Wednesday, July 02, 2014

30 Deadly-Effective Ways to Free Up Bits, Drips & Gimungously Vast Swaths of Time for Writing

[Please note that as of January 2019 "Madam Mayo" blog is in-process of moving to self-hosted Wordpress at You can also read this post in its entirety on the workshop page at]


Where do you find the time? (Was it hiding in the crawlspace?) It’s not so much finding time as it is prying your physical presence and attention away, either permanently or for a spell, from someone, something, someplace less valuable to you—if you really do want to write, that is, not just pretend and fantasize and gripe. Herewith, 30 ideas some of which might make you shake your head, but some just might work for you. For me, most of these have always been no-brainers, but I confess, a number of them took me awhile to recognize and/or fully appreciate.

Possibility 1. Give up TV, Netflix, and social mediaJust give the screens, deep-freeze turkey & freakin' forever and oceans of time, vast and sparkling, shall spread before ye. 

> Adiós, Facebook! The Six Reasons Why I Deactivated My Account
> Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
> Jaron Lanier's Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts, Right Now

Possibilty 2. Cut the digital leash, the crackberry, whatever you want to call that soul-sucking hypnotic thumb-twiddler. That's right, I am suggesting that you DO NOT "TEXT"
and turn off that Pavlovian ding. The price of this is that you must therefore continually combat tidal waves of exasperation from loved ones and others that you are not instantly and always available to them. Find the humor in this. Because really, how blazingly ridiculous.

Possibility 3. No drugs. 
Duh. And I include prescription drugs here, too. Exercise, eat lots of vegetables, drink raw juice, meditate… do whatever you possibly can to avoid adult onset diabetes and joint issues and so having to take drugs, for aside from suffering from lousy side effects, you'll waste countless hours waiting for doctors to write prescriptions, then getting them filled at the pharmacy, dealing with insurance, and complications, and so on & so forth. Ah! But I am not a doctor, I have no idea what you should do!

Possibility 4. Reduce, better yet eliminate, or at least make use of your commute. 
If you can possibly live closer to where you need to be during the day, even if you have to sell half your furniture to fit into a smaller place, do that. Otherwise, try to get into the habit of writing while commuting. I hear some people have been able to do that. I admire them genuinely.

Possibility 5. No drama. Mantra: not my circus, not my monkeys. If you relish fighting / debating / gossiping because you find it entertaining, that's your writing mojo leaking like water onto the asphalt. Incessant worrying about other people's problems that are not yours to solve is also silly. You can be aware, you can be concerned, you can be compassionate, and when they are your problems, then they are your problems.

Possibility 6. No ruminating over the past.  
Regrets, nostalgia, whatever, writing gets done in the now.

Possibility 7. Less fantasizing about the future. 
Again, writing gets done in the now.

Possibility 8. Quit nursing grudges against editors / agents / other writers / 
reviewers / readers. Oh, the injustices of the literary world! These can vacuum up untold hours with yammering in workshops, at conferences, and over sad and grumbly cups of coffee. But listen here: the so-called gatekeepers and the clueless readers and half-literate kids glued to their handheld devices, they’re just doing the best they can, too. So are the peasants wading through their rice paddies in Burma. You are luckier than a lottery-winner to even be able to write at all. So strive to always improve and write for those who appreciate what you do, knowing that, of course, even if you one day win the Nobel Prize, only the teensiest portion of the population of Planet Earth will have heard of you, never mind actually read anything you wrote. Bottom line: If you can’t stay focused on doing your own best work, you’re not writing, you’re back to ruminating.

Possibility 9. Stop picking up the telephone. As Marie Antoinette might have put it, Let them send email. If you can, pay for an unlisted number and caller ID and change your telephone number at least every other year. If that little click to voice mail distracts you, why, just unplug it! And, pourquoi pas? Plunk it in the oven!

Possibility 10. Eliminate recreational shopping, aka "retail therapy." Whew, this one adds up over a season, a year, two years. So never, ever shop in stores or on-line or in fact anywhere anytime without your list. If an item is not on your list, do not buy it. Shopping malls are time- and money-gobbling maws and believe it, the marketers, watching your every move on their cameras, are more sophisticated than you think you are. Not only does recreational shopping squander prime writing time, but it tends to fill up your house with clutter-- a time-suck in itself. Go to a park, a museum, a library, the seashore, a basketball court, have fun and refresh yourself as necessary, but stay way away from the maw. I mean, mall. 

Possibility 11. Do not accumulate a large and varied wardrobe based on navy, brown and/or beige. And better yet, give all that away to Goodwill. If you wear clothing that is black and/or coordinates with black, you'll be able to make fewer shopping trips, pack faster, and do far less laundry and dry cleaning. And since black makes colors "pop," your blue sweater, say, will appear brighter. Yet another advantage: black makes you look slimmer.  (Ha, maybe I was a Jesuit in my last life.)

Possibility 12. Cancel the manicure. 
Horrendous time sink there. Plus, the polish is toxic and it flakes. (Nobody notices or cares about your fingernails anyway except manicurists, I guess, and those who get manicures themselves. Last I checked, they aren't getting much writing done.)

Possibility 13. Quit following the stock market on a daily basis. This is a tick-like habit that achieves nothing but a heightened sense of anxiety. On par with spectator sports.

Possibility 14. Quit playing computer games. 
On par with drugs. Or any other addiction. Including following the stock market on a daily basis.

Possibility 15. Do not color your hair. 
Depending on how often you feel you must cover up the roots... for most people who color, this is about once a month. If you add highlights or lowlights (which, my dears, if you do color, you probably should lest you sport that "helmet look"), you're talking about two and half hours in the salon chair. You might be able to read something fluffy but you probably cannot write while someone is washing and poking and pulling at and blowdrying your hair. Go au naturel to recover as many as 30 hours a year, free and clear. 

Possibility 16. Ignore spectator sports. 
Do not attend games, do not watch or listen to or otherwise follow games, do not discuss games, and whole weekends for writing will emerge from the sea of froth. 

Possibility 17. Do not indulge in expensive, time- and space-consuming activities such as, oh, say, collecting and expounding upon various types of fermented grape juice. Come on, folks, once it goes into a carafe, 99% of your guests won't know the difference between one chablis and the next chardonnay. Pick a reasonable brand and stick with it, white and red. For me, it's Monte Xanic
or else it goes into the pot for coq au vin.

Possibility 18. No more hauling laundry. You've got to get your clothes clean so, failing a maid to do it for you, get a washer / dryer for your house or apartment. If you do not have space, if it's not allowed, or you cannot afford this, then consider a portable washer/dryer because hauling bags to the laundro-mat or down to the basement only to find the machines full, that is one woolly mammoth of a time suck. (If you're paying for each load at a landro-mat, you might find it cheaper in the long run to use your own portable washer. I wouldn't know, since I'm fortunate enough to have a washer/dryer, but a little bird told me...)

Possibility 19. Never hunt for your keys / wallet / purse / cell phone. This is an easy fix. The moment you step in the door, you always, always put them in the same place, a designated hook or a bowl or a basket. This might seem minor, but those two to ten minutes of running around with your hair on fire add up.

Possibility 20. Never hunt for Internet passwords (or wait for the "resend password" email). Keep track of passwords, some way, somehow. I use Grandma's recipe box deemed seriously uncool on the Cool Tools blog, but it works beautifully for me and, so they tell me after reading that infamous blog post, many of my friends. (So there.)

Possibility 21. No boat. Do not ever even shop for a boat. Do not even think about shopping for a boat. Unless you plan to sell your house and live in the boat. Ditto RV, camping equipment, or motorcycle. And anyway, you cannot live in your motorcycle. If you like to go out overnight into nature, check out Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpacking Tips. (Watch out, though, he features a link to his UFO page.)

Possibility 22. No second home. On par with the boat. No, worse.

Possibility 23. Stop buying loads of soft drinks and bottled water. Take into account the time it takes to shop for them, carry them to the car, lug them out of the car, store them somewhere in the pantry or the fridge, then recycle the bottles and cans… Drip, drip, drip goes your time (and money). A good water filter will pay for itself and quickly.

Possibility 24. Prepare your meals with mis-en-place. Even when making a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, it sure does help to do mis-en-place. If you hate cooking, you probably never heard of the mis. Check it out. (If you want to keep it easy by microwaving everything or relying on take-out, see #3 above.) 

Possibility 25. Take email seriously. In other words, stop letting it pile up and become a giant, throbbing source of lost opportunities, embarrassment and guilt. 
Email is vital for a writer as vital as letter writing in days of yore, so do it well. This also means get quick-on-the-draw to delete spam.

>Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time
Dear Pope Francis….

Possibility 26. Use a "bucket" for all your to do lists and ideas. In other words, quit trying to keep everything from next week's dentist appointment to the ideas for your novel in your head. I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system and thereby free up yottabytes of short term memory for more creative work. (One day I may set up a little altar in a corner of my office to St. Allen.) For me, a Filofax is an indispensable tool for implementing GTD.

>Listen to this podcast of November 6, 2013 about the GDT method for creative people. (I couldn't find the direct link; you may need to scroll down for it once you land on that page.)

Possibility 27. Keep your closet decluttered and organized. Clutter not only makes it difficult to find things when you need them, it pulls and yanks and pinches your attention to decisions you haven't made (like, whether to get rid of that old mustard-colored shirt, but which might maybe go with something, or sew back on the two missing buttons?) So you're rushed and addled, right at the start of the day. It all adds up over a week, a month...

Possibility 28. Fie to piles. 
Piles are sinkholes of chaos and, to pile on another mongrel of a metaphor, they tend to sprout and ooze all over the place like fungi. (Yeah, did that need an editor.) Any time you need to do anything important, pay taxes, file a claim, send out a manuscript, if you have to paw and dig through piles to find what you need you will add possibly hours, possibly days, possibly weeks or even months to the process not to mention a walloping dollop of time-sucking anxiety. So get a filing cabinet, even if it has to be a cardboard box, and make proper, labeled files, and dagnabbit, file things.

Possibility 29. Let go of things you won't use but someone else might. This might sound strange as a source of time for writing, but think about it: any clutter, anywhere, becomes a drag on your time and attention. So all those old winter coats, faded towels, mismatched dishes, clothes than haven't fit for 10 years, overflows of flower vases, toys… For heavenssakes, sell that stuff, gift it, and/or make regular runs to Goodwill or the like. (But remember, trying to sell it will take up your time.) As my favorite estate lady Julie Hall puts it, "the hearse doesn't have a trailer hitch." 

Update-- on Cool Tools 12/12/14: 

“My top recommendation for the holidays is the Kindle of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing ($10). A one-time Shinto shrine maiden, Kondo bases her “KonMari” method on the assumption that one’s house and all the objects in it have consciousness but, boy howdy, even if you’re a die-hard materialist, follow her method and you’ll zoom to a wiggy new oxygen-rich level of tidy.” — C.M. Mayo

And last but far from least:

Possibility 30. Remember your pen and notebook. Always, except in, say, a swimming pool, keep these on your person; you never know when the muse may whisper. What I'm saying is, some of the most valuable writing time arrives in snatches
 while you're standing in the dog park, about to get out of the car, riding an elevator, etc. In other words, you might not have been planning to write, but write you do because write you can.

> Your comments are always welcome. 

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