Balancing time management as a writer

A student reflects on the lack of motivation he experiences after completing many assignments.


I first became a writer in the seventh grade when I wrote a four-page horror story for a Halloween assignment. I didn’t understand grammar at the time, but I relished creating a protagonist who was shy, like me, and describing the antics of ghosts inside a haunted house. 

Writing gave form to my imagination back then, and it still does. Two years ago, I wrote a short story about an ex-cop detective and made his personality as vibrant as mine. Around the same time, I wrote a nonfiction story that connects my growth out of shyness to the beginning of my jogging lifestyle. 

Writing gives structure to my life because I can organize my thoughts and translate my experiences into a linear narrative. Unfortunately, writing becomes harder to enjoy when I am stressed, which has never been clearer than this semester.

In previous semesters, I felt stressed because I struggled with time management issues. I submitted several assignments just before their deadlines closed and got a migraine the next day from hastily typing to get the work done. 

Since this was my last semester before graduating, I filled my schedule with fun and informative creative writing classes. While I was satisfied with the lessons and my conversations with classmates, I didn’t account for the stress of so much writing.

I spent a lot of time this semester finishing schoolwork at the last minute instead of writing in one of my journals or completing old short stories as I’d hoped.  

Sometimes I’m aware that I procrastinate on schoolwork. Other times, a mental wall saps my energy and that leads to more stress. 

The mental wall occurs at random and although I don’t have a medical diagnosis for the condition, it’s more likely to occur when I am overwhelmed with assignments, like this semester.

When I encounter the mental wall, it prevents me from writing despite my desire to do so. Even during my last semester with classes I enjoy, I’ve sat with assignments in front of me but felt unmotivated to complete them.

It’s not writer’s block.

When I have writer’s block, I can put words on a page, but they don’t sound right. When I encounter the mental wall, I’m unable to begin.

In these moments, as I stare at a page, my skull feels hollow and my skin feels like sandpaper. Instead of a vibrant narrative for my imagination, I feel sounds and images in my head run off the rails. 

Because the mental wall makes it impossible to focus on writing, it hinders my ability to think clearly in general.

The discomfort of my head and skin fades when I push the assignment aside. But if I leave my work unattended for too long, I have to complete it at the last minute and I get stressed, which makes writing feel less enjoyable and more like a chore. 

I can say from experience that writing a short story is never fun when it is rushed. As a writer, I love to put care into every word I use — creating a sentence with the perfect cadence feels like crafting an intricate poem. When I cram words together at the last minute for an assignment, I don’t have time to make a sentence reach its full potential.

It’s difficult to confront the mental wall. I’ve broken through it several times with serious meditation or with the luck of it disappearing, but aside from those circumstances, the mental wall gives me an involuntary day off.

I’ll have to conquer the mental wall eventually. Ever since the seventh grade, I’ve worked toward my dream of becoming a sci-fi and thriller novelist. I’m worried that once I start juggling tasks like working full-time and cleaning my apartment, the mental wall will drain me of motivation to write.   

When I read work from my classmates this past semester and saw how eloquently they wrote, how they turned in multiple assignments in advance, sometimes I doubt that I can be a great writer because I haven’t worked as efficiently as they have. It feels like the real world won’t be a challenge for them at all.

When this doubt sets in, two things encourage me: the past and the future. 

In the past, I’ve proved I can multitask, like when I’ve read multiple books at once, written flash fiction and studied grammar during breaks from school. Being able to multitask makes me believe I can find a balance between writing a novel and responsibilities like full-time work.

The future gives me hope because I won’t be the only one learning to manage my time. Because there are many people who work full-time and who use their spare time for a hobby, I know I’ll be able to work a writing-related job while writing novels on the side.

This past semester, I struggled with the mental wall, but I still produced great writing. Knowing that I am capable of multitasking and knowing that I won’t be the only one juggling responsibilities encourages me to pursue my dreams, no matter how tough the mental wall may feel.

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