Why Writers Should Appreciate Long Shopping Lines

The past few months, my schedule has gotten busy and filled with lots of activities—important things, like school, chores, social interactions, meals—and less important, fun things.  As a result, it’s more difficult to find time to do everything I need or even want to do.  Even my writing has happened less often than I would like.

Sometimes, I get kind of impatient when things take longer than I want, because it’s wasting my time—time I could spend doing other things.  So when the shopping lines are long, for example, the usual thought to cross my mind is, “Ugh, I could be writing/[insert other task here] right now.”

Shopping

You know what, I really could be writing right then.

Think of it like a word war/sprint.

The point of a word war is to try to write as much as you possibly can in a set period of time.  No worries about spelling, grammar—just get as many words down as possible.  Usually, you do word wars with other people, and when the set time is over, you compare word-counts.  My favorite word war lengths are fifteen minutes.  It’s enough time for me to get in the “writing groove”, and really get writing.  In fact, for NaNo 2014, I discovered I could write about ~800 words in that fifteen minutes.

While you’re standing in line, you might not have fifteen minutes.  (I really hope the line isn’t that long.)  Maybe you only have two or three.  Maybe you have five.  And sure, there’s nobody to compete against.

But if I write ~800 words in fifteen minutes, and we pretend that I can keep that speed in five minutes, then I should be able to write 267 words in five minutes.  That’s…a lot of words for five minutes.

Okay, I really can’t write that fast.  Eight hundred words is only for those really good word wars where I’m really trying, and it takes me about five minutes to even get “warmed up”.  So in five minutes by themselves?

I get maybe a paragraph.  Or sometimes just a sentence.

That’s a paragraph or a sentence more than I had before.

Let’s say I can write 50 words in five minutes.  I’m on a long shopping trip with my…say, sister, just because.  Three separate stores.  The first one is pretty quick, no time to really do anything else.  But at the second store, my sister sees an old friend and she starts chatting.  Five minutes.  Fifty words.  The last store, there’s a long line.  Five minutes.  Fifty words.

By the time I get home, I’ve not only done a lot of shopping, but I’ve also written a hundred words!  My personal goal is usually to write about ~500+ words every day, so if I’ve already gotten a hundred, then I’m a fifth of the way to my goal already.

Even in other situations, sometimes just using those five wasted minutes, standing in line, waiting for someone, standing in the elevator.  Who says you can’t make use of it?  Five minutes start to add up after a while—maybe you’ll get your whole quota for the day done in five minute segments.

Of course, I would like to say that setting aside time to write solely is important.  Sometimes, you have to be totally immersed in your world.  If nothing else than just for your sanity.  (Break from reality, anyone?)  There are plenty of times where I can’t actually make use of those few extra minutes, but in order to go any further, I need to be in my world.  And five minutes in my world is…both not enough, and actually kind of frustrating.

So this does not work all the time.  I’d say, it probably doesn’t even work for everyone.

But five minutes.  A single sentence, even.  That’s more than you had before, and all you’re doing is standing in line, anyway.

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