This week we address one of those constant conundrums for writers. “How do you find time to write and keep up with all your other activities?”
This is a thorny question. I’m both a very slow writer and not as good at time management as I should be.
I’m currently a homemaker with no social life. Despite that, I still struggle at times. While you might not think that being a homemaker is a real job, it is. And worse, if you set that job aside to write at home, the evidence of your choice is all around you all the time. Floors don’t get cleaned, dishes don’t get washed, dogs don’t get walked…and you can see that lack. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll just take a few minutes off writing to vacuum the living room; it really needs to be done. I’ll just take a few minutes to clean out the fridge…paint the baseboards…trim the hedges…go buy some groceries.” It’s easy to lose all your writing time that way.
So that’s one of the things I’m working on this year. Trying to get my home demands under control and still set aside time to write. I’m also planning to stay off the internet more. (That’s one reason that I sometimes work at the bagel shop…no internet there, and no chores to be done.) I’m hoping that I’ll manage to write a bit more this year….or at least a bit more efficiently!
Here’s the most valuable thing I know about time: nobody’s ever going to give you more of it. You don’t “make” time, you take it–from something else. Many writers take it from sleep, by getting up an hour earlier before the kids or the day job. It’s definitely a juggling act if you’ve got all that going on. So the question is, where will you be able to take the time you need? Best thing I ever did for my writing time was not getting cable installed. With a house in a tricky location for broadcast tv, I basically couldn’t watch television for years. Now, I don’t even miss it. But I know writers who are addicted to some show, or who think they’ll just sit and chill for a little while before they write, and don’t get up for three hours. . .
Take it from a hobby or another outside pursuit. Take it from your lunchbreak or downtime at work by bringing your file along (if you’re allowed to do this at work). Take it from your commute by riding the train and writing at the same time, or by listening to research material and relevant lectures as audiobooks. Take it from dinner preparation by ordering meals for delivery a couple of times a week, or delegating that task to other adults or responsible kids. Do a workout at home instead of driving to the gym, and use the extra minutes. Shave a few minutes off of various parts of your day and you can accumulate whole hours sometimes!
The bottom line is, take it whenever you bloody well can. If you can swipe fifteen minutes, write for fifteen minutes. Maybe you don’t get into the flow–but then again, maybe you retrain your recalcitrant imagination to flow when *you* say so. You only get 24 hours a day no matter what, and you don’t know how many days you’ll have. Some of those hours are claimed by other responsibilities, sure. But many of them are still up to you. Become aware when you are making a choice to do something when you could be using that time to write. You may not always choose to write–but you need to know that you *are* making a choice, and you could be making a different one.
I’ll start by saying something that won’t make me popular with a lot of writers: it’s really not that hard to make room for writing.
I’ll defend that claim in more detail elsewhere, but the short of it is this: as extracurricular activities go, writing isn’t needy. It’s cheap. It’s low tech. You don’t need teammates or exotic equipment or rehearsal space. I find it much harder to carve out time for jiujitsu than writing.
One thing is certain: you’re not going to find time for writing. As E.C. Ambrose just pointed out, you’re not going to make time for it either. There is no time to be found or made anywhere. There are time thieves—hordes of them—but it turns out they never steal time from you. You hand it over.
Children are notoriously greedy time thieves, and the wise writer would do well to steer clear of them. Ditto for employers, friends, family, worldly possessions, and bodily needs. The ideal writing space is the noumenal realm of the disembodied mind.
Unfortunately, the commute to there is a motherfucker.
So barring out-of-body experiences, all you can do is avoid known time thief hideouts. In my own case, it really helps that I don’t like being advertised to. That made me divorce my television. All of a sudden I had loads of time.
It also helps to make to-do lists and stick to them. And to have a job that leaves you feeling energized instead of exhausted. And to dislike shopping. And to not care about the Olympics. And to be a lousy cook, so you only eat simple things, so you don’t waste time in the kitchen. And to be a Cubs fan, so you’re completely inured to disappointment, so you’ll never waste time moping when you collect your latest rejection letter.
Setting goals is huge for me. I’ve always responded well to these.
I have a standing goal of at least one new book a year, which I’ve kept for the past five years. This year I think I’ll hit two. Right now, my daily wordcount goal is only a hundred words a day. Even when I’m tired or exhausted or sick, a hundred words sounds so easy, of course I can do that!
And then I sit down and write every day. For me, I think those first few sentence on the blank page are often the hardest. I never end anywhere near a hundred words. Five hundred, a thousand, three thousand…
And if there’s a day where life stuff intervenes and I only write 100 words, that’s fine. The rest of my life is important, too. One hundred words isn’t a lot, but I consider practicing the fine art of just sitting down and writing to be invaluable. For me, practicing has made this easier, and I can often make the most of the sporadic bits of time I do have instead of wishing and waiting for the perfect, quiet afternoon.
Writing is my day job. I’m not one of those people who can write in a place like Starbucks; the idea of writing while surrounded by people simply appalls me. Therefore, I need to write at home, even though there are abundant distractions there. The internet is evil–the little beeps of Twitter alerts (I really need to shut that sound off), new email notifications, the number alerts on Facebook, refreshing Codex forums… yeah. I’m distracted easily by the “OOH, SHINY” aspects of the internet. Don’t even get me started on that rabbit hole known as Pinterest.
It helps me a lot to have goals: monthly, weekly, daily. I write down what I do. I also try to establish the internet to be a little brain break for me if I reach a certain stage, like finishing a scene, a chapter, making a certain word count. On weekdays, my day is built around my son’s school schedule. I know I need to get as much done as possible before I fetch him, because after that the evening is a blur of supervising his homework, making supper, finding out how my husband’s day was, etc. The morning and early afternoon are my time.
It takes a lot of discipline, and some days are sure harder than others. If I don’t make my goals by evening, well, I have to hold myself accountable. My husband has season tickets for the Phoenix Coyotes. He loves for me to go along to games. There have been many days recently where I’ve had to tell him, “Sorry. I have things to do.” I’ve had to say no to other invitations, too. I try to schedule medical appointments and house maintenance for times when I don’t expect a terrible work load (not that it always works out as I plan, since HarperCollins operates on a whole different schedule). I love using my crock pot for meals because it saves a lot of time and creates many leftovers. I’ve been waking up before dawn so I can exercise and get an early start on the day.
Sometimes I feel guilty or selfish because of how much time I need at the computer. It’s a tough balance with the wife/mother/daughter/friend roles, but it must be done. Writers gotta write.