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

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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.

Thanks for commenting! I read all comments, and reply to as many as I can. Please keep the discussion constructive and friendly. Thank you!

17 thoughts on “There’s Never Enough Time to Write: Here’s Why

    • Thanks Carole! Great to hear you’re feeling better after being ill. I hope all goes smoothly with your psychotherapy practice, and that you can get back into writing again too … keep me posted on how it goes!

  1. Hi Ali! Great to see you again and congrats on your newest baby. Love the photo of your two adorable kids 🙂 Excellent points about time management. I think one of the biggest tricks is to eliminate as many unnecessary things as you can. Someone said ‘when you’ve got it all down to one shopping cart, you’ve got it made’.

    • Thanks Garry! Good point on eliminating the unnecessary — I’m definitely still working on that, though having kids has forced me to cut stuff out (and, frankly, has been a good excuse for doing so!)

  2. Both a sincere and sarcastic “thank you” for posting a link to Productive Flourishing. Such great articles on there, but I ended up getting lost on his site for about an hour… 😛

    I really need to work on getting to a point where I have a truly functional laptop again that is capable of working solely off of battery life. A big snag is how time consuming and tedious it is to constantly unplug my laptop in order to hide away in the bedroom or library to write for a few hours, only to repeat the process all over again in order to bring it back in to the living room for “Social Time” (aka: Facebook and Hubby Snuggling). Plus, I work really well outside, but only if I can type (if I’m handwriting I end up people/insect watching for hours on end with nothing written).

    In the meantime, I’ll have to try out your suggestions (although the timer thing never did work for me).
    Dana’s last blog post ..The Never Ending Naming Struggle, and Other Writing Bumps

    • I feel your lack-of-battery-power pain (two of my old laptops had that problem).

      I don’t know if it’s a possibility, but can you get a second power cord? It’d be (I imagine!) a whole lot cheaper than a new laptop, and might at least mean you could switch from bedroom to living room more easily.

      In my first draft of the post, I’d written that the timer thing works for *most* writers I’ve worked with, but some really don’t get on with it. One of my clients felt too pressured with the timer running — is that what happens for you? Or do you find it tough to take the timer seriously and write while it’s running? I’m intrigued about why it doesn’t always work and who it doesn’t work for!

      • Well, it’s more of the battery pack itself then the cord (unless that’s what you meant; silly American vs British terminology). The second the thing is unplugged it shuts down (even if it’s unplugged just a millimeter) because the battery doesn’t hold a charge in the slightest. I basically have the world’s tiniest desktop. In theory, if I buy a new battery pack for about $50 it could solve the problem, but this thing has been lagging so bad I yearn for the days of dial-up on my mom’s Window’s 95.

        As for the timer thing, I think it is because I don’t take it seriously, but probably not the way you’re thinking. Honestly, I think that 2hr rule will work wonders for me (sadly, when I attempted last night I ended up passing out instead, but I’ll keep you posted on how well it works for me once I get the ball rolling). The thing is, when I get started on creative writing – or even working on my blog posts; which are journal writings and so are basically the same concept – I have to know that I have enough time to finish my train of thought; otherwise I fear it will be gone forever. I write down quick gibberish while on my 15min work breaks, but I never actually attempt to write anything during them because I know I won’t be able to finish.

        I don’t take the timer seriously because I know I won’t be able to stop once it goes off. Which means the point of the timer – “oh, I can just cut 30min from my day to hide from Hubby, chores, and socializing online” – doesn’t really work. I know that either a) I set it up so that I literally do only have the 30min I set the timer for, and fear it’s not enough so I don’t bother. Or b) I set the timer for 30min knowing full well that I have another hour or so after where I can keep going if I need to, but then realize how much time I’m squirreling away, which negates the motivation of the timer.

        I can be stern and yell at my husband “NO! I have to go hide so I can write my blog!” and then cocoon myself in my bed for four hours until it’s done. For some reason I haven’t hit the point where I can do the same for my fictional writing. I need to work on that.
        Dana’s last blog post ..The Never Ending Naming Struggle, and Other Writing Bumps

        • Ahh, I have a laptop that does that too! Yes, that is a right pain.

          I see where you’re coming from with the timer. Have you tried different times of day (I know your work schedule may make that impractical)? I used to find it easiest to work on fiction at the end of the day once I had my other work done.

          Can you negotiate writing/chores times with your hubby? Paul is happy to do housework on Sunday evenings while I write (and we swap later in the week so he can get his stuff done while I take care of chores). And if know you’ve got a good chunk of time to write, shutting down the laptop. moving it and plugging it back in doesn’t take up such a big percentage of writing time.

  3. Ali,
    this was a very humane post which was a gift to me to read. You sound like you are superhuman – what with two little ones! I am trying to get two hours a day in, but sometimes I’m genuinely tired and have had better luck relaxing the amount of time – one hour is better than none. 30 minutes is better than none.

    Personally, I like a timer. I have one of those Pomodoro thingys. I don’t always use it – don’t always need it. But if I’m floundering, it can be helpful to say, okay, I’ll write on X for 25 minutes. That saves me from overthinking and also saves me from thinking, ‘I have to solve this entire problem or I can’t get up from the desk,’ – I don’t. I can just write for 25 minutes.

    Thanks for the links to the other sites.

    • Thanks Judith!

      You’re absolutely right — any length of time is good. And I’m like you with Pomodoros: sometimes I don’t need to bother, but if I’ve been away from my writing for a while, or if I’m feeling unfocused, they help me get back on track. For me, there’s something quite freeing in telling myself I’m allowed to just write for 25 minutes without having to think about emails/housework/etc..!

  4. Hi Ali,

    I’ve just returned to work after illness, and I don’t know how I used manage, its been hard to fit any serious writing in for weeks, when all I want to do when I get home is sort the meal out of the way, and sleep.

    Number three on your list works for me. I turn up regularly for an hours writing, once a week, no matter how busy I am because I know I’ve got a writer friend waiting to see what I’ve written, and vice-versa. We write on a Sunday between 8pm and 9pm, and then mail each other our efforts. Over the years we’ve had some good results with what we’ve produced in limited time. Sometimes, after I’ve received my feedback, I’ll try and manage another half hour. We’ve been doing it for years, and no matter how bad things get, we keep it going.

    One thing I would say to you Ali, is that even though you might feel overwrought with the family at times, and perhaps a little, dare I say, ‘resentful’ at times, it does change, and then you wonder where their childhood went…so you have to find a balance that keeps everyone happy, including the creative you…
    Maria Smith (@mariaAsmith)’s last blog post ..On The Right Track? (Goals Part 6) 17th May 2015

    • Maria, I do hope things get easier for you — sounds like you’ve been having such a tough time. And it was you (in the Huddle forums) who inspired me to try Sunday evenings … so a big thank you! (It was a post back in January — I was catching up with all the posts while I was away, a couple of weeks ago.) I really enjoyed working on my novel last night and feel much more motivated to carry on. 🙂

      And a huge well done to you and your friend for keeping going through good times and bad.

      I do marvel at how quickly little babies become big loud toddlers! I’m keeping two notebooks, one for Kitty and one for Nick, where I write a sentence or two each day about what they’ve been up to, new things they can do, etc. I’ve been doing it almost a year now (started when Nick was in the womb!) and it’s already fun looking back on the earlier entries.

  5. Hello, Ali! It’s been a while, huh?

    First of all, congratulations for your new baby! Second, my life is pretty busy, with college studies of Psychology and my day job… But I keep working in my “psychoanalytic novel” every time that I have (or don’t have) some 40 minutes, before sleep or wash the dishes or study for my classes – for me, writing is an obsession and I have to feed it..:)

    Thanx for your posting. I keep searching for a publisher that want to publish my novel, even that it is in another language (as you know, I’m brazilian and write in Portuguese, but why not be published in another language?). So, one of these days, I translated a chapter to English to send to Albert Bandura, one of the theorists that we were stuying, and send to him… So, as I imagine that maybe a lot of readers don’t understand Portuguese, here it is:

    http://distantestrovoes.blogspot.com.br/2015/05/piano-for-little-clara-day-169.html

    Hope you’re fine, my friend. I’m glad that you keep writing and thinking in writing. I think that, if we really want, we’ll make the time to write.

    All best,

    from your brazilian friend,

    Daniel Rocha

    • Thanks Daniel! And great to hear you are still writing and making the time for it — I think a lot of writers will know just what you mean when you say writing is an obsession, and that somehow we will make the time.

  6. Hey Ali,

    What a lovely blog you got and an awesome writing style! Just poped over after reading your post on Problogger (left a comment on there btw). Seems to me like your a busy MummyBlogger juggling time and family, Kudos on that and keeping it going! Also congrats on the birth of your second!

    I just recently started up blogging again after giving up to concentrate on my Web Design and Development business all because I missed it and love writing myself. I found that I suffered a lot from distractions especially working from home and was prone to procrastination a lot of the time! I found it very frustrating knowing that there are lots of things to be done and what I should be doing but not actually doing them!

    I now have a blog, a web dev business and I have started building a bespoke social network for us bloggers and in October I am starting my part-time OU degree course to gain my BSc (hons). All from what I have learned from bloggers like your good-self and people like my client and buddy Ryan Biddulph (Do check him out when you have five!).

    My quick tip though would be this! Lay out sections throughout the day do do different activities like, Writing , Coding, Promoting , Commenting and Writing! I save an hour every day to write and I usually write up tp about 1500 words in that Hour (Most of that though has been fro my new eBook on WordPress.)

    Top Post and sharing from Birmingham.
    – PD

    • Thanks Phillip — and welcome to Aliventures! Yes, busy mum and blogger here. It’s very easy to get distracted working from home (I’ve been doing it for nearly seven years now, and it took time to develop good habits).

      Very best of luck with your OU degree, and what a great tip on using different chunks of the day for different activities. On my work days, I try to have the morning for writing-based work and the afternoon for more low-key administrative tasks — I’m definitely at my best in the morning!

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