Pen to Paper: Steal Some Time to Write

You know that I like to write in airports--it makes me feel clever to take that otherwise lost time and turn it into something useful. Plus, I always feel better when I've spent at least part of my day writing. Well it turns out that some of you are masters at stealing time, too. I was particularly inspired by Tyrean, who keeps a small notebook in her purse in case the line at the grocery store gets too long. It resonated with a video I watched this week from a graduation speech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005, encouraging the graduates to choose how they react to the world around them:

So in honor of that, and inspired by Tyrean, here's this week's writing activity: The next time you find yourself waiting, write. Use pen and paper, and don't worry if you feel like you stick out because you're writing in line at the grocery store, while you're waiting for the dentist, or waiting to pick your kids up from dance class. Just put that pen to paper and write.

If you need a prompt, use this: When she (or he) first stood in that line--two hours of waiting ahead--she had no idea how it would change her life. 

Yep, it's cheesy. But in the honor of shitty first drafts, see what you come up with. If you're so inspired, share it with us here and I'll do the same.

Practice Writing: How to Write When You Don't Know What to Write About

We all have those moments. Our last writing project is finished and we haven't found a new one. Or we've signed up for a writing retreat but have no idea how we'll use the time. "Practice Writing" can be a great way to weather the down time, stay connected to writing, and be ready when our next idea arrives.

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Make Time to Write: Steal Small Moments in Strange Places

  I recently flew to Germany to meet up with my college roommates, one of whom lives in Berlin. I used to love flying because it meant I was going somewhere. It's lost its luster, especially flying through Newark.

On this particular trip, I watched a gate attendant yell at passengers for nearly missing their flight. She furrowed her brow so deep her eyebrows knit themselves together: "How stupid, waiting so long to go to the airport. I would come here first thing in the morning. I'd never miss my flight."

The passengers tried to respond with kindness, but the more this woman yelled the more defensive and angry they became. The negativity built up like a cloud between them, and I tried not to stare (unsuccessfully).

I used to respond to these moments by posting status updates on Facebook. Things like, "Airports don't do much for my faith in humanity." Or I crossed my arms against my chest and sulked because I couldn't hurry the process along.

Lately I've found a new approach to dealing with the airport. I write.

Sometimes, it takes bribery or cajoling. You only have 30 minutes until boarding, you don't have to write any longer than that. Or, You can look through the skymall catalog first, but then it's time to write.

At some point, I return to the sky mall catalog because I can't get over the idea of spanks for men. But by writing for even a short time, I tune out the chaos around me and I feel good about being a writer. I actually wrote.

I've written before that we don't have to write every day, but we do need to show up. One of the ways we stop ourselves from writing is by waiting for the perfect place and time to write. A nice office. A block of time. No distractions.


Know what I do when I have all that lined up? The dishes. Or I clean the bathroom. Or I go for a run. Quite frankly, I can't handle all that time and freedom because I feel like I need to bring my A game and WRITE GREAT THINGS.

When I fit writing into a short time slot, I lower my expectations. It's about productivity, not perfection, and I end up writing more. When I write in a place like the airport, I feel sly and clever because I'm taking something I really don't like and I'm making it work for me. That keeps my ego happy and out of my way. Win win.

As writers we can steal moments in all sorts of strange places. Waiting for a meeting to begin. Waiting for our kids while they visit with the dentist (well, not me, but for you parents out there). In the car, waiting to pick someone up. In 10 or 20 or 30 minutes we can keep our work moving forward.

I don't know about you, but that makes me feel really good. Which in turn makes it easier to deal with flight attendants who make rude, snarky comments to the passenger next to me. Or the guy who is so big (not fat, just big) that he spills over the arm rest and takes up half my seat. Or the two screaming babies on an eight-hour flight. I know. You get the idea... How do you steal time for writing?