10 Tips on Making Time to Write
1. If you don’t have enough time to write, figure out why.
Keep a journal of everything you do for a week, the same way you would for every penny spent if you had trouble paying your bills. Analyze your patterns. See what you’re doing that’s less important to you than writing.
2. Figure out where you can make the time to write.
If you really want to write, can’t you spare an hour or two every day away from web surfing, watching television, checking Facebook, talking/texting on your cell phone, staring out the window…?
Think about ways to divert any idle time to your writing. For instance, I’ll print out my new early morning pages and take them with me to revise while waiting for committee meetings to start.
One author I know has an office job and writes award-winning novels on yellow notepads while commuting on the train. Another friend writes exactly one page every morning in her pajamas before she goes to work—and she publishes a novel every year.
3. Still not enough time to write? Adjust your bedtime.
Night people, stay up and write. I know a night-writer who gets only 6 hours of sleep, then takes a 2-hour nap when she gets home from work.
Morning people, get up earlier. I’m most prolific when I get up at 5 to write first thing. (It helps to have cats. There’s no snooze button to stop their crepuscular crazies.)
If you have to leave for work so early in the morning and get home so late that it’s impossible to stay up later or get up earlier, see #9.
4. Go on binge days.
Do you need long, uninterrupted stretches to produce anything? Then go on writing binges. Claim a percentage of all your days away from your paid job to do your writing job, whether on your regular days off each week, vacation days, or other kinds of leave.
Don’t leave your leave untaken and your writing unwritten. You may even have to call in sick of having no time to write.
5. Block off your writing time, and mean it.
Schedule your writing time on your calendar, and heed it with the same seriousness you do a meeting with your boss or a doctor’s appointment you can’t miss.
Besides claiming my morning hour or two, I condense all my classes and committee meetings into Monday through Thursday so that I can I set aside Friday for writing projects—and I guard that time like a good dog. (Yes, Thursdays feel really looooooong.)
6. Don’t let others stop you.
Make your writing schedule clear to friends and family. Set the alarm, put a cute sign on the door, promise food or shopping when you’re finished—do whatever it takes to encourage their cooperation.
If they still won’t leave you alone to write, then send them somewhere else for a while, or else you leave the house yourself. Some writers form parenting co-ops, trading turns at childcare to give each other blocks of time. Others who can afford it will hire a sitter.
One winter break years ago when I had a novel to finish, I drove two hours to a cheap hotel in the boonies and got snowed in for several days of joyful binge writing while the children enjoyed time with their father.
7. Identify distractions and abolish them.
Can you not resist looking at the email when you hear that familiar ding, at Facebook when you get the click? Do you never write a word until after you’ve read the New York Times, the news on Google, and your favorite five blogs?
You can’t afford those distractions when you have only an hour to write. So don’t even allow yourself to log in to any of your accounts until after you’ve put in your scheduled writing time. Or don’t even turn on your computer. Write your first draft the old fashioned way, with paper and pencil. Go outside if you must.
And turn off your cell phone.
If an emergency comes up that would also make you miss a dentist appointment when you have a toothache (your car broke down, say, or your mother broke her hip), fine, cancel your writing appointment. Then reschedule it.
9. Change your job.
Some situations do leave little energy or creativity for writing. If that’s your case, and if you really want to write, then you need to change your job somehow—rearrange your work schedule so you can write at a different time of day, juggle responsibilities with a colleague, or perhaps change positions in the same company.
Or do you need to change careers entirely, to something more compatible with writing?
As a receptionist in an accounting office, one friend of mine works efficiently and writes between tasks (his boss is cool with it, except in April). Another writer highly recommends mechanical labor. She works on an assembly line in a widget factory, where her mind is free to plot all day. When she gets home she sits straight down to type it up.
10. If you can’t do, teach.
Yes, teaching itself takes enormous stores of energy, and we do have to prepare courses and keep up with our fields during breaks, but we still have generous chunks of writing time between semesters. Plus teaching some classes may even enhance your writing.
My favorite: When I assign my students a creative writing exercise, I can do it too.
Do It Now
Take out a sheet of paper. Draw a line down the middle. In the left column, write down all of the reasons and excuses why you don’t have time to write. In the right column, write down ways to overcome them.
This is a new piece based on advice I’ve often given, but once upon a time I published an article about finding time to write while raising children, “Enjoy the Journey: From Pen to Playpen” (Children’s Writer, July 1991).
©Lisa Rowe Fraustino 2010
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