7 ways to find time to write

Reading time: About 3 minutes

We’re all short of time, so how on earth can we find the time to write? Here are some ideas…

Last week I wrote about wasting time.  Today, I write about finding it. While it’s certain that most of us have mind-manglingly busy lives, it’s also true that we can usually find enough time to watch TV, dabble in Facebook or go for a coffee with a friend.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon these activities. But if you want to write you need to carve out some protected time. I don’t know your schedule so I can’t predict what precise time will work for you, but here are seven strategies you can employ while you look for it:

  1. Write first thing in the morning. Even if you’re a night owl (as I used to be) it’s so much easier to write first thing in the morning. There are fewer distractions — little email, no phone calls, no screaming children (unless, perhaps, you still have babies). But even better, your cranky, critical inner-editor is slower to awaken than your creative brain. If you can squeeze in 30 minutes — even 15 is a good start — of first morning writing, you are far less likely to become incapacitated by doubt. This has been the experience of writers such as Merrill Markoe and it’s been my own, as well. After writing for just 30 minutes every morning for the last few months, I’ve hit the 34,000-word mark for my next book. (Only 36,000 more words to go!)
  2. Write for the same small amount of time — at the same time of day — five consecutive days a week. Writing is a job so treat it like one. Clock in and clock out at the same time.  This will allow you to develop the power of a habit. And habits, unlike willpower (which depletes you), are self-sustaining. Start with 15 minutes and build from there.
  3. Resist the urge to do more. I know you may have developed the college student’s habit of leaving your writing until the very last possible minute and then writing in a white-heated fury. Yes, you can do that. But it’s not a smart strategy because: (i) it reinforces the idea that writing is a horrible job that can be done only in desperation (do you really want to feel that way about writing?), and, (ii) it’s utterly unsustainable. You can write like a desperate zealot a couple of times a year but not five days a week.
  4. Shut down your distractions. Writing time doesn’t count if you allow yourself to be distracted by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or your email. Shut those things down and write! Reward yourself by playing with them when you’ve finished your writing.
  5. Give yourself a goal and track it. For my book, I have created a little table for myself in Word. It has five categories: the date, my feelings about writing that day, the number of words I wrote, the cumulative total of words I’ve written for the book, and the total number of words remaining. See sample here. The benefit of this kind of tracking is that it helps me know exactly when my rough draft will be finished (by early May, I expect) and it allows me to celebrate my own momentum. Seeing the required number of words being steadily accumulated, day-by-day, is my cheesecake, my caffeine, my pain-killer. It keeps me going.
  6. Reward yourself. I remember to reward myself for my big accomplishments but I’m not so good at tracking the littler ones. This is a mistake. Big achievements are made possible by a thousand small actions. Celebrate them! Reward yourself for writing every day. It doesn’t have to be expensive: a latte, a song from iTunes, a magazine. It can even be free: time watching fantastic French cat videos on YouTube, time on Facebook, a conversation with a friend.
  7. Make a plan for the next day. This is my most strategic piece of advice so I’ve saved it for last. When you finish your day’s writing, take a couple of minutes to make a plan for what you want to write the next day. Put this plan in a fresh document so that when you open it up (tomorrow) you’ll be greeted with instructions about what/how to write. This will take away the horror of the blank page and give you the benefit of specific directions about what you want yourself to do.

You may be sleepy when you awaken. But you’re not so sleepy you can’t write.

How do you protect your own writing time?  Please share your thoughts with my readers and me. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)

14-01-beautiful ruins-sm***Congratulations to Robyn Conti, the winner of my first book prize, Beautiful Ruins for her comment on my Jan. 28/14 post. Your book will go into the mail as soon as you email me your mailing address, Robyn. Anyone who comments on today’s post (click here and scroll to the end) or any others in February by Feb. 28/14  will be put in a draw for a copy of the novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif.