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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question focuses on how to make time for writing. If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant and my topic today is how to make time for writing.
I have a question from Tiffany Jones from Boston, Massachusetts. Here’s what’s she’s asked.
“I have a totally unpredictable schedule. Some mornings I can spare 30 minutes for myself but other days I have to leave home at 6:30 a.m. to be at my campus in time for teaching. How can I fit in writing on days like that?”
Thanks for your question, Tiffany. While it’s important to make time for writing, it’s also important to make time for, well, living. That’s why I never encourage people to wake up at 4 am, to give up their hobbies or to cut short their social lives in order to write.
Instead, I think it’s valuable to take a super realistic look at the amount of time you DO have. Then, you can figure out how to get the maximal amount of writing value out of it. Many of us have more time than we think, especially if we’re able to establish habits that allow us to do the things that are really important to us.
I know, I know. It’s hard to establish habits when your schedule is unpredictable. So, here’s what I suggest:
Given that you have a variable schedule, you’re unlikely to be able to write at the same time every day. Just accept that as a fact, instead of a problem. Instead of looking at your life as a whole, look at it one day at a time.
Here are some principles to use:
On any given day, what’s the EARLIEST time you could devote to writing? I suggest you consider this question seriously because we all find it easier to commit to tasks earlier in the day.
There’s evidence that people who exercise first thing in the morning have an easier time maintaining their habit and I think the same rule applies to writers. This is likely because we haven’t become distracted by other problems yet and many of us have more energy in the morning.
Also, if we develop the HABIT of writing first thing, then we don’t have to negotiate with ourselves. You know what I mean by that, right? ‘I’ll start writing as soon as I’ve washed the lunch dishes or as soon as I’ve checked that email’ — and, before we know it, it’s dinner time.
Anyway, look at each day of the week and earmark the writing time that will work for you ON THAT DAY. Put it on your calendar and commit to it.
Two more suggestions here:
First, make the time commitment really small. If you’re like most academics, you probably think writing is not worthwhile unless you spend at least an hour doing it. That’s not true! Even 10 minutes can generate a helpful number of words. But the point is not so much how many words you can accumulate but whether you can build a habit that you can sustain, day after day.
I suggest you begin with somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Do that for at least two weeks before you increase the time. I know it will feel laughably short to you but you’re building a habit.
My second suggestion might feel even kookier, especially if you think that 10 to 20 minutes isn’t enough work. I suggest you REWARD yourself for your efforts.
The reward doesn’t have to be expensive — either in terms of money or calories — but it should acknowledge your effort. Consider getting yourself a specialty tea or coffee or a magazine or allowing yourself to watch something fun on YouTube, like Carpool Karaoke, link below.
At the beginning, I suggest you reward yourself daily. Once the writing habit becomes more entrenched then you can drop back to rewarding yourself once a week. But don’t ever let go of the rewards entirely.
What you are doing is building the writing habit. As you work to be published in peer reviewed journals, your writing habit will be a secret weapon in your academic career. Keep it sustained and use it wisely.
Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from Henry Ford. What did he know about writing? Here’s what he said: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Thanks for the question, Tiffany. If you make some mistakes as you struggle with your unpredictable schedule, that’s fine. But with enough determination, it’s still possible to build a writing habit, no matter what your schedule tells you.