How to Take Back Control of Your Time (and Fit More Writing In)
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.
Step #1: Recognise Who’s In Control
This is your life and – assuming you are neither in prison nor indentured servitude – no-one else is forcing you to spend your time on anything.
Here are some – admittedly radical – things you could do in order to free up writing time:
- Quit your day job. Yes, that might be completely unrealistic financially, but it’s an option.
- Pay for a full-time nanny to look after your kids. Also unreasonable financially, and you might want some time with your kids … but again, it’s an option.
- Stop cooking meals for your family. Either get them to cook (if they’re old enough / competent enough) or rely on ready meals, takeaways, or a food delivery service.
- Stop doing chores. Yes, the laundry and dishes might pile up. But perhaps it’s time someone else in your family took a turn?
- Leave the house at 9am every Saturday and stay in a library all day to write. Sure, you might not want to do this every weekend, but you
(A bit later in this post, I’ll get onto some perhaps more realistic options.)
Obviously, the consequences of some of these might be pretty undesirable. But the point is, no-one is forcing you to do any of this. Whatever your life is currently filled up by, you have put it there (whether deliberately or not).
Sometimes, you might well settle for a situation that’s not exactly ideal for you because the alternative is worse! I love my kids: I’d also love to have six hours a day to write. Due to crazy house price issues in the UK (we moved last year from the very pricy South to the much cheaper North), I could actually just about afford to pay for enough childcare to write six hours a day, every day … but right now, it’s more important to me to have that time with my children while they’re small.
The point is, it’s a choice.
Step #2: Work Out What You CAN Change, Right Now
While quitting your job might not be a realistic option at all, there is almost certainly some scope in your life to get back in control of your time.
Here are a bunch of little things you can try:
- Instead of cooking from scratch every night, cook double batches so you only need to cook every other night. (Or use ready meals a couple of nights a week, or get a takeaway.)
- (Re)negotiate childcare arrangements with your spouse (or mum, or friend, or whoever can help). Could they give you an hour or two a week of child-free time to write?
- Scale back on the household chores. That might mean lowering your standards, getting other family members to pull their weight, or hiring outside help.
- Give up a volunteering role. Yes, these can be great ways of networking – or simply of giving back to your community. But your writing matters too.
- Instead of writing at home, get out to a cafe / library / etc. This is especially useful if family members tend to interrupt or distract you.
- Have a couple of “TV-free” evenings per week: this can free up a surprising amount of writing time!
Fight the urge to do it all yourself. It’s okay (indeed, it’s good!) to ask for help.
If you can, some of these slightly bigger things will clear up more time, without altering your life and lifestyle too drastically:
- Pay for two mornings per week of childcare. Small children are exhausting and full-on: I’m definitely a better mother for not doing it full-time!
- Cut back from 5 days per week to 4 days at work. If that’s a stretch financially, look for ways to cut costs (or make a bit of money from your writing) first.
- Raise your freelancing rates by 10% (and work 10% less). If you have plenty of work coming in, then start charging more! I’ve raised my rates plenty of times since starting freelancing, and I’ve never had a client leave due to a rate increase.
Step #3: Schedule Your Writing Ahead Of Time
During the past nine months, I’ve made faster progress on my fiction-writing than during ever in the past (I’ve gone through a full first draft and full redraft of a whole novel) … despite having a way busier schedule than in the past, too.
I put this down to one deceptively simple thing: I have a specific time each day for writing fiction.
That time is 5.15pm – 5.45pm. It’s not only specific but weirdly precise: this is because it fits in after the kids’ teatime and before their bathtime. While our joint schedules vary from day to day, this is a point at which my husband is virtually always home and taking care of the kids.
I know 30 minutes a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up to a lot of writing over the course of nine months! If you can carve out a 30 minute daily slot too, then check out my two year plan to make great progress on your own novel.
Scheduling is particularly important if you have a lot of flexibility with your time. I freelanced full-time for a couple of years, between doing my Masters degree and having kids, and while the flexibility was lovely, it was also really difficult to make consistent progress with my fiction.
I wish now that I’d set aside an hour every day, or a couple of afternoons a week, to work on my novel.
You can clear large chunks of writing time by scheduling far enough ahead. Want to go on a weekend’s writing retreat? Then plan it a few months in advance and get it on your calendar: don’t just wait for a free weekend to miraculously appear!
I know that finding time is never easy. For many writers, what looks like a “time” problem is also bound up in issues of confidence (“I’m no good so why bother making time to write?”) or a critical internal voice (“You shouldn’t be writing when your family need you.”)
Keep pushing past that.
Your writing is important.
However objectively good (or bad) you are at writing, you will get better if you keep going.
And one day, that novel you’re working on or that fledgling blog you’re growing might touch hearts and even change lives all around the world.
Hang on in there. And if I can help in any way (even if it’s just with a few words of encouragement), do leave a comment below.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
If you're new, welcome! These posts are good ones to start with:
Can You Call Yourself a “Writer” if You’re Not Currently Writing?
The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-it-Yourself Tips)
My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.
You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.
I do what you do – 45 minutes first thing in the morning after coffee — works out perfectly. I did the majority of my first book that way and my second, which requires much footnoting thus making for very intense work, works better that way.
Mornings are definitely my best time! Sounds like a great routine that’s working well for you (and your books). 🙂
I sneak batches of time in 10 minute slots. Sometimes I’ll be between classes at work, or I’ll have a meeting to go to in 15 minutes so there’s no time to start prepping a workshop, so I’ll write instead. I find scheduling time doesn’t work for me because whenever life happens and I can’t make the appointment, I just beat myself up. But sneaking 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there is somehow easier. Though in all fairness I don’t have children so it’s probably easier for me!
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I used to sneak in 10 minutes if Nick was asleep in the pushchair and I was waiting to pick Kitty up from her pre-school…!
These days, I don’t tend to have random bits of time between X and Y happening, but I think that’s a perfectly sensible approach — sounds like it’s working well for you. 🙂
I think I’ll start going out especially when things go messy around me. I don’t really much of my time like spending 8 hrs a day with dropping jaws and write all day. It just depends on my mood each day. Seldom I don’t feel myself writing about things though I still write any days of the week.
Great list for managing your time especially when you are a parent or a bachelor who’s into several ventures online.
I’ve been devouring (copy-)writing articles and books. A recurring theme in them all is the importance of writing regularly, preferably every day. Thanks for the tips on actually making that happen!
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Great post. I too find that since starting freelancing. I’m rarely working on (and even more rarely, working on) fuctyion. It feels indulgent because I can’t guarantee I’ll get paid for it.
Life is manic at the moment due to some family health issues, but when it’s settled down a little, I’ll be scheduling in fiction time – and making a better effort to stick to it! Thanks.
Thanks Alison! I’ve often felt the same way: it’s tough to feel “allowed” to write fiction when it’s the non-fiction that I can easily make pay. It’s lovely to write for a living, but it can become a bit all-consuming. I’ve found that giving myself specific times for fiction really helps me.