, that you’ll be a better friend next month (maybe). Take some time to make your writing your top priority. You’ll always wonder, if you don’t, what you could have achieved. Explain to friends that you are investing in your dream of becoming a writer, just as they might make time to invest in a course of golf lessons or an art workshop. If you want to take your writing seriously you will find that something’s got to give, but the good news is: that could be the housework!

StADa: How do you make time for writing?
@AdorablyAlice This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

6. Write Wherever/Whenever You Can

It’s tempting to think that you need solitude, silence and a particular pen to be able to write, but that’s a rookie mistake. Professional writers write wherever and whenever they can squeeze in some time.

  • Ray Bradbury rented a typewriter in a typing room in the basement of a library and typed until time ran out. That couldn’t have been quiet or private or relaxing, but he’s one of the most prolific writers around.
  • Stephen King wrote in a passageway in the back of a trailer, with two toddlers, a wife and a full-time job in a laundry jostling for his attention.
  • PD James worked for the Home Office by day, visited her sick  husband in hospital on the weekends, and put her two daughters to bed alone, and wrote her first novel — all during the London Blitz!

You may need some peace and quiet to get a story started, but once you’re up and running, write! Write when ever you have 15 minutes, wherever you are, with whatever comes to hand. Write!

(Hint: you full-time workers have the gnawing envy of stay-at-home parents of young children: you get a lunch break. Are you sneaking off somewhere and using it for writing?)

7. Be realistic

You’re not going to write an epic or a polished draft in a day. You’re going to write something and it’ll likely be bewtween 30 and 2000 words. The more frequently you write and finish a story, the more you’ll get a sense for how to pace yourself and your story. Don’t waste time on backstory or explaining anything at the  beginning. Jump in half way through and unpack the story as you go. Some of it will be terrible, some of it you will learn from and some of it might even be quite good. On a good day you’ll write a character you’re proud of or make yourself smile with a twist, or discover you can write really convincingly about a gardener.

@GabiOnly a handful of the stories are worth keeping and working on. One of them has spawned into an idea for a middle-grade book that I am in love with.

Every lesson enriches your writing. Every day you practice, you’re one step closer to Carnegie Hall.

Bonus Tip: Be part of a community.

I know a lot of us are loners (I certainly crave my ‘alone’ time) so the idea of joining a community seems strange. But one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the past year is the value of having people on your side, people who understand what it’s like try to write, people who are rooting for you (because if you can do it, maybe they can too).It was incredibly inspiring to drop in to the StoryADay.org forums during May – and afterwards ‘meet up’ with people on Twitter – and trade stories of how our writing day is going.

Join our Serious Writers’ Accountability Group (SWAGr) and post your goals for this month…today! (We’re “Serious”, not sombre. All are welcome!)

Thanks to all the previous participants for their comments and suggestions, quoted here or otherwise.


What do you do to keep writing? Share  your best tips in the comments.



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Delegate Your Way To Writing Success

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Inside the Box 2289
Do try to make sure the tasks you delegate are age-appropriate!

When my children were tiny I didn’t do a lot of writing. But there would come a day when I simply HAD to write. With a toddler in two, however, it became almost impossible to get through a full sentence without hearing that darling little voice yap,

“Mama? Mama! MAMA!!!”

I got to the stage where it was quite a relief when my boy unexpectedly ditched “Mum” and started calling me by my given name. At least it took a while for that to start to grate on my nerves!

The Delegation Revalation

One fateful afternoon, when my son — previously happily playing with toy cars at my feet — suddenly popped up and asked for a drink. For the third time that hour. I groaned and tore myself away from my half-finished sentence to fetch him a drink.

Then it hit me. My job as a parent was not to raise him to be helpless. My job as a parent was to teach him self-sufficiency. So what if he was only 3?

I started delegating.

That day I moved some plastic tumblers onto a low shelf in an under-the-counter cabinet and made a big deal of at last unlocking the water dispenser on the fridge. Sure, I had to clean up a few spills, but it was a price I was willing to pay to get a few uninterrupted minutes.

We quickly moved on to solo hand-washing, using a stool to get the toothbrush and toothpaste (creating a few precious extra minutes before bedtime). Then I packed away any trousers that didn’t have an elasticated waist and presto! I was freed from having to accompany him to the bathroom!

How Much Can You Give Away?

As the kids have grown, so has my hunger for writing time.

I now delegate all kinds of things.

  • Where I used to be in charge of bath-time and bedtime, my husband and I now share bedtime duty.
  • When I was deep in the crunch of StoryADay last May my seven year old, a-hem, learned how to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • While I toiled on my novel last November, my husband taught the boys how to fold their school clothes and put them away neatly.

I could feel guilty about deserting my family when I feel the need to write. Or I can celebrate my awesomeness as a mother who cares enough about them to teach them the life skills they will need when I eventually kick them out of my house. (Ten more years, Eldest. I’m counting.)

Delegation can be fun!

It’s not always, easy of course. Things go wrong. There is often a learning curve for the people you’re delegating tasks to. There might be occasional tears.

But stick with it. You CAN find ways to nudge the people around you become more independent, while also clawing back some of your precious writing time.

What about you? What one task will you try to offload this week? What poor helpless soul will you set on the road to independence?


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Are You A Writer Or Just A Wannabe?

Nobody finds time to write. We make time for everything we have to do. Do You Really Want To Write?

Nobody finds time to write.

Few people have spare hours just lying around in the back of the closet, waiting to be discovered (and if you do, you probably have more trouble with motivation than time-management. That’s a different blog post!)

We make time for everything we have to do.

The crucial lesson, however, is that unless someone else has give us a deadline, we only make time for the things we find important; the things we enjoy.

Do You Really Want To Write?

Ask yourself: of all the things you did today, which of them mattered most to you?

  • What did you get out of reading all those tweets?
  • Did you get lost in Wikipedia doing ‘research’ for your novel? Did you really need all that information?
  • Did you need to watch another repeat of The Simpsons tonight, when you can already replay it, at will, from your memory?

Or would it have been more satisfying
to sit down and write something?

Do you even know where all your time went?


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The Difference Between You and a Published Writer

What IS the difference between you and a published author?

Time.

In one sense, linear time: they were discovered before you were. Bad luck for you, good luck for them.

But in another, more useful sense: they made time to write. Have you?

Who Do You Think Does Stephen King’s Laundry?

Well OK, maybe HE can afford a housekeeper. But it’s just as likely that he still has to schlep down to the basement himself with a load of unmentionables whenever he runs short.

And you can bet your boots that your favourite midlist author doesn’t have a housekeeper. Or a nanny. But they still keep churning out the books year after year.

Things only get worse for your favorite author if they happen to be writing Literary Fiction. They are almost guaranteed to be a commercial failure and have to subsidize their income teaching rich kids at private universities to appreciate the rebellious soul of art. If they’re lucky they might negotiate a semester’s sabbatical in which to write their next book, but only if  they agree to eat nothing but oatmeal, turn off the heating and bust out the fingerless gloves.

And even if your favorite commercially-successful author can afford an assistant to make sure the cat gets fed, they  can’t pay her to write the book, do the revisions, talk to the agents and editors, catch the planes and go on the book tour for them.

When Do Authors Find Time To Write?

Just like us: in the gaps between Real Life’s obligations.

If you’re commercially successful one day (or have no life) you might be able to wedge those gaps open a little wider.

But life is happening to everyone. And somehow, thousands of people finish books every year.

When Will You Make Time To Write?


Part of the Time To Write Series.


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One Simple Rule For Writing Success

Photo on 2011-01-11 at 10.36

Ever have one of those lessons that you know, but you need life to kick you in the face with again and again, because you can’t make yourself learn it otherwise?

I’m currently letting life kick me in the face with this one:

Write First. Then Let Life Happen.

It’s hard to make time for writing. It’s harder when you’re worrying about all the other things you have to do as well.

  • Do you peek at your email before you sit down to work on your current writing project?
  • Do you do a survey of all the projects you want to work on?
  • Do you check Twitter, because, c’mon each tweet is only 140 characters long?

And do you end up finding it harder and harder to start work on your actual writing?

Join me in my new pledge: Write First.

As much as I possibly can, I pledge to Write First.

The rest of life will catch up with me as soon as it possibly can, whether or not I invite it in. So when I sit down to write, I will write first, email later.

To help me with this pledge, here are some things I’m going to do

  • Plan what I’m going to work on before my next writing session begins – I don’t want to sit down and think ‘hmm, what will I work on today?’. I want to sit down, knowing that I’m working on that scene where my main character is doing this thing. Or that I’m going to take this story idea and turn it into a first draft. If I have to plan this the night before, fine. If I have to plan it while I’m driving home from a day of Real Life, that’s OK too. But I need to be ready to go as soon as I sit down.
  • I will not have any social media windows open until after I have reached my goal for the day.
  • I will not give up until I have reached my word count or project goal for the day. Even if I’m feeling stabby.

How about you? Will you join me? What will your ‘rules’ be?

The First Thing Writers Should Do Every Day

Beach Inspiration by Debbie Ohi
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

It’s hard enough to find time to write. Then, when you finally do, you face the paralysis of the blank page/blinking cursor.

The most useful tool I have discovered for getting past that frozen moment of potential is to do some warm-up writing.

Morning Pages And The Truth Point

I first discovered this technique in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the form of her morning pages.

Cameron advises you to sit down first thing every morning and write three pages’ worth of nothing in particular, just to see what come out. She lets you get several weeks into the program before asking,

Have you discovered the Truth Point yet?

And I had.

I discovered that somewhere on the second page (if I was writing longhand), my writing went from being awkward to flowing. Try it. After a page or two, you’ll find something to write about or you might just find your descriptions getting more interesting, your turn of phrase more entertaining and natural.

After writing ‘nothing’ for three pages, you’ll be able to plunge into an actual writing project and be at your best on the first line.

750Words.com

Flash forward a decade or two, and the website 750words.com offers an online version of Morning Pages, complete with somewhere to do your writing in case you don’t want to write on your blog or in a notebook that someone might find.

The host of 750words.com credits Cameron with inspiring the site, and says that 750 words is the ‘truth point’ for many people.

I have writing friends who blog first thing in the morning just as a way of warming up. Other people write letters to friends.

Tips For Warm-Up Writing

The only thing I would add is that, like 750words.com, you should be free to protect your warm-up writing. It’s not meant for display. It’s meant as warm-up. If you’re happy posting your warm-up writing to a blog or posting it off toa  friend, great. But protect yourself as much as you need to.

And no sneaking off and reading Twitter or Facebook, or your favourite author, now!

Make Time To Write — Because You’ll Never “Find” It.

Time
Time by Robbert van der Steeg

Acres of Internet space have already been devoted to this topic, because it’s a tough one. There are as many solutions as there are people who want to write, so there is always room for one more blog post on the topic.

In this 3-post  series, I’m going to give you some thoughts, some links and some tools, to help inspire you to find time for your writing.


TIME FOUND UNDER SOFA CUSHIONS!

There is a reason you never see that headline. Time is never found. Time is made, cadged, scrimped, stolen, begged, borrowed, spent.

There is always something else you could be doing. Always. The trick is, finding ways to make time for the things that really matter to you.

Make Tough Sacrifices

I’m saying this first, to get it over with because it sounds awful, but you will have to make sacrifices if you want to make writing a priority. Some of these sacrifices will be hard.

Today I turned down a walk with a friend, which I know would have been lovely. Sometimes a walk with a friend is the perfect thing to boost your creativity. But for me, this week, it would eat into the only clear time I have to Get Stuff Done. Some of that stuff is mundane, household stuff, but part of that Stuff is Writing & Writing Prep.

No matter how nice that walk would have been,  I had to say ‘no’.  Next week, I’ll budget my time differently to make sure I can say ‘yes’.

Make Easy Sacrifices

Some things will be easy to give up, or at least good for you.

Me? I overeat. When I’m stressed or bored I head for the pantry and strap on the nosebag. It uses up time and leaves me comfortably numb. But if I’m serious about my writing, I resist the nosebag, make light, healthy meals and get back to my notebook. Good for productivity and good for my heart.

An ‘hour long’  TV show is actually 42 minutes of content. The rest is commercials. Why not record your favourite shows or download them from iTunes? Even if you still watch two shows in an evening, you could carve out 36 minutes for writing just by watching it commercial-free and still get to bed at the same time.

What changes could you make, even if occasionally, to create more time for the thing you really love to do?

Accept That You Can Write In Bursts

You don’t need long swathes of time in which to write. In fact, that can be bad for productivity. As someone who has suffered prolonged bouts of enforced inactivity (lack of a work visa, looking after small children) I can tell you that more free time does not make writing easier. You just get more creative with your excuses.

Jamming in 250 words here and there on your commute — a 1000 if you’re lucky on a lunch break — keeps your writing feeling like a treat, not a chore.

Plus, it’s how most full-time writers started. Stephen King wrote after shifts at the laundromat. Scott Turow wrote bits and pieces while working as for the US Attorney’s office. Most ‘literary fiction’ writers have quite demanding schedules teaching at colleges and conferences. Even if they do get to take a semester off to finish a novel, they can hardly wait for inspiration to strike during that one precious semester.

Accept That You Can Write In Big Long Jags

If you do get the chance to write in a big binge on the weekends, go for it. Don’t feel guilty. Some people spend hours watching sports every Sunday. Do what you enjoy; what makes you a better person. Negotiate with family/friends for writing time if you have to, and write as fast as you can for as long as you can, whenever you get the chance.

Separate Your Thinking Time and Your Writing Time

On that note, don’t put off thinking about your story even if you don’t have time to sit down and write. When do get some writing time, you want the ideas to be flowing. You can think about the next plot development while you are doing any menial task (of which we all have plenty).

But do try to focus. It’s hard to stop your mind wandering off to the sequel or what you’ll do with your wealth when people are using your name where they used to use Stephen King’s. Rein it in. Focus on the next scene, the next bit of dialogue, the next plot twist. Make notes if you have to.  Better yet, commit the ideas to memory, then you’ll be turning them over and over until it’s time to write.

Then, when you do carve your 36 minutes out of the evening’s schedule, your fingers will be twitching. You’ll be ready to jump right in.

Scare Yourself Straight

If you find yourself frittering your time away on Facebook or Twitter or in front of the TV when you know you could be writing, take an excellent piece of advice from Jon Scalzi:

“Think of yourself on your deathbed saying, “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.”

Take a moment now. Picture it. Use that fertile imagination of yours.

If you aren’t already sweating, then maybe there is a whole other reason why you can’t and won’t find time to write.

And that’s OK, too. Maybe you’re really a reader, a critic, an enthusiastic conneseur of the narrative form. Join a book group or a film society and have fun with your life. Just stop beating yourself up about not finding time to write.

But if you’re a writer, make time. You’ll never “Find” It.


Am I being glib? Smug? Wrong? Have you found things that work for you? Tell me in the comments.

My favourite comment earns the writer an advance copy of the Time Test Tool I’m working on, to be launched to the Creativity Lab mailing list in two weeks.

Writing In The Fast Lane – Interview With AdorablyAlice

As writers we’re curious. About everything. About people, technology, history, our neighbours, everything.

I’m particularly curious about other writers and how they work, what keeps them going, why they do it.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews with writers, starting with writers who took part in the StoryADay challenge last May.

AdorablyAlice was one of our most active writers during the first challenge. In this interview she gives a lot of credit for her writing success to her secret weapon: her friend and mentor: Cid (also a StoryADay veteran). I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below, picking out one thing from this interview that stood out for you: something that sounded sooooo familiar it made you smile, or something you’d like to try in your own writing life.


Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?

I used to write a lot when I was younger. Sometime after high school, I stopped. It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2009 that I began writing again. So between NaNo and StADa, I was still trying to find a balance between work, school, life and writing.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

Cid. I found out about StADa through her, and because short story is my weakest point, I thought it would be a good challenge. Plus, I thought it would help me get into the habit of writing daily.

What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?

I wanted to write something every day, and I wanted to get stronger at writing short stories. I did write everyday, but I think I’m still weak in writing short stories. I learned about Twitter fiction, which intrigued me, and I actually wrote a few TwitFic pieces.

How do you make time for writing?

This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I am most productive on #writersdatenight (yes, I have to include the Twitter hashtag). Once a week a group of five writers (including myself) meet at McAllister’s to eat, socialize a little and write. Because the other four ladies have been writing longer than I have, I feel motivated to write a lot when I’m around them. The sound every one typing is motivating. I’ve tried other writing groups, but they’ve been more socializing than writing, so I don’t enjoy them as much. Lately, Cid has been setting goals for me. Write 5K and get a book. Write 5K and have a Glee marathon. It works. She’s awesome.

What are your aspirations?

Well, I’d love to be published and that’ s definitely a long term goal, but more short term…I’d like to finish a story. Well, I’ve finished a few, but I don’t revise. So a good aspiration would be to go back and revise…lol

Do you have a project or website you’d like to tell people about?

Well, there’s Book-Addicts. There are four of us (Cid’s one of them) and we basically review books across all genres, interview authors, have guest blog spots and book giveaways. It’s a pretty awesome place for people who are as addicted to reading as we are. www.book-addicts.com – get your fix!

I also have my personal website, www.adorablyalice.com, I keep up with how I’m doing as a writer, offering the lessons I learn as I delve into the mysterious ways of The Writer.

Thanks, Alice! (And you can read more about Alice’s experiences with her writers’ groups and productivity in this blog post – which features a fun cartoon from my own writing friend and secret mentor, Debbie Ohi.)

[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]

Writers: Daydream Your Way To Success

On Writing

You want to write, and yet you find yourself reading other people’s writing, putting off writing, talking about writing, reading about writing… even writing about writing, but not actually writing.

Why Aren’t You Writing?

Writers have vivid imaginations, but we’re not always good at pointing them in the right direction. Instead of imagining what our characters eat for breakfast (or who they eat it with), we fritter away our creative energy on ourselves, our imaginary future careers and our disproportionate fears:

  • Fear of failure (“What if my writing is no good?”),
  • Fear of other people’s opinions (“What if my non-writer friends think I’m stuck-up? Pretentious? Ridiculous? Selfish?”)
  • Fear of success (“What if I am successful once and people expect me to do it again? What if I can’t? What if I can but it feels too much like work?”)

Daydreaming is what we do, though (Einstein called it ‘thought experiements’. Doesn’t that sound nice?)

So let’s take that skill and use it to propel you into a state where you can’t wait to do some actual, honest-to-goodness writing!

Think about your current project. The one that gives you butterflies in your stomach when you think about it. The ambitious one you really want to start but are stalling over.

What Are Your Goals?

  • Are you writing to prove to yourself that you can finish a piece in this style (a novel, a poem, a play, a short story?).
  • Are you trying to develop your style?
  • Are you trying to make one little girl in her bedroom feel the way you felt the first time you read “A Wrinkle In Time”?
  • Are you trying to win the Newberry Award?

(Hint the latter one is an outcome, not a goal. Shelve it and focus on finding what you love).

What Will Happen If You Succeed?

What will happen? How will you feel? Will you be more or less confident? What will you be able to do next?

Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Grab a pen and write down the answer to those questions. Now look at what you wrote and think about what you didn’t dare write.

For those results, isn’t it worth taking the risk?

Now go! Get writing!

If you’d like some free tools to help you explore these ideas more fully, sign up for the Story A Day Creativity Lab: a low-frequency mailing list containing workbooks and practical exercises to get you closer to your writing goals.

Finding Time To Write – Parents’ Version

Writing and taking care of small children are two not-entirely-compatible aims in my life, how about you?

Take today: I got up early, started to write… The kids started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”

I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was getting what they needed.

Something had to give. So I came up with a technique that has been working out really well…

So it’s the summer holidays here in the US and that means fun with the kiddies for we stay-at-home parents.

Which is all great, of course, but sometimes you still want (NEED!) to get some writing done. It can be incredibly frustrating to try to write and take care of a family, especially if you have small children at home with you all day. But it can be done.

I know some people can get up early or stay up extra late, or write while their spouse watches sports. That’s not me. Or if it is, everyone else wakes up early too!

Take today: I got up early, started to write, got all inspired and came up with tons of great ideas. The kids got up and started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and worst of all “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”

Oh, the guilt. I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was happy.

Something had to give. So I came up with a method, that has been working out well.

Getting Stuff Done With Little Kids In The House

My sons are 5 and 7 so they can’t be left alone (or together) for too long. They can, however, be set up on different floors of the house (or different rooms if you don’t have floors) with whatever toy/activity has captured their attention recently.

Today, for us, that means the eldest has a project making his own versions of Pokemon cards, while the 5 year-old makes a massive messHot Wheels track in the basement.

They both inevitably needed help, sometimes at the same time, (leading to more ‘just a minute’s and frustration). Finally I struck a deal with them.

I took the time-out clock (a kitchen timer) and set it for 10 minutes. They agreed to leave me alone until the timer rang so that I could get some writing done. When the timer rings, I go and check on each of them and ask if I can help or see what they have been doing.

I get what I want (writing time) and they get what they want (an attentive, engaged parent).

Then, depending on how things are going, I negotiate another 10 minutes.

KEYS TO MAKING THIS WORK

-Pick a time of day when the kids’ energy levels are right (that might be ‘high’ or ‘low’ depending on their personalities. When you know they can concentrate on their favorite activity for a while, pounce!

-Work to an outline. I’m not sure that trying to do any brainstorming or really creative work could happen in 10 minute bursts, but writing a paragraph or two of a piece that I had already outlined worked brilliantly.

-Stretch the sessions to more than 10 minutes if it is safe or makes sense or if you find the kids can handle it.

-Sit where you can hear them (I’m in the dining room, and they are in rooms with doors open, where I can hear frustrated whining winding up or, worse, suspicious silences)

-Be willing to stop after two or three sessions. You can’t push this too far. Try to remember that they’ll be out of your hair entirely one day (if you do your job right) and that even these long summer days will be over sooner than you expect. Take some time to enjoy the kids — secure in the knowledge that at least you got a few things accomplished today.