Sep 26, 2010


Today @JKFlick asked me, "How do you have all the time/energy to do all you do?"  Her question reminded me of a similar question asked last December, which prompted a blog entry I'm re-posting here.  None of us can do everything, of course, but we all can do things that impact our energy.  Here is the original post from December 4, 2009:


The first thing I tell anyone, no matter what dream they’re following, is to quit making your dream a chore.  Do not try to punish yourself into submission, thinking you’re going to write more through making yourself submit to a schedule you don’t want to keep.

When you do things you hate all the time, you lose energy.  If you make writing into one more item on your hate-to-do list, all is lost.

So, you know, Don’t Do That.  If you’re looking at your clock and flicking a rubber band on your wrist every time you quit writing and people ask you about the strange welts on a regular basis, Don’t Do That.  Okay?  Yeah?  Don’t.  Do.  That.

So what do you do?  If you want more time in your day, figure out the things that give you energy. Too often we fall into the trap of thinking energy is the same thing as time.  It’s not.

We think in terms of schedules and clocks.  I get x amount of sleep, get up the next morning and get x amount of hours before I sleep again.  Bleah.  No.

You get life. And into that life you pour all your hopes and dreams and all the best you have for those around you.  And you accept the love and support of others.  And you may have to do things you don’t want to do, but you minimize those things and you tackle those monsters with leftover energy from all the things you love and enjoy.

Yes, I really said “leftover energy.” I did.  Don’t go away.  Come back and listen.

I don’t know what gives you energy.  You have to figure that out.  And when I say you have to figure that out, I mean you MUST figure that out.  Sit down and make a list of things that suck all your energy and leave you feeling horrible.  Acknowledge that some of those things are people.  Then make a list of the things that give you energy.  These things are the basis of your life.  They are the basis of everything you should be doing in your life.

The eye-opener for me, when I first did this, was that I couldn’t think of a single thing that gave me energy. Know why?  Because I’d turned all the things I love into items on my hate-to-do list.  If you’ve done this, you may need some time to think.  (BTW, if you put “making a list of things that give me energy” on your hate-to-do list, that’s not a good sign.)

The things that give you energy include characters, plot, and setting.  Acknowledge the people, the activities, and the places that make you feel energized and happy. Leave the grumpy people and the hated activities and the places you hate off the list, even if you feel guilty about it.  Be honest.  You’ll still tend to those things, but you’ll do it with leftover energy.

The picture I chose for this blog entry is one of my energy pictures.  Bustling crowds drain me.  Open spaces fill me up.  My family is sitting there on the rock.  After a day of hiking (energy +) with people I love (energy +) we ate a healthy lunch (energy +) and then my husband took the kids on an extra hike (support= energy +) so I could open my notebook and write (energy +).

It was a very full day and I came home with the energy to tackle monsters.  I took my hate-to-do list and slashed through it in record time.  And then I had energy to write more which gave me more energy.

You’re seeing the pattern?  It’s not about time.  It’s about energy. If you have energy, you will be more productive in the same amount of time.  You’ll be more productive than you’ve ever been in your life.

And how do you get more energy?  You follow your dreams.

You see?  Yeah?  It’s not about forcing anything on yourself.  There’s no resistance.  You’re actually going with your energy flow instead of fighting it. When I started doing this, I slept better and I needed less sleep.  How freakishly amazing is that?

Even my relationships became more solid.  If you’re putting time into your family and resenting not having time for yourself, you’re being unproductive with your love.  That sounds funny, doesn’t it?  But you know what?  People love being around you when you’re happy. And you know what else?  When you’re doing the things that give you energy, people gravitate toward you because you give them energy.  You change your environment so everyone around you is happier and more productive.  It’s magic.

And the really screwy, amazing thing about all this is that it’s easy. Maybe that’s why we miss it.  Here are the steps:

Figure out the things that give you energy.
Do those things.

If writing is a dream, writing should be one of those things that makes you enjoy the rest of your life more.  Respect your need for writing.  Take it seriously.

I get up early to write because that’s when my house is quiet.  It’s much easier to change my own habits than to change the habits of others. Most days I start writing at 5AM.  If I know I need an extra hour of alone time, I start writing at 4AM.  I keep my mornings simple: clothes, coffee, #amwriting chat until I’m awake, write.

An amazing thing happens when I start my day with writing.  Okay so you already know what it is now.  More energy.  More productivity.  And suddenly:  more time.

Most of us who write have other gigs in our lives, whether that’s a full time job, full time child or parent care, health issues, job searches.  The list goes on and on.  I homeschool my kids.  I double majored in English & Psychology, earned an MA in English Literature and then later went back for an MEd.  I taught college classes for over ten years and loved it.   It took a lot of work to figure out how to rearrange our family life so we could collectively follow the dream of homeschooling.  Homeschooling gives me energy.  I love teaching my kids.  When they get up in the mornings, my writing time turns into their learning time.

But you know, sometimes there are lulls in my work day.  When I’m full of energy, I can make good use of 5-10 minutes of time.

I know writers on #amwriting who write early in the morning and then pull out their laptops at lunch.  I know writers who write entire manuscripts on trains, subways, busses--during their commuting time!  I’m willing to bet that very few did this because it was on their hate-to-do list.

So much of making good use of your sit-down writing time has to do with making good use of your bits and pieces of time. Learn to cluster your ideas during those few minutes before your kid’s game starts.  Carry a set of notecards in your bag and phase draft bits of your plot while you’re waiting in line.  Scribble more.  Run through character dialog while you’re making dinner.  Observe things and ask yourself, “what would my character think of that?”

If you take advantage of all the spare minutes in your day, if you focus on things that give you energy, you will be more productive in the time you set aside for yourself. If you only get two hours a week, if you only get lunch hours, if you only get commuting time, prepare so that the words are bottled up and ready to flow as soon as your fingers hit the keyboard.

It’s not about finding more time in your day. It’s about creating more energy in your life.  Be a little crazy, live with abandon, and have fun!


  1. Well, when you put it that way it makes a whole lot of sense! ;)

    You are so right. Writing also happens in our heads, as we work out a scene or a piece of dialogue.

    Yes, thinking of writing as part of something that energizes rather than depletes is good. Makes one look forward to it rather than dread it.

    Living the dream is so much better than other options! ;)

  2. Thank you for reposting these thoughts.

    I am a new twitter follower (@9to5poet) and I am so glad I got an opportunity to read this. It's really helpful for me, as a full-time educator and a writer on the side, to think of energy rather than time.

    Thank you!

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Johanna Harness, Johanna Harness, Jennifer Spiller, Kelly Stapleton, Jose Nevarez and others. Jose Nevarez said: RT @johannaharness: My blog post answer: RT: @jkflick How do you have time/energy to do all you do? #amwriting [...]

  4. Related strategy: when looking at my hate-to-do list, rather than committing to completing a task, I commit to an amount of time. I can grit my teeth and do this for half an hour, right? Or, I won't be wrecking my day if I only have to do X for an hour. . . .

    It usually turns out I get way more done in the time frame than the task's onerousness had me expecting. It always turns out that I feel so, so much better for having made some progress, and the task feels less onerous therefore.

  5. Exactly, Marisa! Live the dream. :)

  6. Jessica--Thank you so much for the time you spend teaching. Definitely take time to replenish your energy! Yours is not an easy job and you have to take care of yourself to keep helping others. My best to you!

  7. I am making my list. :)

  8. Ann Marie--this is a great strategy. We manage most of our cleaning this way. Ten minutes of power cleaning is always better than an hour of drudgery. I also pair fun things with things I don't enjoy. So we run blah-errands on the way to to the library. It's the spoonful-of-sugar approach. :)

  9. I've enjoyed hearing from you in more than 140 characters! I like your practical advice, too. I'm bookmarking this post and tweeting about it -- it's very insightful.

    By the way, the comment font here is really tiny, hard to read. (Just helping out.)

  10. Thanks, Cassandra! And thank you for letting me know about the comment font. I'm looking into it right now. :)

  11. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. What a great post! So inspiring!