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Are you so busy that you tell yourself you can’t possibly squeeze anything else into your day? Here’s how to make more time for writing….
Many people tell me they don’t have the time to write. Almost always, they’re wrong, and I try to deliver that news kindly and with empathy. After all, I used to think I didn’t have enough time, either. I also used to dislike writing, so I wasn’t particularly motivated to try to make more time for it.
Then, about 20 years ago, I resolved to change my ways. I read a plethora of books and articles about writing, spoke with dozens of writers and used myself as an experimental subject. Now I enjoy writing and find plenty of time to do it every day — without the need of a brain implant from Elon Musk.
Here are seven ways you can get more time to write in your schedule, no matter how busy you may be:
- Don’t find time; make it. This might seem like nothing more than a linguist trick, but it’s not. The concept of “finding” time leaves you helpless against the demands of daily life. Making time, on the other hand, puts you squarely in the driver’s seat. If writing is important to you (and I recognize, it’s not for everybody), then make the time for it. Reserve time for it in your schedule and give it the same deference you do for meetings. You need to make time for important assignments from your boss, for exercise, for practicing a musical instrument, for doing volunteer work, and you also need to make time — take time — for writing. It’s not something that happens by magic. It happens only with planning and intent.
- Stop thinking about time as money. Does anyone still think that most writers are going to make a lot of money? There is only one Stephen King in the world; one Margaret Atwood. The vast majority of books don’t become bestsellers and the vast majority of writers don’t become rich. (Some corporate writers and some bloggers can engineer a perfectly good living, though.) Writing is a time-consuming activity, especially at the thinking and planning stage. You can’t rush it. American artist and writer Jenny Odell, who teaches at Stanford, says she gives the same advice to her students every quarter: “Leave yourself twice as much time as you think you need for a project, knowing that half of that may not look like “making” anything at all,” she says. “There is no Soylent version of thought and reflection — creativity is unpredictable, and it simply takes time.”
- Look for novel experiences in your life. As we age, our lives tend to “speed up,” going faster and faster until months and then years pass by in a blur. Neuroscientists believe this occurs because, by the time we’re 40, we’ve had so many life experiences they start to seem repetitive. Different seasons? Christmas? School plays? Been there done that 40 times (or more!) Our perception of time slows only when we have new experiences. Look for those new experiences. Today, for example, I am writing this column in a different location. I’m at a client’s office for meetings at the beginning and the end of the day. Rather than making the time to go back to my office, I’ve decided to perch here. I’m writing this column looking out the window at a very different view than the one I normally see. This makes my writing feel slower and more relaxed (but my own tracking shows I’m writing faster than usual.)
- Shut down your distractions. The unholy trinity of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube regularly entices many of us away from our writing. We feel stalled or momentarily confused in our work and rather than “sit” with those uncomfortable feelings, we’d much rather be entertained. (I think it’s also likely we’re also unconsciously seeking easy ‘novelty’ with social media apps.) In any case, don’t let distractions get the better of you. Either use some software to block yourself from social media (Cold Turkey and Focus are two such apps) or do what one of my clients does: She gets her sister to set passwords to her social media accounts and tells her sister to reveal the passwords only on the weekend. While you’re shutting down your distractions, also consider the vocabulary you’re using. Instead of saying, “I can’t look at Facebook until I’ve done my writing,” tell yourself, “I don’t look at Facebook until I’ve done my writing.” The difference between can’t and don’t is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug (as Mark Twain used to say).
- Don’t multi-task. Is there anyone who still thinks that multi-tasking is a good idea? It’s not. It makes you less efficient and less effective and it causes time to appear to pass so much more Focus on one job at a time and give it your full attention before you move on to the next task.
- Move more. Many people think that they need to sit at a desk in order to be able to think and to write. This is not true. In fact, your best thinking is likely to occur when you’re away from your desk, moving. We breathe more deeply when we’re moving and this exercise helps our brains to work better. Brains are oxygen hogs, taking up only two percent of our body weight, but using 20 percent of the oxygen we take in. I’m lucky enough to have a treadmill desk, which allows me to walk while I write. (I’m working on a video of me writing on the device that I hope to be able to post within a couple of months.) But before I had the treadmill, I’d walk in my neighbourhood for a good 30 minutes before writing anything.
- Consider meditating. Some of my friends and clients regard meditating as an oddball little habit of mine. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for writing. It will help most people relax, ease their anxiety and stop judging themselves as successes or failures. If the idea daunts you, or you’ve tried it before and it made you feel too uncomfortable, do what one of my clients does: establish a mini-meditation habit. Instead of trying to “empty your mind,” spend 60 seconds doing deep breathing before you write. Over time, this may morph into a full-blown meditation habit. Or it may not. But the slow, deep breaths will help calm your autonomic nervous system and give your body the signal that it wants to make time for writing. You have 60 seconds, don’t you?
A very few people are born with natural writing talent. The vast majority, however, teach themselves to become better writers. And that can only happen when they learn how to find enough time to write.
If you want to find the time to write your own book (or thesis or dissertation), consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’m holding a no-charge webinar Friday Nov. 15/19 to introduce you to the principles I teach in the program. Register by emailing me. If you already want to apply to the program, go here, scroll to the very end of the page and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.
I’m looking for a good virtual assistant, based in Canada or the US to do a small amount of regular clerical work for me. If you’re a virtual assistant or if you work with a good one, please email me.
My video podcast last week described how people with children can still find time to write. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
How do you find time to write? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!