When people sign up for my newsletter or to get my blog posts by email, I send them a survey asking what one thing they most need to know about the writing life. Far and away, the most common answer to that question is about how to make, find, manufacture, create, carve out, shape, or discover time to write. It’s a problem many writers struggle with, particularly – it seems – in our very connected, very option-rich world.
The Challenge of Making Time
Of course, there are times in our lives when writing can’t be a priority – illness, financial constraints that mean we have to work more hours, a major psychological need that keeps us from the page. Sometimes, words cannot be given space, and that’s just fine and good and normal.
Even on the best days, making time to write is a very real challenge for most of us, no doubt. We have paying jobs (even those of us who are full-time writers, as I said in my newsletter last week), children, people for whom we are caregivers, yards and friends and pets. Our days feel so busy, so full. That is a reality.
But our busyness is also the excuse we use for not doing the work. The truth is that if we want to write, most of the time we can find the time to do that*. After all, people write books during all kinds of challenging moments in their lives, and none of them had any more than the same 24 hours in a day that we do.
The Way to Make Time
The only way to make time in our schedules for writing is to set it as a priority in our lives, just like we do all the other important things that fill our days. But sometimes, we don’t really consciously set our priorities. We just go with the flow. We can be more intentional, however.
- Make a list of all the things for which you are responsible each week. Include everything from loading the dishwasher to going to work to tucking your children in at night.
- Prioritize that list. What is most important (i.e. absolutely essential)? What is important but not as much so? What is less important?
- Make a list of your responsibilities in priority order. Set it aside.
- Create a time chart of where you spend your time for one week. Draw seven columns and divide those columns into 24 rows. Then, for seven days, fill in each block with what you do during that time. Don’t forget to include eating and sleeping and getting to and from places.
- At the end of that week, compare your priorities to where you spend your time. Do they align? Do you need to readjust your priority list because you realize something is more important than you thought initially? Do you spend a lot of time on things that are low on your priority list or that are not there at all?
- Create a new time chart. Fill in all the essential and high priority things in this new chart. Again, don’t forget to mark off space for eating, sleeping, and traveling.
- Highlight all the empty spaces in some color that makes you happy. These are your potential writing blocks.*
Now, here’s where your work is crucial. You have to decide how you are going to use your empty space. These spaces are the times you have available for writing, so now is the moment where you schedule in that writing time. Scheduling your writing time is often the only way you are going to honor that time with your words.
As you look at when you will schedule your writing, consider a few things:
- When are you at your best? Morning, evening, mid-afternoon? Do you have any times that are open when you are at your prime? If so, schedule those as writing blocks.
- When will you have the quiet or the ability to go to a quiet or suitably noisy place like a coffee shop) to get your writing done? Consider things like when your children are home and when they need you most or when your partner is home and likely to be wanting to talk or when friends are likely to suggest you grab an impromptu meal. Schedule your writing time around those hours.
- How many hours a week do you want to write? (Note – 40 hours is too much. No writer I’ve ever heard of writes for 40 hours a week.) Start small – 2? 4? 8? You can always reevaluate later if you want to add in more time. Mark that number of hours into your week.
Now, here is the crucial step. DON’T SCHEDULE OR ALLOW ANYTHING ELSE TO TAKE THOSE HOURS!
- Tell your family and friends that these are your WORK hours, just like the hours at any other job you have. You aren’t available then. Period. (Put a clock on your office door that says when you’ll be done if children – or partners – need help remembering.)
- Shut down the internet if you need to during those hours so you can work.
- Go somewhere where your TV isn’t available if you tend to turn to television when you have free time.
- Schedule a date with yourself at a favorite restaurant or coffee place during those hours if that will help you get there.
Honor Your Commitment to your Writing
Whatever you do, don’t let those hours go. They are sacred to your words. Honor them and your desire to write. There’s no selfishness. There’s no neglect involved in taking this time. Remember, you’ve already handled your priorities – all the people and responsibilities in your life are covered. This time is available. Use it for your words.
If you feel a pull to write, that pull is a gift. Celebrate it. Take joy in it. Honor it. Some part of the most essential you needs to write, and because you need to write, we need to read your words. You are giving us, your readers, a gift. That’s a wonderful thing. Treasure it enough to hold the space for it in your life.
If it will help, send me your schedule – [email protected] I’ll see it, hold it close, and hold you up as you seek to keep this space. A little accountability can go a long way.
*If you don’t have any empty blocks, don’t panic. Perhaps this is not the time for writing in your life. (In mine right now, the empty spaces are very few, and that’s okay. It won’t always be that way.) Or perhaps, some of your priorities need to be re-evaluated if you feel like writing is something you really want to do. If so, go back to your priority and see what can be shifted.