Writing Wednesday: Finding the Time to Write
By Kara Newcastle
Sometimes you have to get your writing done in spare moments here and there.
I know finding time to write can be hard. Life can get in the way. I was working three jobs (not counting all my book marketing and whatnot), but I was doing pretty well with my writing, blogging and cartooning for a while. Then came the Christmas season, so I was extra busy at two of my jobs, and I started teaching more classes at my dojo. There were times where I didn’t get home before midnight some nights, and then I had to get up early to do it all over again (oh, and please, no bullshit ranting about the wickedness of capitalism, okay? I knew what I was getting into and I was okay with it.) On top of that, my mom is getting older and needed extra help, so in the end I had very little free time for a while. If I ever had a free minute, then I was doing chores, was too tired to even consider sitting in front of the computer, or, honestly, just plain forgot about it.
Then, about a month ago, I was just about to go to bed when I happened to glance over and saw my computer, sitting silent and loyal on my desk. Startled, I sat bolt right up and thought, “Wait … when was the last time I wrote?”
That was alarming to me; I had gotten so distracted by a million other things in my life that I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t doing any creative writing or blogging at all. Alarm turned to irritation, and I vowed to get back on track with writing.
Of course, it can be hard to find time to write—this is something I hear from a lot of people who want to write but just don’t. If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, take a look at some tips for finding writing time, both from established authors and moi.
- MAKE time to write: If you really want to be a writer and you feel like you don’t have a spare moment to catch your breath, let alone put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), you’re going to have to make time to write. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while her daughter napped. John Grisham would get up early, write for a while, go to work at his law firm, come home and write again after dinner when the kids were asleep. When Stephen King was a high school English teacher, he’d write during the students’ study hall, and then at home when the kids were asleep. Ursula LeGuin wrote while her children slept (I’m sensing a theme here.) Agatha Christie found time to write twelve novels while working full time as a nurse during World War II. Sue Grafton wrote whenever she could find a spare minute while working full time and raising her children. The list goes on, but the story remains the same: they were all busy, but they all made time to write. You can find it too if you think about it. Lunch break, before work, after work, late at night, get up extra early in the morning, during your commute (so long as you’re not the one driving), waiting for a movie, after the kids go to bed, while the kids are school, while you’re sitting on the toilet—you get the idea. You can make it work. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve been staying up to write. So far, I have not fallen asleep on my keyboard. So far.)
- DON’T wait for the right time to write: Just an FYI: there will never be the perfect time to write. Yes, you have responsibilities, but the second you start thinking, “I can’t write now, I have to take out the trash, fold the laundry, learn Mandarin and clip my toenails!”, you take priority away from your writing and assign it to mundane things that really can wait (and then you start using as it a go-to excuse to avoid writing altogether.) Decide what things need attention immediately (grocery shopping, bill paying) and what can wait a bit longer (washing the car, alphabetizing the spice rack.) I can already hear a bunch of you saying, “But Kara, if I don’t do it right away, then it’ll never get done.” Two things. 1: Apply that attitude to your writing. 2: Learn to be disciplined and responsible and get your other projects done quickly … or hire a cleaning lady.
- People are going to have to learn to survive without you: One of the big hurdles for writers are the people in their lives distracting them. No, you can’t shut them out of your life entirely, but you can’t let them run roughshod over you either. For example, I have a relative who has suddenly decided that she’s too old to be doing certain things anymore (seriously, typing in an email address?) When she was legitimately sick I had no issue with helping out with things like grocery shopping and vacuuming, but when it got to the point where she was incapable of doing simple tasks and hefting responsibilities onto me that I had no business doing, I had to put my foot down. Yes, there was some rage and some nasty things said, and she likes to tread on my boundaries, but I refuse to give in. My time is mine, and I want to use even just a little bit of it to write. Your time is your time too. You’re entitled to it, it belongs to you. Tell people to back off (saying it nicely would be best, but make it known in unequivocal terms that your writing time is important,) condition yourself to accept that things will possibly be a wreck (things may get messy—deal with it), teach your kids/spouse/relatives/friends to live without you for a little bit every day. If people continue to bang at your door, find a place to write outside the house—far outside, where it’d be too much of a hassle for them to track you down.
- Be happy to get ANY writing done: You had five minutes and you managed to scratch out a sentence and a half. GREAT!! That’s a sentence and a half more than what you had before. Don’t feel like you need hours to write, or that you need to produce ten pages of story in order to accomplish anything—just write whatever you can in whatever time you have available.
- Don’t get distracted!: It really sucks to have some time to write, only to discover you’ve frittered it all away by watching fourteen possum videos on Youtube, or fell in the “one more episode” trap with Netflix. Be responsible with the time you have, because it might be a while before you get it back. I mentioned this in a blog a long time ago, but I set up folders on my Internet browser labeled with each day of the week, then fill them with shortcuts to sites I visit regularly and other things I’ve been meaning to look at. I try to get some writing done, and when I’m finished (or I feel too fried to keep going), I look at the folder marked for that day, visit those sites, don’t visit anything else, and then get back to work. As for TV, I’m working on avoiding idle watching, sticking just to shows I watch regularly, saving the rest for Prime and Netflix, limited to an episode or two a day. There are applications out there that you can download to help you stay on task or spend less time on the Internet, but I won’t suggest any of them until I’ve researched them first (if you’ve tried them give me some recommendations so I can blog about it!)
- Learn to seize the moment: The second you realize you have some time to write, do it! You could have two free hours to write, but if you spend 45 minutes cruising the Internet beforehand, you’ll have 45 less minutes to write. Bookmark whatever it is that’s trying to lure you away and get to writing.
- Write even if you don’t feel like it: This is something I had to train and retrain myself to do; you have free time, but you’re too tired or irritated to write. Write anyway. It might not be the greatest prose you’ve ever banged out, but at least you’ve got something, you’re keeping the flow going, you can always go back and fix it later, and you’ll feel better that you got any kind of writing done. Don’t get hung up on how it sounds or all the spelling mistakes you’re making, because right now they’re not important. What is important is that you’re doing any writing at all.
- Use anything you have to write: One thing that irks the crap out of me is when I have time to write, and I really want to write, but I’m not at home in front of my computer. Luckily, I have a variety of different things to write on until I get back home; my cell phone, my iPod, my tablet, a good old-fashioned notebook, a scrap piece of paper swiped from the scrap piece of paper bin. Don’t feel confined to one medium to write, use whatever you can and transcribe it later.
- Get an accountability partner: Find someone (a friend, significant other, relative, whatever) and form a pact: you will work on your projects together for a set amount of time. You will check in with each other frequently to make sure that you both have accomplished your goals for that day, and if one of you slacks off, the other one can pile on the guilt. In other words, you are held accountable for your work that day, so if your goal is to spend, say, fifteen minutes of undistracted writing, and your partner’s goal is the same (or could be anything, really, as long as it’s productive), you check in with them and say, “Hey! I wrote for fifteen minutes!” and your buddy says, “Me too!” Or, you can say, “Um … I didn’t get any writing done,” your buddy can say, “Seriously? I got two pages done. Why am I working my ass off and you’re not?” I haven’t gotten to try this yet, but many people say the guilt-tripping helped them a lot.
- Be willing to make sacrifices: If you really want to write and you’re hurting for time, you might have to give up some activities on occasion. If you have a habit of watching TV immediately after dinner, taking the dog out for a walk, helping the kids with homework and then going to bed, you should consider giving up TV for a little while (odds are you can always record it or find it streaming.) Hang out at the bar with your buddies for three hours every Friday? Cut it down to two, use that free hour to write. Invited to party that you kinda want to go to, but not really? Skip it, stay home and write. Play video games all day long? Quit it, play for an hour or two, spend the rest of the time writing. You want to see a movie that just came out in theaters? It’ll be there a while longer, sit down and write. Yes, it might suck at first, but once you see the progress you’ve made with your writing, you’re going to feel a lot better about it.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself: Let’s say that you’ve got so much going on in your life that you really can’t afford to take time away from it to write. Let’s say that you were planning on writing, but something very important came up that drew you away. Maybe you had an opportunity you couldn’t afford to miss, or an obligation to fulfill. Maybe you’re just too tired. If any of that is true, then it’s perfectly okay to not write that day. Be reasonable with yourself about your abilities and your expectations. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t get a chance to write. If you really want to write, you’ll find the time.