How Can You Keep Writing if You Work Long Hours?

“I currently run an IT staffing agency and work in excess of 60 hours during the week, not to mention what gets handled on the weekends. So my question is this: how would you balance that with a love and desire to write?”

This is what Bryan wrote to me a few weeks ago … and I wanted to address his question on the blog, because I’m sure he isn’t the only person in this situation.

Maybe you’re struggling with something similar. It might be a 60-hour week, or caring for small children, or looking after elderly relatives, or working two jobs to make ends meet … whatever’s going on for you, there simply isn’t much time to spare for writing.

And let’s be honest: there are no easy fixes here. If there were, you’d have found them already!

For the sake of this post, I’ll assume that you can’t reduce your working hours (or get help with other areas of your life).

And yet you really want to write.

A lot of the conventional, tried-and-tested writing advice simply doesn’t apply to you. You simply cannot write for an hour every day, or block out two evenings per week to write. You don’t have the time – and you definitely don’t have the energy.

When I asked other authors about this in the Alliance of Independent Authors members’ Facebook group, the general consensus was that:

  • It is hard to write when working long hours – cut yourself some slack!
  • You need to accept that you can’t write much, or for long.
  • Use little scraps of time to write … five minutes here and there add up.

Here are the two solutions I’ve found in my own life when time (or energy) has been at a premium:

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How I Wrote More Fiction in 2016 than In Any Other Year (Despite Two Small Children)

Ali's writing retreat: photo shows her laptop, notebook and mug of tea.

I finished two full drafts of my novel, the third Lycopolis book, by mid-November 2016 … the most fiction I’ve ever written in a year.

This is despite 2016 being a pretty hectic year, with two small children, limited work hours, and fiction-writing being squeezed into a 30 minute slot most days.

During 2016, I wrote more fiction than I did:

  • When I was in school, with hours to spare every day … and plenty of time at the weekends.
  • When I was a uni student with 28 weeks vacation per year (yes, 28!) – I did work some of that time, but I had oodles of hours where I could’ve been writing and didn’t.
  • When I was working full-time, and had no dependents. (Weekdays were busy – but I could’ve written much more at weekends than I did.)
  • When I was taking a part-time degree in creative writing. I wrote a fair amount of fiction at this point – more rapidly than in the past – but still not as much as a I wrote during 2016.

So what changed?

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Why Being (a Little) Selfish Might Be the Best Thing You Do for Your Writing

 

being-selfish

One of my writer friends – and my fiction editor – Lorna Ferguson wrote some wise words in her email newsletter recently:

Praise yourself for what you’ve achieved. Keep your promises to yourself when you say ‘I’ll have an early night’ or ‘I’ll go for that walk’. We don’t ever want to be described as selfish – but sometimes you have to think of self.

When I read that, Lorna’s words “we don’t ever want to be described as selfish” stood out to me. Because of course no-one does … but I think some writers go too far in avoiding this. They give so much of themselves to others that there’s very little left over for writing.

I think that we writers, by our nature, tend to be quite concerned with people – and not just imaginary ones!

We want the best for our children, friends, partners, and other loved ones. But this doesn’t mean putting everyone else’s needs and wants right at the top of the queue, every time.

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How to Take Back Control of Your Time (and Fit More Writing In)

take-control-of-your-time

Do you spend as much time writing as you want to?

Hardly any writers do. Most of us have a lot of non-writing things going on.

Depending on the stage of life you’re at, that might be education (school, university, or evening classes), a day job (full time or part time), child-rearing (a more than full time job in itself!), volunteering, caring for disabled or elderly relatives … and quite possibly a combination of several of these.

It is hard to find the time, and if you haven’t been writing much (or at all) for a little while (or a long while), please don’t feel guilty about it.

I’ve spent far too long myself waiting for life to get “less busy” so I can write. With two small children now, I’ve finally accepted I’m never going to feel any less busy so I may as well get on with it as best as I can.

Here’s how you can do the same.

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How to Plan Writing Time into Your Week [With Downloadable Spreadsheet]

planning-writing-time

Do you struggle to find time to write?

That’s probably a silly question: almost everyone I talk to does. And many writers (me included) go through months or years of waiting.

Waiting to have a free weekend.

Waiting until the kids are a little older.

Waiting until life isn’t quite so manic.

But a few spare hours won’t magically appear in your schedule. You need to make that time in your week.

Once, I used to be able to write for hours at a stretch, if I wanted.

I could head to a coffee shop for a few hours and draft a whole mini-ebook (that’s how the first version of my free ebook Time to Write came about – you can get that when you join the Aliventures newsletter).

I could write all day long on a Saturday, and come away from my desk in a daze after six hours of novelling.

These days, with two small children, getting hours at a time to write is … not quite an impossible dream, but at least a very rare occurrence!.

Instead, most of my fiction is written in half-hour chunks, between 5.15pm and 5.45pm on weeknights.

That might sound confining and stifling … but actually, the past seven months have been the most productive novel-writing months of my life (and I’ve been writing novels for the past 17+ years).

Having a regular time slot for fiction, instead of just grabbing haphazard chunks of time, has made working on my novel a natural part of my day – and something I really look forward to.

I strongly recommend that you plan writing time into your week – and in this post, I’ll be suggesting some ways to make that work for you.

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If You’ve Only Got 15 Minutes, Is It Even Worth Writing?

15-minute-writing

Image from Flickr by Ian Barbour.

Sometimes, life is so busy that it’s a real challenge to find any writing time at all.

Right now, my two delightful little ones take up a lot of time and energy. We’re also about to move house and writing time has been hard to come by. [Edit: I spent so long trying and failing to get time to work on this post, we’ve now moved!]

So, instead of trying and failing to find a couple of hour-long sessions every week, I decided to go back to something that was working for me a few months ago, when Nick was a newborn: writing for just 15 minutes at a time.

It’s not ideal. But it’s considerably better than not writing at all. And if your life is manic right now, maybe something similar could work for you.

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There’s Never Enough Time to Write: Here’s Why

I’m back from maternity leave! In fact, I’ve been sort-of-back for over a month. But this post maybe explains why the blog has been so quiet…

 
Kitty-and-Nick-500px

Kitty and Nick, May 2015

I’m going to take a shot in the dark and guess that you’re pretty busy.

You don’t have enough time to write everything you want to write.

Me neither.

(And it doesn’t matter what your time looks like on paper. Heck, even if you’re a millionaire with no need for any paying work, you may well still find yourself incredibly busy.)

In 2011, I was busy. I was coaching writers, working on Aliventures, writing blog posts for clients, working on a small e-publishing company with my brother, editing and self-publishing my novel Lycopolis

In 2012, I was busy. I was coaching and blogging and publishing and (badly) promoting Lycopolis, and writing Publishing E-Books For Dummies.

In 2013, Kitty was born. Pretty quickly, I realised that the only reason I’d been on top of my work before was because my wonderful husband was doing the vast majority of the housework and cooking, and because I was working into the evenings.

In 2014, my easy-going baby girl was suddenly a stroppy toddler. I took on more of the childcare while Paul finished up his MA thesis. And the novel I’d been working on, the sequel to Lycopolis, floundered.

On Christmas Eve 2014, Nick was born.

2015 is the busiest, by far, that I’ve ever been. (And my writing time is way, way, down.)

But Even If Your Life Doesn’t Look That Busy …

It’s easy to get frustrated about the time I “wasted” in the past. I remember (dimly!) spending whole Saturday afternoons watching episodes of TV shows, back-to-back, with Paul, in the days before children.

I remember evenings where we sat around after dinner, trying to decide what we wanted to do, because there was nothing to watch and we were bored with all our games.

And now that weekends and evenings are taken up with children and housework and sometimes trying to find the energy to work … I feel that I should’ve used that time far, far better.

But I probably couldn’t have.

I was working full-time, back then. Writing and editing and coaching takes up a ton of creative energy … and I needed the downtime to recover.

If you feel like you “should” have lots of time to write, but it’s just not happening, maybe this is why.

(The wonderful Charlie Gilkey has written some good stuff on this, including Use the Two-Hour Rule to Make Progress on Your Creative Projects.)

Sure, procrastination can be a problem. And it’s definitely worth looking at ways to be effective about your writing time.

But if you’re telling yourself you should be writing for six or eight hours a day … you’re setting yourself up for guilt and failure.

You Don’t Have to be Superhuman

Some writers do seem to write insane amounts. Johnny B. Truant produces a crazy, crazy number of words (like, hundreds of thousands per year – you can read about his workflow in Write. Publish. Repeat.). And I wish I could do the same.

But hey, I don’t know the details of Johnny’s life. He’s definitely a super-efficient writer. But maybe he also has more hours available than me. Maybe he thrives on four hours’ sleep.

Heck, maybe he’s secretly identical twins.

There will always be other writers writing more than you.

And there will always be writers spouting advice about what you should do.

Back before I started Aliventures, when I had a day job, I was making myself miserable trying to live up to Stephen King’s advice to always write a thousand words a day.

It just didn’t work for me.

I’m not superhuman. I need sleep, preferably eight hours of it. (This, sadly, rarely happens with a teething baby in the house.) I need downtime. I’m only human.

You’re the same.

In fact, as writers, we perhaps especially need that time.

We need time to live. Time to drift. Time to browse the web idly and stumble across that next great idea.

Some Practical Thoughts

If you want to make more time in your life to write…

#1: Work on projects you really love.

If life is manic, you’ll find some time (even if it’s only a tiny bit here and there) for a story or blog post or poem that you’re truly keen to work on.

#2: Make your writing environment as ideal as possible.

Use headphones to block out distractions. Get out of the house. Pad your chair with a cushion to make it more comfortable. Turn off your wifi. Whatever it takes to help you stay focused.

#3: Find a single slot, once a week, when you can almost alwayswrite.

(If that’s not possible, shoot for whatever is.) I got this idea from a Writers’ Huddle member, and I love it. My slot, going forward, will be Sunday evenings, 7.45 – 9.45pm. I’ll let you know how it goes.

#4: Work with a timer running.

Set a timer: write till the time is up. Don’t check email or do the dishes or take Buzzfeed quizzes. Even if you think you can’t write in short bursts, give it a try. I got a surprising amount written in a few 15-minute chunks when Nick was teeny, and before Kitty dropped her afternoon nap.

 

One final thought:

You don’t have to be writing to be a writer.

If you don’t write for a day, you’re still a writer, obviously enough.

And if you don’t write for a month or a year, you’re still a writer.

Sometimes, life really is madly busy. Sometimes, a rest period might be just what your novel or blog or memoir needs in order to flourish.

If you can’t write much, or at all, right now, see it as a time for seeds to germinate. A time for ideas to strike. And keep a notebook handy.