I recently met an author who told me about finishing her newest book. When I congratulated her, she got a sheepish look on her face and replied, “Thanks… it only took me twenty years.”
Twenty years! She went on to explain that her writing had just fallen by the wayside during all her years of career work, family life, and other hobbies. While I felt a bit shocked, I could totally relate. My own writing has been pushed to the back burner while I’m working full time and raising young kids, not to mention trying to keep my house from being overrun by dust bunnies and Cheerios.
I bet you can relate, too. Even if your kids are more independent, or you have a partner who handles most of the cooking and cleaning, I know your plate is full of your own responsibilities. Few of us have the luxury of daily, dedicated writing time. And yet, many writers manage to maintain a vibrant writing practice amid busy schedules.
So what’s the trick? There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription, but let’s talk about some time-tested strategies.
I wrote recently about how writers can jumpstart their creativity when the muse seems to have deserted them. I think the same idea applies to us. The difference is, our muse hasn’t disappeared, she’s been silenced by the sheer volume of all the noise in our busy lives.
When I first started noticing the decline in my writing practice, I was afraid that maybe writing was just a phase for me, that my creativity was just gone or used up. But during the holidays, slow work periods, or times when the kids are out of the house, when my responsibilities are lighter and I have space in my brain, my mind is suddenly bursting with writing ideas. The lesson I’ve learned is that I need literal space in my life, one or two fewer responsibilities on my plate to have space for my creativity to flourish.Sometimes, creativity needs space, and sometimes, that space is literal.Click To Tweet
Can you relate to this idea? Have you tried delegating one or two things on your to-do list to someone else who loves and supports you? Ask your spouse to take the kids for an hour on Saturday, let your partner take on the cooking or cleaning or grocery shopping, and make a commitment that you’re going to fill that time with writing.
Did you hear me? Do not let anything else fill that space you’ve just created, or you’ll be back at square one. You have to be sure to use that shiny new space for actual writing. Don’t let anything else sneak in there. This is the difference between sometimes finding time to write and cultivating an actual writing habit.
Habits form with time and repetition, but you get that time by prioritizing. Make a plan to fulfill your other responsibilities in their time slots so that you can truly reward yourself with designated writing time. That’s easier said than done, though. Because, well, life happens. Keep that appointment anyway. Let something else slip if you have to.
Here’s another trick. If you’re like me, all your other outstanding items on the to-do list will be running around your brain, squashing your creativity. If this happens to you, write them down. I know you’ve already written them once on your to-do list, but sometimes that’s not enough. Keep a pad of paper next to you and write down every nagging thought or item on your list that threatens to interrupt your writing time. It’s a mental trick to keep that creative space wide open.Write down nagging thoughts on a pad to expel them from your writing time.Click To Tweet
The next thing I implore you to do is not to waste that precious writing time. Please, do not stare blankly at your page for an hour.
Please, dear writer, turn off your internal editor. Some of you have no problem with this, but others struggle to get a word, a sentence, or a paragraph onto the page because your internal critic is getting in the way. Don’t do that. It’s counterproductive. You will always have time later to revise, to polish, to edit. You know you will.
Make allowances for your early drafts. Remind yourself that your time is precious, and you have to get words on the page. Now, get going. Get writing.
Be sure to give yourself some grace. You are going to fail at this at times. Life doesn’t always respect your creativity or your commitments. You will have days when, despite your best efforts, this just doesn’t work. A person or a need or an accident is going to steamroll right over your designated writing time, and you’re just going to have to deal with it. That’s okay. Don’t stress out about it, just remind yourself that next time – tomorrow or next week, whenever that is for you – will be different.
This is a process, and you have to trust in that. You will get there, you will have a writing practice again, even though your life won’t always be exactly as it is now. Your responsibilities will change, your children will grow up, you won’t always have the job or the house or the other commitments you have now. So enjoy them, live in this moment, and write when you can. The time will come when you have more space, time, and energy to give to your writing. When that day comes, you’ll have a wealth of experience to draw from, and you won’t even have to try. Life is happening to you, all around you, right now, and you’re subconsciously storing it away. None of that is lost.Panic is your enemy – don’t think about what you SHOULD do today, but what you CAN do today.Click To Tweet
We’ve written before about how efficacy is vital to achieving your goals – it’s not about threatening yourself or hanging on the possible consequences of failing, but about making success feel possible. That isn’t just true of outside influences; it’s something you need to apply to your own reasoning. So do what you can in your writing practice right now, and know that you will do even more in the future if you trust yourself to this process, if you take it one day at a time, and if you enjoy it for the gift it is.
Tell us how you keep a consistent writing practice going amid your busy life in the comments below. Or tell us about your process for getting back to writing after a long hiatus, especially if you have any unusual tricks you use to meet your writing goals. If you’d rather get more great tips on establishing a healthy, effective writing practice, check out The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Authors, There Are Wolves In You! Now, How Can They Help You Write? and 8 Steps That Will Help You Start (And Finish) Your Book.
6 thoughts on “How To Carve Out Time For Writing Without Losing Sleep”
Fantastic advice, Paige!
I have a never-ending journal document that’s locked where I write all the drivel of the day. It’s hideous. No worries about spelling or writing inventive prose. Just spew. Especially, what I’m worried or thinking about the current book I’m working on. Before I know it, I’m getting excited about the characters or story and switch over (sometimes mid-sentence) to work on it. Which is why the document is locked. God knows I wouldn’t want anyone to ever read it and be like, “Damn, that Fallon wrote some real garbage, didn’t he?”
My current version, Volume XI, is at 75k words. I start a new volume at every 100k words. That’s a LOT of crap, lemmietellya. But like your awesome list idea, it has the value of cleaning the palette for what one hopes is the good stuff.
That said, I write at night, weekends, lunch breaks and any other time I can burgle from the real world.
Your locked journal document is a great idea! It really is helpful to have a place to write without expectations. I’ve written about a similar exercise in an upcoming blog post. Thanks for commenting!
I have a deceptively simple approach: I write 100 words every day. My only rules are that those 100 words are part of whatever project I am working on so I don’t count blogging etc.
I have a demanding full time job and a family so time is scarce, but this approach over the last three and half years has resulted in an 87k word novel, several short stories and I’m now about 10k words into what will probably turn out to be a novella.
It hasn’t been easy, but it works for me.
I love these rules you’ve set for yourself! This is such a great testament to the truth that consistent writing time, no matter how limited, does yield amazing results. We could all benefit from a discipline like this in our writing lives. Thanks for sharing this practice with us!
I work from home three days a week, and my coffee breaks on those days are my writing time. Sure, they’re only 20 minutes each (or more, if the writing’s really flowing – don’t tell my boss!), but that’s still two hours a week that I wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s made me so much more productive, and I think already being in the working mode helps the writing too.
This sounds like a great routine. Consistency really is the secret to a successful writing practice–no matter how many minutes you can put in.