Finding Time – or Making Time – to Write

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Image from Flickr by Dave Stokes

One of the biggest problems writers face (80% of Writers’ Huddle members said they struggle with this) is finding enough time to write.

You’ve probably tried some of the usual advice – things like:

  • Write for 20 minutes every day. (This really doesn’t work for me – I’d much rather have a single long writing session every week.)
  • Set your alarm an hour earlier. (Doesn’t really help if it leaves you staring zombie-like at the screen for an hour.)
  • Get out of the house. (Great when you can do it, but not always practical – what if your best writing time is 11pm or 5am? Or you have kids?)
  • Switch off your internet connection while you write. (Okay, this one DOES work wonders!)

I know I’ve struggled with finding enough time to write throughout my time as a writer, from my early teens onward. Here are a few things I’ve learnt – often the hard way!

Traditional Productivity Advice Often Won’t Help

If you’ve read blogs or books on time management or productivity, you might find their advice frustrating.

Often, good techniques for dealing with fairly mundane tasks (getting chores done or emptying your inbox) don’t help with creative work. You need energy and inspiration, not just time, to write.

Too much focus on efficiency can even be counter-productive, leaving you focused on getting words down instead of taking time to plan, explore, and daydream.

Free Time Doesn’t Just Happen

I used to think that free time would magically appear from nowhere: that I’d suddenly have a whole weekend or a spare afternoon to spend on writing, without any forward planning.

I don’t think that’s ever happened…

It’s all too easy to fill life with other obligations – whether they’re scheduled ones (meetings, social events, volunteering) or unscheduled ones (household chores, non-writing projects).

If you want time to write, you won’t simply find a spare three hours. You need to make that time, by blocking it out on your calendar. If next week is already full, look further ahead.

Figure Out When You Work Well

Some writers are at their best before the world is awake, at 5am or 6am. Others love to write late into the night, until 1am or 2am. You may well find that you can write twice as much (or even more) at your best time of day than at your worst time.

Don’t assume that your best hours are set in stone – and experiment with different times of day for different projects. I find that, all else being equal, I write blog posts most easily in the mornings and fiction in the afternoons.

One handy tool for finding your best writing hours is Charlie Gilkey’s productivity heatmap.

(In fact, a lot of Charlie’s work on Productive Flourishing helps creative people get the most from their time – so do check out the rest of his blog too.)

Stop Doing Other Stuff

I’m not suggesting you give up watching TV or playing video games or whatever you do to unwind.

Instead, what can you give up that you really wouldn’t miss?

Can you quit as chair of that committee? Can you pay someone to clean your home instead of doing it yourself? Can you have a ready meal or takeaway a couple of nights a week?

Your time is already full – so figure out what you can replace with writing.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Finally … if you are struggling to make time to write, or if you’re struggling to use your time well, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Sometimes life is crazy-busy or crazy-stressful. If you’re working long hours, or if work is causing you stress, you may well lack the energy to write.

Sometimes you (quite rightly) have other priorities: a sick relative, a new baby, friends who are visiting all-too-briefly.

Sometimes you’re just really not in the mood to write.

Sometimes, spending an hour reading webcomics and watching funny videos will throw up a brand new idea. (Your brain needs downtime.)

It’s all too easy to think “I’m just not cut out to be a writer” or “I need to be more self-disciplined” or “maybe I should give up.” Don’t. You want writing to be something fun and fulfilling, not something to guilt-trip yourself about.

Cut yourself some slack … and enjoy your writing journey!

If you want a bit more help making time for your writing, join the Aliventures Newsletter for a dose of weekly inspiration and for my free ebook Time to Write (updated 2016) – practical, inspiring tips to help you carve out some extra time in your life.

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

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30 thoughts on “Finding Time – or Making Time – to Write

  1. THANK YOU for this post, Ali! Very timely for me. I was struggling the other day because I was low on inspiration. I had the time to write (which doesn’t happen often), but I was having a hard time pumping the words out. I love your last point – don’t beat yourself up. Writing is hard, and we all need to give ourselves a break. Awesome advice!
    Jessica Flory’s last blog post ..How to Ruin Your Novel

    • Thanks, Jessica! Really glad this came at a good time for you. 🙂 I think we writers are too hard on ourselves … sometimes, a break is the very best thing for us and our work.

    • Thanks, Rohi! You’re absolutely right … setbacks happen when we start guilt-tripping ourselves and thinking that “I wasn’t perfect so I might as well give up.”

  2. Stop Doing Other Stuff. Precisely.

    Nearly everyone suggest that you can write more by sleeping less.

    In a society of sleep-deprived zombies, it’s the dumbest advice there is.

    We have no choice: if we want to add something to a full schedule, we need to remove something to make room for it. Continuing to pretend we can defy the laws of physics is a losing battle.

    I have a dear friend who is a marvelous musician. We love to play music together. Thing is, he is genuinely too busy to play very often.

    He has two choices: give up something else, or don’t play as often as he’d like.

    He’s a rare instance of someone whose life is filled with things more important than his hobby. He’s made the conscious choice to appreciate all the things he DOES have in his life, and be patient about his music.

    It’s a simple binary equation: either writing is more important than something you’re already doing, or it’s not. Either way, there’s your time for writing.

    Easy? Nope. Simple doesn’t mean easy.
    Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..Expectations Are Reality So Know What You’re Delivering

    • Joel, I completely agree with you about not cutting out sleep. I think it’s poor advice. Why would anyone cram their life so full that they can’t get the sleep their body needs? (And what health problems are they storing up for the future when they do so?)

      I need eight hours, or close to, in order to function at full capacity. Some people need a bit less, some a bit more, but sleep is really vital for the hard, creative work of writing.

    • Thanks Daijon! I think writing can be tough at times, but done well, it’s simply a process of clarifying our thoughts and sharing them with the world. (Though as Joel so rightly points out above, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy!)

  3. Thank you for the simple but valuable information in your post.

    This is a very important topic, but I am afraid we are far from a feasible solution in today’s world.

    But I believe if one really loves writing, s/he will wind her/his best balance both to live and to write.

  4. Good stuff! I’m not a morning person but I have trained myself to get up and hour or more earlier. I did feel like a zombie at first but adjusted to it eventually. Now, I get so much more writing done in the am than if I put it off until the afternoon or evening.

    I do find I have to write everyday or almost everyday to maintain flow. If I let myself go more than a couple of days, I feel like I have to spend time getting back in the groove again.

    You definitely have to try different things to get a feel for what works for you.
    Sonia G Medeiros’s last blog post ..Are You Your Own Frenemy?

    • Thanks, Sonia! It’s great you’ve found a pattern that works for you — there’s no one-size-fits-all writing routine. And well done on sticking with getting up early long enough to adjust — I know how tough that can be!

  5. Hi Ali, long time no hear. I have stopped writing for now. I seem to have lost my writing mojo for the moment but it is still there lurking in the depths.

    Taking some time out to travel a little.

    I always look forward to your encouraging words.
    Carole Lyden’s last blog post ..The ticking clock and the soul

    • Carole, great to hear from you! Hope you get your mojo back soon … though taking time out sounds like a great idea. I’ve had long periods of little/no writing in the past, and I think these are a natural part of the ebb and flow of the writing life.

      Have a great time on your travels!

  6. Ali, I especially like your first point: “Too much focus on efficiency can even be counter-productive.” I find that investing in some daydreaming time, or art-gallery-browsing time, or singing-silly-songs-to-my-cat time, can really work to help me over the rough terrain of writing.

    • I have plenty of playing-with-the-baby time… and getting-distracted-by-Buzzfeed time. 🙂 It’s easy to get hung up on words written, but there’s so much else that goes into writing.

  7. Ali,

    Awesome post. I go through these times when I don’t have time for writing. I work shift work in a n emergency department. And I will go an entire month or two without putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard more like). Then when I do find time to write, I find that I’ve spent so much time away that I completely forget certain characters (extreme example) and I do some rereading of my own work, but when I start writing again I totally beat myself up because what I write doesn’t seem nearly as well written as what I’m adding it to so I do a lot of deleting.

    Thanks for the post Ali it will really help me when I don’t have time to write.

    By the way it’s nice to be reading your posts again I found myself away for such a long time (work and family you know). Stay awesome and God bless.

    Bridges
    Bridges Stevenson’s last blog post ..The Relevance of the Bible

    • Good to hear from you again, Bridges, I’ve missed your comments! Glad to know all is OK — and hope you’re having a less busy time now.

      Shift work must make things really difficult, and I admire you for sticking with the writing. It IS hard to get back into writing after time away. Is there anything you can do during the periods when you can’t write, like perhaps reread a little bit of your work each day, so you stay connected with it?

      Also, stop deleting! 😛 Get a full draft finished, then you can go back and change stuff. I do understand the temptation to make it as well-written as possible right away, but you might find that you want to make major changes (e.g. cut out a character) at the end — and then you’ll have wasted time perfecting stuff that you later take out.

      Good luck with it all, and God bless you too.

  8. I leave my internet on and play a combination of mild music with no words on Pandora as well as Rainymood.com. A truly amazing combination.

    I also turn off the time on my computer. Doing this has done wonders for me. I’m not constantly looking at the time and feeling constrained; I can focus on my writing.

    I don’t constrict myself to hours a day. I put down a goal and really don’t care how I get there or how many hours it takes. I started out with writing 1,000 words per day, then 2,000. When I edit, I started out editing five pages a day. This can take anywhere from 2-3 hours for me, and that’s just the first editing phase. Then I push myself to ten pages a day, and slowly increase when I have the time until the book is fully edited.

    I am currently in the process of writing my first novel, so I am learning a lot about my own style and how much I can write. It is definitely a learning experience, and that’s without outside editing yet to come! I found that I was able to write a total of about 110,000 words in about three months. I know the editing process might take just as long.

  9. Ali,

    Thank you again for this very useful post. I personally fall into the category of New Mom and find that my time is very limited. Kudos for calling out these “re-hashed” ideas as not helpful to everybody. Our individual situations should not be approached with a one-size fits all solution.

    I too cannot work consistently well everyday at just 20 minutes. These choppy bursts of writing does nothing to keep my attention or my ideas consistent. It is more of a distraction than a focused and productive period of time.

    We all need to do what works for us personally.
    Connie’s last blog post ..Creativity…Are We Born With It?

  10. I think for you to have a good write-up, you must be well composed and fresh in mind. sometimes overworking yourself can really impact negatively on the writeup.