Friday, June 3, 2011

How do you find the time to write?

I get asked this question a lot. I think it's a really important one for all sorts of writers, because unless you're a self-supporting full-time writer, you've always got something else going on. Maybe it's your day job. Maybe it's running a household and/or raising children, doing volunteer work, etc. (as it is for me). Maybe you're in school and at the whim of the school year, meeting everyone else's demands while trying to maintain your own goals.

Believe me, it can be hard.

In the end, the way you write is up to you (because who else understands your needs better?) - but I thought I'd share some things I have learned in the process of trying to balance full-time motherhood with writing.
  1. Write when you can. Don't figure that it's a waste of time to start if you only have fifteen minutes, because if the Muse is on your side, those fifteen minutes could be gold. Over time, you can train yourself to improve your readiness for short stints like this.
  2. Stick up for your writing time. One of the most important things in getting writing done is making sure that you - and as many people as possible around you - consider your writing a priority. If you don't insist that it be included in planning, it generally won't, and then the "gas law of activities" will most likely force you to covert writing stints or extremely late nights and exhaustion.
  3. Write when you can't. Thinking counts too! If it's impossible for you to access a computer or even a notepad for several hours, play around with the story in your head. You can work on plot, character, planning, and even words this way. Store it up and get ready to let the fingers fly the next time you get time alone. This is also a great way to make sure you're getting exercise, because using your body gives your brain a great opportunity to play.
  4. Watch out for distractions. Everyone is different, but I can't write (at least, I can't write new material) when the television is on, or when I'm listening to certain kinds of music. The fact is that the TV is a devourer of time, and you can lose two hours before you even realize it. Most often when people ask me how I can get so much done, I simply say, "I don't watch TV." This isn't strictly true - but I never ever turn on the TV for myself. I watch it with my kids, or when my husband is already watching. Yes, so I miss out on stuff, but I can always pick it up on DVD later and plan a time to watch. Activities that allow you to think are good; ones that fill your mind with fluff are bad. And you might be able to edit during a busy time even if you can't create.
  5. Seek out inspiration. This is somewhat the reverse of #4 above. Take your writer's eye with you everywhere. Read books in your field, or watch television and movies that stimulate your writer's vision - none of that is wasted time.
  6. Consider having goals. If you're in a really tough period - like that sleepless one I had for about a year after each of my kids was born - goals can be more demoralizing than helpful, so be careful with this one (see #7 below). However, I've found that having a loosely held goal rate keeps me from forgetting about the task at hand. A chapter a week. Or just a scene. A sentence. Or just "I'll think about it sometime today," if you're in a storm and need to keep the hatches battened down. I find I feel happier and get more done when my writing is a constant presence in my life.
  7. Be patient with yourself. Keep in mind that every bit of your effort counts for something. Even just a few words that all seem wrong are helping you better understand what you'd prefer to do next time. Even a few stray thoughts that you can't properly remember are likely to contribute to your subconscious vision for a story. Frustration is normal, but don't chastise yourself for getting nothing done, or for getting less done than you'd hoped - that will most likely lead to you stopping altogether and waiting for a "time when I'm not busy." There is never a time when I'm not busy. So if I have to set my ideal schedule back by a week or two, I try to do so while saying to myself, "Well, there's always next week." Furthermore, there's no point in whipping yourself if you sit down at the computer and no words come out. Try to send your thoughts in another direction, or better yet, walk away from the scene and go for a walk where you can breathe fresh air and look at trees while you think.
  8. Believe in yourself and in what you're trying to achieve. Remember that it is worthwhile. Writing is a noble calling, and a beautiful one. It is engrossing and enthralling. Yes, it's also hard, but this is a classic case of a skill best developed through practice, and through seeking out opportunities to learn and grow.
It's something to think about.


  1. I wrote a blog about "How I Write When There Is No Time" here:

    One of the most interesting things about finding time to write is how the solutions change over time and life circumstances. What worked for me when I had small kids gave way to new strategies when I was a single working mom and yet again when I was a part-time-working empty nester.

  2. Thanks for the link, Deborah! I agree, solutions have to be flexible. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experience.

  3. Number 4 is key and it is my observation that one of the thin lines that separates a "pro" from the rest of the crowd is their discipline and ability to tune out distractions and get the writing done, day-in and day-out. Exempli gratia: Rob Sawyer is in Milan for a conference this week. He mentioned this morning that it is a beautiful day in Milan, however, "I'm squirreled away in my hotel room working on final edits..." Talk about avoiding distrations! :-)

  4. Yikes, Jamie - I think I'd let Milan distract me just a little! I hope he finds some time for everything. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Sleep deprivation, mostly. Though it does catch up to you, like when I sat down to work today and wound up taking a two hour nap instead.

  6. I absolutely agree with every point you've made here! Kuddos to us who manage to write. Life got in the way for me for ten years writing my first novel. I'm determined to NOT let it hinder me again. I think I can...I think I can...

  7. Finding work became harder with the oil spill and economy affecting our area. So finding time to write was not a issue, rather an escape. I never thought I would write a book but with my first one published (Making Friends with Candy) I look forward to doing others. Also I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world. If you have a story in you write it!