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A Full Plate: The Writer’s Dilemma

By Patrick Kirkland · August 16, 2011

Right now, I keep a fulltime advertising job, a marriage, two dogs, and 3-4 articles a week, and as much as I try, I can’t seem to write anything under a thousand words. (I also suck at Haikus.) And I'm not alone. Too much to do means that tired, caffeinated brain is always firing. Even after a full day's work, we're left with a to-do list that never ends. Are you really working from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep at night? Then you’re doing too much. The human body is meant to focus for a few hours, do our business, and then spend the rest of the time socializing, relaxing. Being creative.

When you have too much to do, you may find that nothing actually ever gets done. How many to-do programs have you bought, only to fill them up and never check anything off? Or, like me, fill them up, and then never open the program again. How many post-its do you have stuck to your computer monitor, and how many emails do you flag in hopes that you’ll remember to come back to it later?

Writing is not physical, it's all mental. But after spending a day in front of your computer, very typically, I'm exhausted. I’m not training for a marathon, I’m not building houses, I’m not chasing and killing dinner. But at the end of the day, my brain has fired and released so many neurons that I have nothing left.

I’m starting to believe that you can’t work like that and still feel like a whole person. That too much on your plate starts a daily cycle in which the writing itself begins to wear down and suffer. Quantity begins to take over for quality, until I’m writing half-assed articles, stories, and ads, and wondering why no one's "discovered" me yet.

As a writer, we can’t be expected to spend all of our time working and not living. But how?

1. Buy a Writing Desk.

It’s a simple fix, isn’t it? A place for a computer, a notepad, a lamp, some pens, and maybe a plant. The desk means you have a designated space for creativity, and it means you separate your work life from your personal life. Sure, you can go to Starbucks if you want, but I'm good with fixing my own gourmet coffee, turning on my stereo, and working from home. But what I’m not good with is trying to turn any space into my creative space. Right now, my index cards hang up in my bedroom, my computer is on my kitchen table, my power cord underneath my couch. There’s no real place to call my work space. Get a desk, problem solved.

2. Write a Little Less.

Yes, I’m serious. Start focusing on one to two projects a week, and keep it at that. It's almost impossible to stay sane and write three different worlds at the same time. By focusing on one project, your story gets the attention it deserves, your brain relaxes a little and can fully fill in the world that you're in, instead of worrying about the one that comes next.

3. Eat Better, Don't Worry.

You can be organic or not. You can eat Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, cut your portions, cut your carbs, or eat any other way you want, but the truth is that what you put in your body reflects how you feel, one hundred percent of the time. And both cheesecake and brussel spouts are wonderful for my body. Too much time goes into worrying about what we eat and kicking ourselves, and not what we enjoy. Our emotions are better saved for the page, not our pants size. Get a clear idea of what’s going into your body, and stop worrying about the effect it has. Who cares, as long as you truly enjoy it? That is the key.

4. Play More.

Turn on the Xbox and have at it. Or better yet, buy a Frisbee and go to the park. Life is too short to spend all your time working, and there’s nothing quite like the refreshing feeling of having a little fun. Going bowling? Write your next scene in a bowling alley. You've heard of write what you know? Well, seriously, how much are you really able to write if you spend your entire day behind a desk? You never learn anything new. It's a big world outside. Go explore, and…

5. Take Notes.

Research comes from anywhere and everywhere. The things you do, the things you read, the things you say, and the things somebody else says. Take notes, mentally or physically, but whatever you do, don’t blink. You’ll miss all the good stuff. Carry a notepad. Send yourself a text message or an email, or make a voice recording, or just simply tell yourself that you saw something cool. Things happen every day. You shouldn't have to wonder about what to write. You shouldn't have to really even "make stuff up." With over 6 billion people in the world, there are a lot of stories to tell. You just have to learn how to tell them.

6. Relax. There Are No Rules.

There's really not. As much as I want to say, “I have to get this done,” I really don’t. You know what I have to do? Live, die, and pay taxes, and as someone else said, even the taxes are optional. It's your life; do what you wish. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. But that doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself doing it. If you start running ragged, take some time off. The life of beating yourself up and forcing yourself to do something leads to work that’s tired and uninspired. Writers find time to write. There are no rules here. Life goes on, your job is simply to tell others about it. Let them experience it in a way that they couldn't even think of. Remember, we're creating the best version of worlds, in order to best tell our stories and point of views. So however you wanna do that, go at it. Full throttle.