Saturday, December 1, 2007

Writing in the Spaces

by Darlene Ryan

When I wrote my first book—A Mother’s Adoption Journey—the munchkin was a baby, just over a year old. Her father was away five days out of every nine working in another city. There wasn’t a lot of time to write. One of the things I learned back then was if I waited for inspiration to hit I’d never write. And the other was that I had to take advantage of whatever bits of time I could find. I call it writing in the spaces—taking advantage of all those chunks of lost time in a day—time waiting for someone or something else. Five minutes here, fifteen there can very quickly add up to a page a day. And in a year a page a day becomes a book.

Take time where you find it.

I carry a notebook with me most of the time. Several of my writing friends never go out the door without their Alphasmarts. I’ve spent time writing in the doctor’s waiting room, at the orthodontist’s office, at the Diabetic Clinic, and at the back of the school gym during a speech by the principal—she was a little long-winded that day.

Inspire yourself.

I’ve been hit by the boom on a sailboat, by a soccer ball, a two-by-four, a car door and a sewer pipe—which is partly why I’ve spent so much time writing in my doctor’s waiting room. I’ve rarely been hit by inspiration. But I’m often writing something in my head while I’m doing something else—which might explain all those “non-inspirational” whacks to the head I have suffered.

When I’m scrubbing the kitchen floor I’m also writing a scene in my mind. Waiting at the express checkout in Wal-mart I’m trying to fix a plot-hole in my outline. And if you notice me mumbling to myself when I’m out on my daily walk that’s because I’m working on dialogue—or practicing to sing back-up for Rascal Flatts.

Don’t finish that thought.

Whether you’ve been writing for ten minutes or two hours, when you stop, set up your next starting point. Scribble a few notes about what happens next. Read the next paragraph in your outline. Some writers swear by stopping in the middle of a scene or even the middle of a sentence.

Just do it.

Don’t waste time staring at an empty page or blank monitor. (Which you won’t have if you’ve already set up your starting point.) No checking emails just one more time or warming up your fingers with a quick game of Solitaire. When you have time to write, write. Don’t worry about exact grammar or finding the perfect adjective. Get the words down on paper. Churning out words without obsessing about every one may feel weird at first. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I swear.

Maybe you’ll end up with a scene you’re certain is badly constructed, poorly written drivel. Maybe next month when you’re looking at the same scene in rewrites you’ll be surprised at how good it was.

Don’t write.

Yep. That wasn’t a typo. Spending every spare minute writing or thinking about writing will turn you into a twitching, stressed out drudge. Make sure some of those free minutes in the day go to your family, your friends and you. Have coffee with a friend instead of your notebook sometime. Once in a while spend those few minutes standing in line imagining yourself chatting up Matt Lauer on the Today Show. (Love you, Matt!)

So how about giving it a try for the next month? Five minutes here, twenty there. At the end of the month see if you’ve written more than you usually do. That’s it. Let me know how it works. You can email me through my website: I promise to take five minutes to answer.


Terra Kent said...

I have done just that a lot of times and do it with my reading too. Have a great weekend.

A Paperback Writer said...

this is what I have to do to get all my lesson-planning done. Writing is what I GET to do to reward myself when a week's worth of lesson planning and grading is finished. (Which, at this time of the year, is practically never.)