Writing while travelling definitely does not always go as planned. Right now for instance, you’re reading last week’s blog post.
What I mean is, I meant to finish and post this last week but that didn’t happen. And yes, I get that this is more than a bit ironic, given that this is a post about writing while travelling (!)
Here’s what happened:
Last week, I was in Rome for a series of meetings for my day-job. (Yes, Rome: my life is so very difficult, I know. But my boss lives there now and so that’s where we held these meetings.) It was a packed week for me – management meetings, Board meeting and then a 3-day workshop that I was hosting. All of that side of things went really well.
Here’s where my writing life went off the skids…
Despite 12 years of doing this work and having weeks of meetings just like these, I STILL thought that I would be able to find time to finish this blog post for you and also get some work done on my own writing project last week.
LOL, my friend. What in the world was I thinking?!
What I was thinking was that – for the first time in 12 years – I would not have horrible jetlag that meant sleeping 4-5 hours a night, thereby destroying that “get up early and write before my meetings” plan.
And I also somehow thought that no one would want to meet with me outside the formal meetings, thereby wrecking the “write at the end of the day before dinner” plan and the “sneak away and write during lunch” plan.
What strikes me so hard now that it’s over is that I really and truly believed that I was going to write through insane jet lag and one of the busiest weeks of my work year. Yep, no problem! PAGES AND PAGES would get written. Possibly I’d even finish my manuscript because who needs sleep??!!
I do. I really really need sleep. Ideally, seven or eight blissful hours a night. And if I can’t sleep, then I’m miserable during the day and the only thing I can think about whenever I do have some precious (and rare) free time is grabbing a nap.
I did not write last week. Not a blog post, and not the 4 poems I’d planned to revise.
But that was last week. This week, I’ve gotten back into my rhythm and now I can tell you how I did it, and how I often do it – once the jet lag has resolved.
(Not incidentally, I get asked that a lot – “how do you do it?” – including by colleagues at my meetings last week. And these four strategies I leaned on for my writing this week are part of the answer.)
I said No to The Three Tenors
After our long week of meetings was over, a few friends decided to stay on in Rome. (Because: Rome!) One of my friends said she’d send me a WhatsApp if she found anything interesting to do, and I immediately thought “uh oh.”
My friend is lovely and I like spending time with her but I knew then that I would have to be making time for writing in the evenings, since I would still be working during the day. So I promised myself that I would not run off to do anything fun in Rome unless I’d first finished editing my poems.
To be fair, I have been in Rome before and have to come back again later this year. (Nothing but tragedy going on over here…) If it was my first visit, I’d have just taken a break and re-started my writing routine again when I got home. Let’s not go crazy – there are times when taking a break makes sense.
Reader, this was not one of those times.
When my friend WhatsApped on Tuesday to ask if I wanted to go to a concert with the Three Italian Tenors, did I want to go? Heck yes! I’m getting more into opera these days, party animal that I am, and I would have loved to go out for an evening of dinner and music in Rome. But the poems weren’t done, and so I said no.
There’s no way around this: if you want to write in the middle of a busy life, you have to prioritize your writing time. And sometimes that means saying no to other things – perhaps fun things, or maybe volunteer work. (I say this with love: get off the committees and write your book already!)
I know from harsh experience how easy it is to let everything else other than writing fill up my days and nights, and equally, I also know how crappy I feel when I’ve let weeks or months go by without writing. When I’m not writing, I forget who I am and begin to feel really low about the self-betrayal involved – nothing The Three Italian Tenors could offer is worth that.
I Promised Myself Treats
All that said, I know myself well and an entire week of all writing and no Roman play was not going to work either. So I promised myself treats.
A gelato and walk in the sunshine tomorrow, if I did my Long Time writing session tonight. (This place is arguably the best gelato in the world, by the way. I can recommend the Lavender-Rose and the Ricotta-Fig.)
A new journal with leather binding and Italian marbled paper cover from one of my favourite paper shops near the Pantheon if I manage 3 Short Time writing sessions. (See pic above! It smells so good, you guys…almost as good as gelato.) This was a highly motivating treat, let me tell you.
A girl’s gotta have some fun, right? By connecting fun with having accomplished some of my writing goals, I do two things:
- I live up to my promise to myself and get the writing done.
- I associate my writing goals with fun and delicious things, like ice cream. And if that’s wrong, then I just don’t wanna be right.
Your treats might be different than my treats, and my treats will definitely be different once I get back home and away from the land of milk and honey and mascarpone. But the logic of “write, and then you can play” works for me.
I Set Time Aside
This is related to my first point above, but bears emphasizing again with some detail. I don’t just tell myself that I’ll write this week. I block out time in my calendar and schedule it. Otherwise, something else will always come up and it just won’t happen.
And then once scheduled, you have to honour your writing sessions as though they were an appointment with someone else. You wouldn’t blow off a friend, would you? So why are you blowing off your lifelong dream of finishing your book? Don’t do that to yourself – schedule your writing times, and then do your best to make sure they happen. (You can grab a copy of my Writer’s Weekly Planner, a free resource I’ve created to help you do just that here.)
I Forgave Myself
My daughter [waves at Emma] thinks I should title this blog post “Self Compassion and the Writing Life.” I had to tell her that I had already written that post. Because when you live the kind of busy life I do – we all do, let’s get real – then you have to forgive yourself regularly.
Didn’t write last week? Poor sweetheart, that’s okay…now get back to it this week and then you can have some (more) gelato.
That’s some of how I make writing while travelling work, and also how you’ve come to be reading last week’s blog post this week. And now that this blog is posted, you’ll find me walking to St. Peter’s in the Vatican this afternoon with yet another cono piccolo. (Cioccolato this time, I think.)