Since we’ve nearly reached May and summer isn’t that far off (a time when our schedules fill up with cookouts, road trips and family obligations) I thought I would write a post on techniques that can be used to find time to write. I used most of these back when I had a job in the financial industry.
1) Keep a Record of How You Spend Your Time: For two weeks keep a journal in which you record how you spend your time in fifteen-minute increments. When you’re done you’ll probably find one or two things you can live without. This will help you find an hour or two every day that you can devote to writing.
2) Record How Much Time You Spend Writing: While I’m writing or editing I literally have a stopwatch going on my computer. When I stop to take a Facebook or Netflix break I stop the stopwatch. The stopwatch only goes while I am actually writing. This way I get a realistic sense of how much time I write every day. I even keep an Excel spreadsheet in which I record my daily times. That way I can track when I’m doing well and when I need to give myself a firm kick in the ass.
3) Stop watching TV! Or at least bring it down to an hour a day (at most). This also goes for hours spent watching Internet videos and punishing yourself by reading online comments. I don’t mean to sound like your agitated grandfather but many of us waste years of our lives focused on entertainment we don’t even enjoy. We live in the binge-watching era but we also live in an era where we can choose to watch whatever we want whenever we want to. If there’s a show you’re addicted to save it for when you’re cooking, cleaning or folding laundry. I appreciate how much we need some time to unwind at the end of the day but in the long run we feel better when we spend time on our art.
4) Listen to Books on CD. One of the big advices given to aspiring writers is to constantly read. Obviously this can be difficult for people who aren’t already filling up their schedules by writing novels or short stories. Your public library is filled with great books on CD that you can listen to in the car. I would suggest choosing books that may be more plot and character driven (The Song of Ice and Fire series, The Martian, most books by Stephen King, Joe Hill or Gillian Flynn). Read the books that are more language driven. My two favorite books to listen to on CD are Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and World War Z.
5) Tell people you are writing: Be honest. This shouldn’t be a secret. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Tell your friends and family that you are a writer. Let them know that this is something important to you. Ask for help in trying to find time. I know that many of you might have friends and family who just don’t “get” that you are a writer. Regardless, try to explain it to them. They might surprise you. If they aren’t supportive, don’t let that stop you. They’re just coming from a different mindset. That being said, when possible try to surround yourself with people who understand and share your passion.
6) Are you a night person or a morning person? I know that the our mothers tell us to get a goodnight sleep, but you may be one of those people whose schedule is so filled up the only time you can spend writing is when you would otherwise be asleep. So, if possible, try to get away with one less hour of sleep. Set your alarm an hour and fifteen minutes earlier (the fifteen minutes are to make sure you are awake) OR have a bit of caffeine around dinner to help you stay up an extra hour. If you don’t know if you work best in the early morning or late at night, experiment and see what you find.
7) Writing at work. I wouldn’t recommend this for air traffic controllers, however if you have a basic office job, you will probably be able to find time to at least get some brainstorming done. Writing out full chapters may not be realistic, but if you use outlines you can at least steal five or ten minutes hear or there to jot down thoughts about your next chapter or story. That way when you do have a larger chunk of time you’ll use it as effectively as possible. Unless you have a super cool boss I wouldn’t recommend keeping any of these notes on a company computer. Just use pen and scraps of paper.
8) Lunch Breaks: If you have a lunch break that lasts forty-five minutes to an hour, that’s a good chunk of time that can be spent writing. Find a place to hole away with your lunch (I often used my car) and eat while writing. I know that lunch is the time in the middle of the day to unwind, but you may feel more energized if you spend the time doing something you love.
9) Keep your goals realistic. I, more than anyone else, would love to be able to spend eight hours a day writing, but that just doesn’t happen (at least not often). If you set your goals too high you will end up crushed by disappointment. If you’re just starting out and have a super busy schedule I’d say aim for an hour a day. That’s a solid hour in which you’re not doing anything but writing. Writing an hour a day along with scraps of time here or there to jot down notes will mean that you could write the first draft of a novel in a matter of months.
10) Write Daily: Okay, I know that not everyone can write EVERY day (although I am that guy who gets up extra early on Christmas morning to edit because I know I won’t have the time later on). However, try to write most days. Even if you slack off for two or three days you’ll lose momentum and start second-guessing yourself. It doesn’t take long to lose interest in your story and forget to pick up your pen again.
11) Reward Yourself: I know that following your passion is its own reward. However, it never hurts to have something to look forward to. “Okay I won’t watch a second of television until my stop watch hits sixty minutes.” Or “As soon as I’m done editing this chapter I’ll eat some (Insert your favorite food here).” Very often you’ll get so caught up with your story you’ll keep going even after you’ve reached the point where you now deserve the reward. Never forget, sitting down to write is always harder than actually writing.
12) There will NEVER be a perfect time to write: There will always be school or a day job or kids or house repairs or a dog who is allergic to the rug but can’t stop licking it (or all of the above). We will never have perfect stretches of time to write our novels. Yes this goes for teachers on summer vacation because those two months will be filled with all of the other things that they put off throughout the year.
In fact, you don’t want a perfectly free schedule. Days in which you have nothing to do but write are usually spent waking up late, watching an episode of The Daily Show online, chatting with people on Facebook, doing the laundry, eating lunch, watching a funny cat video…. and oh shit! It’s four in the afternoon, you haven’t written a word and you’re meeting up with friends in half an hour.
That’s one thing I like about having a job in the evenings. I only have so much time to get done what I needed to get done before I have to go to work. Writing in limited slots of time motivates me to get my work done as quickly and effectively as possible, rather than eventually getting to them on a lazy Sunday. Not to get too meta but I wrote this blog in a library while waiting for my wife who will probably come back in an hour.
We all have insanely busy schedules (unless you inherited a large fortune and there’s no one forcing you to work…in which case please adopt me) but if we step back and analyze our schedules we will most likely find chunks of time in which to pursue our art. In fact, our busy schedules have potential to push us so that we are even more productive and meet our full potential.