As a teacher, I’ve come to learn the meaning of the phrase “burnt out.” Wake up at six, be in the classroom by seven – the bell rings at 7:25. I don’t slow down until 3, and sometimes I even work longer. Reading papers, making tests, grading essays. An English teacher’s work never stops. The thing is – this wasn’t the career I planned for. I wanted to be a writer. But as my days teaching progressed into weeks and months, I realized that the free-time fairy wasn’t planning a visit anytime soon. Even on winter vacation, I had an unending list of things to do. How?

rohnI needed to reassess my priorities. In other words:

Don’t find time, make it.

I tried a few things that didn’t work.

  • I woke up at 4:00 AM, as a professor of mine recommended. Then I promptly fell back to sleep.
  • I wrote during my lunch break at work. While this wasn’t the Holy Grail, I did start making progress.
  • What really helped was focus after school. I cooked all of my meals, did my chores, and ran my errands on Sunday. This left time for me to go full-on hermit-mode every day after school until I finished my first draft.


  1. l-396001Be prepared to say, “No, I’m writing.”
    • If you’re like me, you want to go to the movies, out to dinner, spelunking – but you have to make writing your priority if you want to finish. Your real friends will understand.
  2. Don’t make writing a secret.
    • For big parts of my life, writing was the thing I did behind closed doors. When I decided to tell my students I was writing a novel, I was in for a big surprise: They were¬†excited! They encouraged me, asked me if I was finished, told me they wanted to read it when I was done.¬†There is nothing like writing a YA novel while the teenagers around you cheer you on.
  3. Disconnect. Have some willpower.
    • If you know that you’re going to log into facebook every 5 minutes, log out. Be honest with yourself. If that means unplugging the wifi and pulling out a paper dictionary, so be it.
  4. Create a habitat and ritual.
    • Find a place to get comfortable – mine is at the bar in my kitchen. There is plenty of natural light and no distraction.
    • Figure out the ingredients you need – I need caffeine, a snack, my Macbook Air, Microsoft Word, a reverse dictionary, silence, and several hours to get into the zone.
  5. Learn to break that ritual to gain new perspective.
    • Whenever I hit a wall, I learned to find a new place to sit or even stand at my kitchen counter. Change part of that ritual and remind yourself that aspiring writers wait for the muse, but successful writers put in the hard work.

4 Responses

  1. Thanks Becky, I just discovered your blog and website and I’ve already “liked” you, because I like what I’ve read. I find your history of oral story telling very interesting, because in addition to being a non-practicing writer, I’m also a practicing public speaker. I’ve recently learned the importance of story telling as they key to effectively reaching that elusive emotional level with an audience. Who knew that people are hard-wired to be moved by stories?
    I also like your obvious perseverance and ability to put your values front and center in your decision making. Well done!
    Reading your advice about making time for writing, which in itself if very wise, reminds me of a book I started but need to re-start (I allowed distractions to get in the way). Sorry it’s a self-help book, but sometimes they are actually helpful, and I thought that this one was pretty effective. It’s called The Health Habit Revolution, and the author is Derek Doepker. Perhaps as you discovered by using a bit of your lunch hour, he concludes that lifetime habits can begin with just a minute a day. In other words, one needs to get in the habit of getting in a habit. I hope I make some sense. The subtitle is Create Better Habits in 5 Minutes a Day. Who doesn’t have that?
    Anyway, you’ve got a new fan here in Chicago.

  2. So obvious you’re an accomplished writer who loves what she does. Spot on solutions given to turn time inward on everyone who yearns to position words on paper in a way that creates revisitable memories.

  3. Tip #5 is the one that I’ve had experience using successfully. I was an English Composition Adjunct Professor for 10 years in California. During that time I rarely wrote my own stuff. It was a job that paid very good money but it was unfortunately an excuse to not do my own writing. I thought I was saving the world by turning others into what I couldn’t turn my own self into becoming. It was very strange. It became a familiar place- a way too familiar place. Teaching others to write became an oxymoron. I’m the writer. I should be writing. I’m the literary athlete who should be on the field not standing on the sidelines applauding the efforts of others. It’s the one time in my life I kicked myself for not being more selfish. I enjoyed being an English Comp professor. The problem was I enjoyed it just a little too much.

  4. I especially get mad at myself for not doing more writing. As an avid reader I’ll be honest with you, writing these days is different. It’s more selfish. Writers write about what they think is important without asking those rare readers out there what they’d like to read. They ignore readers. They disrespect readers in doing so. A good writer can write well in areas where they rarely venture. I can do that. I have that level of confidence…the only thing I lack is a muse.

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