Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finding time to write

I've already written about making the most of your writing time, but I haven't posted so much on where you find that time to begin with. At most of the writing workshops and conferences and panels I've been to, about half the time, someone asks, "But where do you find time to write?" What follows is a long list of obligations that take up their time, then, a helpless shrug.

You don't find time to write. There isn't a bank of free time out there that, if you chant, "I'm going to be a real writer" while you're staring at a blank page in your word processing program, magically opens. Writers have the same 24 hours in their day as you or I. The difference is how they choose to spend it.

I don't know about you, but when I think I'll have time to write, I'm in trouble. I might take some days off with the intention of spending those 8 hours I'd normally be working instead working on my writing. Instead of that, though, I clean, I run errands, I spend time with friends, and I catch up on sleep. Planning to cram all my writing into my weekend is an exercise in distraction. When I'm at my most productive, I'm cramming a few minutes of writing in before I go to bed, even though I should've been in bed an hour ago.

It's frustrating, I know. You want to have an uninterrupted spate of time to get it all down, to get to the good part, to not be distracted. If you want that time, though, you'll have to take it from other things you're spending your allotted 24 hours on.

If you want to go about it in an organized way, use a day planner to track what you're doing every hour, or 15 minutes, or however often you can track without making yourself crazy. At the end of the week, divide out your time by what you spent it on. I picked this up by reading a business column based on this book, which I haven't read. But I did absorb the idea that I'm wasting more time than I realize, and that I was stealing this time from myself. Every minute I spend picking at my split ends is one less minute I have to write, which can add up to a lot of minutes by the end of the week. Every minute I spend with commercials screaming at me is another minute I could be editing or typing. Every minute I spend going back to twitter to check if someone's @-replied me is another wasted opportunity.

That isn't to say I never waste my time anymore, and I'm definitely not saying you should never go online (because then you couldn't read my blog), but I am saying to be aware of it. Maybe you need to set a timer to limit yourself to surfing and checking twitter, like some people in my writing group advocate. Maybe you need to actively block the internet for an hour or two to get rid of the temptation.

Or, maybe you need to cut other activities out of your life to find the time. Being active and involved is important, and exercise is usually good for letting ideas churn around in your head. But if something takes you a half an hour to drive to and from, and then an hour or two of meeting time, that's time you could be writing. Sure, it's fun and enriching, but is it more important than getting to work on that story idea you're finally ready to put down on paper?

I can't answer that question for you. Maybe something is more important. But, if you've looked at your time expenditures, and you've poked at your activities, and found nothing that can be sacrificed so you'll have the time to write, it's time to stop kidding yourself. If writing is the least important thing to you, why do you want to do it at all?


  1. Totally agree. I hear that a lot at writing groups too, people complaining they don't get enough spare time to write. Spare time is for cleaning and catching up with friends, you write in your writing time.
    Wagging Tales

    1. Yup. If a person wants to write, they'll find the time. Whenever people tell me about an awesome idea they have, once they find the time to write it down, I have to grit my teeth to keep my thoughts to myself on the matter.

      I will always be busy. I will always have a family and chores and work and obligations. If I wait for that to go away before I start writing, it's not gonna happen.