Perhaps the biggest challenge facing most writers, especially those trying to learn the craft and/or establish themselves is finding the time to write. Most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to devote all our time to writing, as much as we might wish to. We have bills to pay; children with the habit of wanting to eat at least three times a day and to walk around fully clothed; spouses who sometimes want some (or all) of our attention.
In short, most of us have real lives with all the responsibilities and commitments that entails. We have to fit our writing around and in between those responsibilities. Somehow.
Though each of us is different and have different demands on our time and energy, I have come up with a few tips I think will be of some help.
Decide how much time you can devote to writing. This will be different for every person. Only you know your schedule, your commitments, and how much you want to write. Go through your weekly schedule and write down how much time you spend on each activity. This might take a little research, since most of us don’t really pay that much attention to what we do with all our “down” time. And that’s what we’re really looking for here is time you haven’t already committed to another important activity. We can’t really take time away from our day jobs, our time with friends and family, and so forth. We still need to live our life.
However, if you spend four hours a day watching television, surfing the web, or commenting on pictures of last night’s dinner on Facebook, you could probably spare an hour, or so for your writing. That’s what we’re looking for here, segments of unproductive or “down” time you could give up in exchange for writing time. But again, don’t get so ambitious that you don’t leave yourself any time for rest and relaxation. That is a certain recipe for failure. Just reserve a modest amount of time you can comfortably devote to writing. You can always add more time later.
Identify when you are most productive/creative. Again, everyone’s different. Some are morning people who wake up refreshed and energized, ready to tackle the new day. Others have to be dragged out of bed with a construction crane, but are full of life at midnight. Personally, I am at my most productive between 11pm-2am. I can write at other times (I’m writing this at 2 in the afternoon, for example) but I am much less creative and tend to work harder for whatever I produce.
It only makes sense to identify in ourselves what part of the day is the most productive for us and schedule our writing for that time. Our we morning people? Maybe we could start getting up an hour earlier to devote some time to writing before we have to get the rest of the family started on the day. In the middle of the day? How about brown-bagging our lunches and spend them at the park, writing? Or, as I do, stay up a little later than everyone else in the house and use that quiet time for my writing. Only you will know what works best for you and it might not be what you expected.
Decide how committed you are. What do you want from your writing? Would you like to progress to the point that you could make a living from your writing? Do you want to be a professional? Or is it more of a hobby? Something you enjoy doing, but have no desire to make it the most important occupation of your life? The answer to this question will directly influence just how much time you will be willing to devote to the art.
For our purposes, I’m going to assume your answer to the commitment question is that you want to become good enough at the craft to be consistently published and perhaps even make a living at it. So, you’re committed. You’re willing to devote a portion of your time to learning and perfecting your skills.
Treat your writing time like a job. Once you’ve decided that you are committed to becoming a better writer, you also have to commit the time necessary to achieve that goal. It really doesn’t matter how much time it involves. Forty hours a week, or five, what matters is that you work like a professional. You arrive on time, ready to work and work until quitting time. You treat it just like your day job: no excuses. You work when you’re tired, when you have the sniffles, when there’s a really good movie on television. Whatever time you’ve set aside for writing, you use that time to write.
Get your friends and family to treat it like a job. Express to them that, just like your day job, you should not be bothered with anything short of an emergency. It might take some time and patience on your part, but it can be done. If it’s important to you and you make it clear how important it is, they will respect that.
Create or find a place you can devote to writing. We all have our rituals, whether it’s starting our day with a cup of coffee, or watching the local news just before going to bed, they are important landmarks in our days, symbols of something beginning or ending. Our day jobs have similar rituals. Perhaps the most important of them is the fact that we leave our homes and go somewhere else to “work.” The act of leaving our houses and going somewhere else to work, helps us move all our domestic issues—what to have for dinner, the laundry you haven’t been able to catch up on for two months, mowing the lawn—to the back burner and bring our job issues to the front.
Having a dedicated “writing space” helps to recreate the going to work ritual. Some are fortunate enough to have a home office for this purpose, but most of us don’t. Most of us have to improvise. A corner of your bedroom would work. So would a guest room, a garage workshop, the back patio on sunny days, or a local coffee shop. It doesn’t have to be fancy or necessarily the same place every time. It just needs to be somewhere you go to write. And it helps to have a place that everyone knows is where you go to work, so don’t disturb you.
Even if you can only devote thirty minutes a day, five days a week, to your writing, that’s two and-a-half hours of writing a week. And as you become comfortable with the routine, or you become embroiled in a project, you just might find yourself adding more and more time to your writing period.
Someday, you might even become successful enough that you can make it your day job.