Flicking the Switch: Activate Writer Mode!

Craft, Creativity, Discipline, Perils of a Mom Writer, Self Talk, Time Management / Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

by Christine Hennebury

Thanks to Katharine’s terrific example, we all know that 10 minutes a day is enough to keep your creative life chirping along.

But do you find it a challenge to make good use of that short period of time?

Do you find it hard to stop your regular life and activate your writer mode?

When my kids were small, I really struggled with that transition. I had lots of ideas but even when I had *time* to write, I couldn’t get much on the page.  And now, even though my kids are teenagers, I still sometimes have trouble switching into writing mode. 

I know that Katharine has lots of great advice on this but I thought I would talk about some techniques that I use to get my writing done, no matter how little time I have.

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How Much Is Enough?

Since I know that I have trouble switching tasks, I have long searched for a way to make those transitions easier. 

One of the best solutions I have found is to use Jennifer Louden’s Conditions of Enoughness.   

Routine tasks at work or at home are endless, and you could lose yourself in them.  Before I started using Louden’s conditions, I routinely found myself trying to reach the end of task that are essentially endless.  You can check the link for more details, but, for now, you only need to know one basic premise of  ‘enoughness’:


Before you start any new task, you declare to yourself what is ‘enough’ to do today.


I use it as a transition tool so I declare what will be ‘enough’ of my routine tasks and then what will be ‘enough’ writing.  So, if I have three or four regular life tasks to do, I will decide what will be enough (in time or task completion) to get done before I write. For example, I might say  ‘I will clear the counter, make that phone call, and spend 5 minutes reviewing those ads then I will start writing.’ Phrasing it in that way makes it very clear to me and creates a specific endpoint.


‘Enough’ Writing 

I get into this more below, but I use the conditions of enoughness to determine ‘enough’ writing for one session as well. You could do the same, and help foster your writing habit and keep going with your work.

Here’s how that might look for you:


If you aren’t used to creating focused time to write, use sitting, prepared to write, as the key to your conditions of enoughness.

‘At 3pm, I am going to sit at my desk with Word open for 10 minutes. Sitting there is enough for today, I don’t have to actually write anything.’


If you are used to setting a focused time to write, you can use the conditions of enoughness to set a specific goal for each session.

‘Today at 4pm, I will write for 10 minutes about Angela’s art supplies.’


Setting these sorts of ‘conditions of enoughness’ will make for easier transitions between your creative time and the rest of your life. You will have a stronger sense of accomplishment, and be able to track if you have met your specific goals. (Note: If you routinely have trouble meeting your goals, the problem is the size of your goal. It’s not you!)


Identify a Transition Point

This is connected to the conditions of enoughness but is a bit more specific. Sometimes you need a clear marker, in time or in space, for the change from routine to creative time.

I like to set a designated time in a given day, or in my routine, when my creative work will start. I try to get really specific about it so that reaching the transition point is a clear signal to get creative.

For example, I might say, “Once I come in from that meeting, I will sit at the table and write for 10 minutes.”  That description is very clear what is supposed to happen and when. Having that clarity makes it easier to actually do it.

Bonus: If I can clearly visualize my transition point – coming in through the door, taking off my shoes, hanging up my coat, pouring a glass of water, and sitting at the table – I will be even more likely to do it.

Bonus Bonus: If I set up my materials for writing before I even go out, I will be even more more likely to do it.


Set a Timer for Two Things

Of course, you know to use a timer for your writing by now, right?

Well, I also like to break out that timer for my tasks beforehand so my ‘end’ timer for routine tasks becomes an start signal for my creative ones. Sometimes, I even use the timer for every task on my list so I don’t feel like they are going to go on forever.

Bonus: A timer for your writing can also help you avoid feeling any guilt about taking time for your creativity.  If you are ‘only’ taking 10 minutes, you know that you will be returning to your other tasks and you don’t have to worry that you wasting time that should be spent on something else.

(Note: Of course, I don’t think your writing is a waste of time but I do know a bit about how and why people struggle to fit writing into their days. The feeling that you are ‘wasting’ time is a common theme.)


Tip: You know that most phones allow you to change the ‘label’ on your alarm, right? So, you can change the label on your transition time alarm to ‘Get Writing!’ or ‘250 Words’ or ‘Activate Writer Mode!’

Advance Planning

Sometimes, it’s just hard to get ourselves into the right mindset to create things.

I overcome part of that challenge by creating a plan in advance. When I break up my creative work into tasks that match my usual writing session length, I get more done. When I have scheduled specific tasks for specific times, I get even more done.  That advance planning lets me get right down to work at my scheduled time. I don’t waste time figuring out what to do next. 

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that I do this perfectly every time.  I am not always successful at advance planning. However, when I *do* make a plan it really helps me to focus.

If you have planned in advance and you still can’t settle into your work, perhaps you need some ‘work time’ signals.


Work Time Signals

I remember reading a while ago about a writer who wore a specific hat when she was writing. That hat signalled to her (and to her kids) that she was working and, hence, not to be disturbed.

I know Katharine has a sign that she puts on her door to signal that she is working. I’ll bet that it is just as much a reminder for her as it is for her kids.

I’m often chilly when I am standing at my desk, so I have a pair of ‘writing socks’ that I keep nearby.  They remind me that I am there to write and they are a symbol to everyone in my house that I am making stuff up at the moment.

It doesn’t matter what the signal is. The point is to create a sense of a separate time.

So, you can make yourself a specific type of tea, or you can sit in a specific spot. Perhaps you can do a little ritual – light a candle, repeat a quote, count down from 10. As long as it serves you well, it doesn’t matter signal you choose.


Making Space

I’m sure there are writers out there who don’t have any trouble carving out their writing time. I don’t know anyone like that.  The writers I know are trying to find a way to expand their very full lives and add their creative dreams.

If you have trouble switching into creative mode, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t a ‘real’ writer. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It just means that you are living a very real life – one that sometimes spills over into your writing time.  If you want that to change, the approaches I describe here can help.

Photo of the author, a white middle-aged woman with dark blonde hair.Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her  at  christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .

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