In my January post I talked about defining success and setting goals, and in my February post, I talked about respecting your own path. Last month, I covered developing a support system and getting friends and family to take your writing seriously. This month as part of my “Surviving the Writing Life” series, I’m tackling a big question:
How do you find time to write?
Most of us don’t have the luxury of focusing on writing full-time. If you have a day job or kids at home, how do you squeeze in time to write?
– Set small goals and keep them. Write 2 pages or 200 words a day (or whatever your goal is), no matter what! Some people find it easiest to get up early and work before the rest of the family is awake. But if you can’t squeeze in the writing during the day, you do it before going to bed. (You may want to give yourself one day a week off. This can be motivating earlier in the week, as you want to save that free day in case you need it more later.)
– Remove distractions. When you sit down to write, write first. Don’t check email or Facebook. Close your email and browser window. Apps such as “Freedom” block you from the Internet for a set amount of time. “Write or Die 2” gives you rewards for writing and punishment for procrastination by images and sounds. There are many others. You can also turn off your Wi-Fi or unplug your Internet cable, and only check email at set times.
Leave the house if you have to – go to a coffee shop or the library to write. One writer commented that she turns off the phone when she’s writing. Everyone knew to call her husband in case of emergency, which never happened. If she had her phone on, would people have come up with a lot more “emergencies”? Ellen Rippel, author of Outlaws & Outcasts: The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico, says, “They usually say, ‘I know you said not to call at this time, but I thought you should know….’”
But what if you have to research? Schedule times specifically for research, but don’t stop your writing to fill in one small blank. Checking a fact could lead to hours of book browsing or Internet distraction, so make a note in your manuscript such as [add appropriate clothing] or [check definition] and keep writing.
– Look for small chunks of time. When I had an office job, I wrote during part of my lunch hour. Some writers keep a notebook or tape recorder in the car and take notes while waiting in line to pick up the kids. A few minutes here and there can add up over the course of a week. Building habits takes time, so write anything, anywhere, to get in the habit, and don’t worry about quality or whether it’s something you’ll ever use.
– Look for bigger chunks of time. Some people may find it easier to schedule several hours to write on one weekend day instead of trying to write daily. Writing retreats – a weekend or a week away, with critique partners or alone – are also an opportunity to get substantial writing done. If you can’t afford an official writing retreat, see if you can borrow a friend’s house while they’re on vacation, in exchange for pet and plant care.
– Multitask. One of my friends wrote a novel over the summer, while her kids swam at the pool or had soccer practice. Look for similar situations, where you have to be physically present but can divide your attention.
Use a notebook or tape recorder to capture ideas when you can’t get to the computer. You can get a small digital tape recorder for about $30 and dictate while you walk the dog. Even brushing your teeth can provide an opportunity to ponder a plot problem or brainstorm ideas. For those who think in the shower, bathtub markers can allow you to jot notes.
Focusing on writing while doing other things can take some practice. When I walk with my mini tape recorder, usually the first ten minutes involves churning through all the garbage in my mind, but I won’t allow myself to turn around until I start focusing on my story. I also find that a menial task like emptying the dishwasher can let me think about how I want to word the next section, but it’s important to concentrate and not get distracted by the “to-do list” or random thoughts.
– Track your time. Just as dieters are advised to keep a food diary of everything they eat, keep a notebook for a week noting exactly how you spend your time. You may find that you are wasting more time than you realize on social media or watching TV. You may realize that a volunteer obligation has become too much of a burden. You may decide that it’s time to put other family members in charge of more household tasks. Or you may determine that you are doing the best you can already and should give yourself a break. Chances are you’ll learn something.
– Set your priorities. When you die, do you want people to say, “She was a fantastic writer” or “She kept a clean house and could always quote the latest TV show.” Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza says, “I homeschool two children and manage a heavy freelance load, but I make time. It’s the only way. I’m the only one who cares if I write, when it really comes down to it. Family and friends are supportive, but if I don’t make time, then I’ll never progress. So I work really late at night and watch very little TV. Basically I have no social life, which suits me. If I were a more social creature, I would need to find a way to balance things, but I’m happy in my jammies with my laptop.”
– Stay organized. This is worthy of its own article, so I won’t go into detail now, but if you have a problem with disorganization or trying to do too many things at once, seek out resources to help. One great one is Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time, by Kristi Holl, available as a free e-book on her blog, http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/.
– Analyze why you procrastinate. Does it happen when you’re hungry? Keep some quick, nutritious snacks handy. When you’re tired or stressed? Take a 15 minute break for a walk, meditation, or yoga. When you are lonely or discouraged? Set a timer for 10 minutes of journaling about the situation, tell a family member or friend that you need a pep talk, or review some inspiring quotations – but set a limit so you don’t get distracted for the rest of your writing time. See Kristi Holt article on “Silent Sabotage“ for more insight.
In some cases, you may have more serious issues to tackle. If you are suffering from depression, get professional advice. Perfectionism, fear of failure, and insecurity can also interfere with your work. These may be life issues that need work before the more practical suggestions here will be effective.
Tip: If you have an issue that is interfering with your writing, chances are it is showing up in other areas of your life as well, such as exercise habits, eating, and even relationships. Look for these patterns. Do you binge, indulging in an activity to excess for short periods? Do deadlines and expectations immobilize you, leading to a cycle of guilt? Is your identity dependent on being perfect, so that you take on too many tasks and work yourself to the point of exhaustion? If you identify an ongoing problem in your life, take steps to mitigate it. This might include joining a support group, getting counseling, or discussing options with your doctor.
More help: read the comments as well as the post on the Writer Unboxed entry Protecting Your Writing Time – And Yourself.
Kristi Holl deals with many of these issues in her regular blog posts. She also recommends the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Randy Ingermanson, and Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, by Dr. Caroline Leaf, who also has a video series available online (she speaks from a Christian perspective but brings science to the discussion).
There’s a pair of fun and insightful illustrated posts from Wait but Why on “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate“ and “How to Beat Procrastination.”