How can I find time to write when I’m already stretched so thin I can practically see my overtaxed heart beating through my skin? Isn’t that the constant cry of the writer, in an increasingly hectic world? I confess that I’ve raised this lament myself on many an occasion. I say confessed because it suddenly hit me that I am always harping on my husband and kids that “you have to make time, you don’t find time”. And yet, somehow, I hadn’t heeded this sage advice in my own writing conundrum.
Let’s face it – we all have multiple competing demands clawing at us every moment of every day. When I wrote my second book, I didn’t have a lot of free time on my hands. I had a busy litigation practice, three young kids, two dogs and a barn full of critters, all clamouring for my attention around the clock. Somewhere along the line I also needed to take care of myself, at least in terms of basic necessities – like eating, sleeping (periodically), bathing, etc. This left no time to write. Or so I thought.
But then I found myself under what seemed to be an impossibly tight deadline. And something magical and unexpected happened. I made time. I had submitted a proposal for Out of Darkness to three publishers, as I’d been advised to do for a non-fiction work. Two wrote back quickly saying they wanted to see the manuscript right away as the project was time sensitive (given the recent death of Jeff Healey, the subject of my proposed biography). Well, there was no manuscript yet. Not even an outline, except in the vaguest possible terms. And so I was up against the clock.
And guess what? I stepped to the plate. Finishing the manuscript suddenly became a priority. And so, I made time. Simple as that. Which brings me to the first of my proposed practical methods on possible ways you might ‘find’ time to write.
Set a deadline or goal. I don’t mean wait until that rare occasion when your back is up against the wall in a real-life drop-dead deadline situation. I mean simply set a self-imposed deadline (a firm date by which you’re going to finish a particular project or next step) or goal (a firm number of words or pages or steps that you’re going to finish within a designated period of time). Sounds too easy, right? Surely you’ll know it’s an artificial deadline and therefore you won’t meet it, won’t feel any real sense of pressure, no real consequences to face. And yet, our brain is a funny thing. Maybe it’s our innate human need to comply – or, depending on your philosophical bent, our innate competitive nature – but a firm deadline has a way of creeping into our psyche, causing a pressure to achieve, to meet the terms. So go ahead. Trick your brain. Set a deadline. See what you might achieve.
Have a set time to write. Try to be consistent and dedicated to setting aside that time, whenever it may be. Part of this is about conditioning your brain. If we come to associate a particular time with writing time, we’re more likely to productively engage during those precious moments. Part of it is also conditioning others in our lives. Family, friends or other sources of demands on your time will come to recognize that as your ‘do not disturb’ time. But part of this is simply about making time to write. Depending on whether you’re an early morning or late night person, maybe just get up or stay up fifteen minutes extra each day. That’s not much – which is a good thing, because it won’t be intimidating and might just be achievable. But when you add up those minutes, you’ve just given yourself the gift of an extra 1¾ hours of invaluable writing time each and every week. That’s 5,460 minutes or 91 hours per year. And that’s a solid start.
Have a set place to write. This is tied to method #2 above. Once you’ve found your set time of the day to write, find a comfortable spot, a place where you’ll be able to sink into the writing and not be distracted by other demands on your attention. Again, part of this is conditioning your brain. Once our brain connects our chosen time and place with our writing, we’ll more quickly settle into productive mode in those moments. Also, those around will eventually start to recognize and respect your space as a ‘no talking’ zone.
Take every moment you can to write anywhere you can. Now, at first blush this may seem inconsistent with #2 and 3 above. But this serves as an and/or. In other words, ideally you can employ this tactic in addition to numbers 2 & 3. Imagine the extra writing time you can rack up over and above those extra 91 hours/year from your 15-minute increments. Alternatively, if you know you simply won’t set aside the recommended 15 minutes/day, then you really need the benefit of maximizing every spare moment. What do I mean by that? Whether on a laptop, in a journal or on scraps of paper if necessary, take those five minutes while you’re waiting for the kids to get ready for school. If they’re like most kids, those five minutes may stretch to ten or more. Waiting in the doctor’s office? No problem. Don’t think of it as a time-waster anymore. Just extra writing time.
Keep your manuscript or current writing project up on your screen when you finish working. That way, when you open your laptop, it’s right there waiting, ready for you to attack it for however many minutes you can squeeze in. This is tied to #4 above. When your project is up and waiting, you can best maximize your opportunities to take every moment to write anywhere you can. Get straight to it. Don’t open your email or social media. Do not pass Go. Proceed directly to write.
Encourage reading in your house. This is not just for the obvious reason that writers seek to encourage a love of literature wherever they go. While that’s a good thing, I’m referring to a more selfish, and often overlooked practical benefit. If you have readers in your house, you can use that quiet family reading time to write. My husband was a reluctant reader when I met him. I eased him into a reading lifestyle slowly, first with the likes of Dean Koontz, Steven King or John Grisham. Now he’ll read a wider variety almost every night before bed. I finally clued in that that’s extra writing time for me. My son flies through books as if they’re Facebook posts. So now when I see him snuggled up in a corner of the house with a book in hand, I’ll join him – not with a book of my own, but with my laptop, manuscript on the screen, ready to go.
Plan writing dates with your writing friends. As a writer, engage in writing circles and make connections with other writers. As you develop those friendships, try to schedule time to write together. You’ll not only motivate each other to write, but it’s a great way to connect on a social level. I’m lucky that my daughter writes. Now, we spend quality time together having writing days. We connect through our writing, sharing ideas, bouncing problems or blocks off each other, making sure to take chocolate bonding breaks as necessary. And hey, when isn’t a chocolate break necessary?
Have someone in your life act as your personal writing Gestapo. Designate someone to push you to stick to your writing time, your deadline, your goals. Like having a training buddy or personal trainer, we’re all likely to do better, to push ourselves harder, when someone is there to hold our feet to the fire. My daughter, Jade, is my writing sergeant-major. In fact, she is standing over me right now, tapping her watch, insisting that I get this post up by midnight to keep to my schedule.
Commit to an intense writing experience at least once a year. What do I mean by that? Well, there’s Nanowrimo, where you try to write a novel during the month of November (or its sister Camp Nanowrimo, where you try to write a novel during the month of July). You may not finish a novel in the month, but if you set your word-count goal and try to reach it, you’ll almost certainly end up with more than you would have without it. There’s also the added benefit of support and a healthy dose of competitive pressure from online ‘cabin mates’ during the process. Want something gentler? Try a writing retreat, like Writescape or other great programs. Want something more intense? Try a novel marathon. My daughter and I just finished our first Muskoka Novel Marathon. An amazing experience, shared with 40 other writers who come together to each write a novel in 72 hours. No, that’s not a typo. 72 hours. As Kevin Craig (a fellow marathoner) so eloquently said of the event:
We have walked thousands upon thousands of words, taken strangers to places near and far with the sheer power of our own gossamer imaginations. … The power of words, so thick and meaty...they can change the world with a stroke. You've put them together one upon another, forced logic and illogic to intertwine in whatever world you created in your mind for this long journey. …You were either absent or present during the creation of your words...there, not there. You were, however, at the helm...even in those periods when you completely disappeared, became not a writer but writing itself.
I’m not suggesting that each of these suggestions will magically free up time and/or fix your stretched and harried life to find perfect balance. No one solution will work for everyone. Some of these may not work for you. But if any of these proposals connect for you on some level, give you even a little edge that you didn’t have before, then this blog was worth the effort. If you have a method I’ve overlooked, share it – post it in the comments below.
But even if none of these methods turn your crank or resonate in any way, remember this one simple truth. You need to make the time to write. Don’t wait around for your circumstances to change, until you find the time. That day likely won’t come. However you get there, make time in your life for your writing. It’s enriching. It’s important. It can change your life. Heck, it just might change the world one day.