An ivory tower is often defined as a place where a person is cut off from the responsibilities of the world so they can pursue their own interests without interruption. Creative people may sometimes long for a perfect ivory tower where they can spend endless, uninterrupted hours creating.
But maybe your ivory tower looks more like this one—family, life, and job responsibilities keep eating into it, leaving little time for creativity.
The University of Oxford has churches and buildings with towers. And C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who both wrote masterpieces, worked there. Their books are so creative, we may think they sat in some of those ivory towers, writing all day. But Lewis and Tolkien were probably too busy to visit any towers—except maybe when family or friends visited and wanted to see the sights! Instead, these two creative giants found towers that had nooks and crannies for writing between their teaching responsibilities as Oxford dons and the normal duties of family life. Just like the rest of us.
In my present series, we’re looking at some things we need to continue to love and serve God and our readers with our creativity. My last post looked at how we can make our creative space the best it can be. Improving the Spaces Where We Create
In this post we’ll look at finding time to create. Eight children’s writers from the Write 2 Ignite team tell how they find time to write. None of them has a perfect ivory tower either, but their ideas may inspire you to find your own tower with nooks and crannies in which to write.
Creating in a Crowded Ivory Tower
When I was in the baby stage of motherhood, I would write in the middle of the night. When I woke up to breastfeed them at 2am, I would read my Bible on my phone while they ate. After putting them back down to sleep, I would stay up and write, inspired by the verses I had just read. It was the only time that the house was quiet and still. Now that my youngest is a toddler, I do most of my writing during naptime, but I still have my most productive writing sessions from 2-5 in the morning. When I wake up with an idea, I get up and write it immediately. The words are never there in the morning, only chores and children! Visit Erin at http://greneauxgardens.com/
Since we homeschool, our house has always been an active one. Rarely can I write while things are going on around me (TV, kids, etc.). So, I have found ways to carve out quieter times to write. Here’s my shortlist:
- Get up an hour earlier and write after my morning devotion time.
- Write when the kids are busy writing or sleeping.
- Don’t wait for big chunks of time before writing. Set small writing goals each day.
- When it’s not possible to work on a manuscript or an article submission, then journal when you can. This works well while waiting in lobbies for appointments, on your child’s afterschool activity to end, when you’re housebound for one reason or another, and more. What you journal in just a few moments may provide great material for a larger writing project later. And if not, it’s a keepsake for the next generation.
- Set tasks for certain days and time slots to avoid distractions when on the computer. For example, I only check and respond to emails on certain days of the week.
- Have a notepad and pen in every room, purse, and vehicle. Capture ideas when they fly by, for they may not pass this way again.
- Keep an editorial calendar posting writing deadlines, but also record what writing-related work is done each day. This helps when discouragement sets in. When I think I’ve not accomplished much in my writing, I look back over my editorial calendar and see where I’ve created fresh blog posts, submitted to a magazine, worked on a manuscript, taken a writing class, conducted research/interviews, etc.
- Before writing, carve out a quiet time with the Lord first. Pray and ask God to help me use my time wisely and for me to handle distractions and interruptions in a way that is pleasing to Him. Visit Sally at https://www.sallymatheny.com/
Different Ivory Towers for Different Folks
Karley M. Conklin
So admittedly, that’s been something I’ve been struggling A LOT with lately. But one thing I’ve been trying to do is meet with another writing friend once a week to just sit and write. Having the sound of someone else sitting across from me, clacking away at her keyboard, can help keep me motivated when I don’t really feel like getting started. Visit Karley at http://litwyrm.com/
Cindy Lynn Sawyer
What has worked best for me in managing my writing time is dedicating two whole days each week to just writing. Every Tuesday and Thursday I work on my mid-grade reader, taking breaks so my brain doesn’t fry. (Preferably breaks that involve some physical activity. (Bonus if it’s outside). I always strive to reach my word count goal, but if I find I’m fizzing out on the book, I turn to one of my smaller writing projects, like one of the magazine articles or picture books on my list.
Aside from keeping those two days reserved just for writing and finding ways to keep my brain from evaporating, here are other things that have saved my sanity and helped with time management.
- Finding motivation. I have a writing coach who keeps me accountable, as well as inspires and empowers me. I’ve discovered that this motivates me, and I am gaining new insights as to my process and style of writing through the observance of another person.
- Learning my limits. Knowing my writing speed helps. I discovered I can write 500 words per minute during one speed-writing session. This allows me to set realistic goals.
- Organizing my projects. Structuring a filing system on my computer is key. I am too ADHD without having my writing organized into folders that make sense to me. Visit Cindy at http://www.designed2glow.com/
I write at home in the same chair every day. I sit sideways in that recliner with my legs curled up, and l put my laptop on the armrest. My little mini Aussie climbs underneath it when I raise the footrest. I make sure I have everything I need and then I sit and write. Being in the same spot helps your brain to get ready to write just like when you open the freezer and look in the place where the Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream is and you begin to get hungry. It’s conditioning. You are Pavlov’s dog. Celebrate that. (excerpt by permission from Marianne’s October 3, 2022 Write 2 Ignite post, “Writer’s Blocks”. Visit Marianne at http://mariannehering.com/
Ivory Towers May Need to Adapt to Life’s Changes
Many years ago I read in Writer’s Digest that even if you don’t have oodles of time to write each day, do something related to writing every day, (I’d amend that to exclude writing on Sunday—although written prayers or journaling would be a great use of the Lord’s Day!). That advice carried me through the years of being a busy mom and having very little time to write.
Now with my kids grown and out of the house, I have more time but still consciously carve out time for writing. I’m freshest in the morning so I try to get my creative hours in earlier in the day rather than later. I use evenings to blog or read books related to my WIP or other mentor books. I also turn off my email when I’m writing because I know answering emails can zap my attention. And of course…we all know we have to get off social media and WRITE. Visit Carol at https://carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com.
Jarm Del Boccio
“I’m in a different stage of writing these days—less writing and more revising and searching for an agent/editor for my MG Historical Fiction and latest WIP. So, at this point in my career, my writing consists of journaling, writing social media posts and a devotional or two, researching for my latest WIP, and creating a blog post and newsletter once a month. All of these I consider legitimate creative writing.
I’m usually at my best in the morning, so, after breakfast, coffee, and devotions, I get to work on any of the above in my schedule, or when I am inspired, which is usually during devotions or travel. Insights in Scripture and history light my writing passion and compel me to communicate what I have found. Deadlines motivate me, so I was able to write a book proposal and the first chapter for an agent appointment last November at the Hope Writers Conference in Charlotte, NC. Visit Jarm at https://www.jarmdelboccio.com/
Nancy I. Sanders
For many years, I treated my writing career as my actual job. Each morning after my husband left for work, I showed up at my computer to write. Not to look around on social media, but to write. New content every day. Since I’m a morning person, I often spent my mornings writing. Then in the afternoons, I’d spend time brainstorming for the next scene in my fiction or nonfiction manuscript. Plus reading research books for information I needed to write in my next morning session. I prioritized my writing time as if it was an actual job where I had to punch in and out of a time clock.
Now that my husband is retired and our life is full of grandchildren and ministry opportunities and camping, I choose my writing time a little differently. I usually have ONE writing goal each day. Just one. It’s a big sense of accomplishment when it’s done and then I can spend the rest of my day without feeling guilty that I’m not writing enough. Plus, by accomplishing one writing goal each day I’m able to still work on some hefty book projects and see significant progress.(I just finished a 3-month, 120-page children’s book deadline!) And of course, often by just sitting down to accomplish that one attainable goal, I’m in the swing of things and pump out more than I planned. Visit Nancy at http://nancyisanders.com/
Building Your Own Ivory Tower
C.S. Lewis was a fast writer—completing and publishing all 7 Narnia books in just seven years. J.R.R. Tolkien, on the other hand, was much slower. He took almost twice that long to finish The Lord of the Rings. Their ivory tower time was different, yet they each completed their masterpieces.
Some ivory tower time is important if we’re to continue to be productive and creatively serve God and our readers. It’s tempting to try to fit into someone else’s tower. But if you try to squeeze into a tower schedule that’s too tight for you, or you rattle around in one whose schedule is too loose for you, you’ll be unhappy and uncreative.
Instead we need to realistically asses our personalities and circumstances to find the tower with the nooks and crannies that is best for us. No ivory tower is perfect, but when we pray and ask God to give us wisdom, He is always gracious to help us try different strategies and be flexible with life’s changes. AND maybe we’ll find a tower with a great view!
What are some ways you prioritize and balance your many responsibilities to find a tower with the best nooks and crannies for you to write in?
Stay tuned each 4th Monday for more posts to help you discover new paths to creativity. The next post will give you another simple technique to help engage your brain to keep looking and discovering.
Kathy O’Neill is an art teacher who loves to show everyone they can draw. Visit her website http://www.kathy-oneill.com/ to discover more about her writing and workshops, and her blog https://kathythepicturelady.wordpress.com/ for a Christian view of great art and related projects and devotions for children. Kathy has written for The Quiet Hour, Appleseeds, Devokids, and other publications.