Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to Find the Time


I seem to be having the hardest time getting back into my routine. I think I need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation :D Or maybe just a really good nap...or three :D In any case, I will get back on the ball tomorrow, but for today, I'll rerun a post from back when I first started my blog.

I have lost track of how many people have asked me how I find the time to write. The answer is easy….I just do. It’s a struggle. It’s not easy. There are some things I have to sacrifice. But it is doable. So here are a few things I attempt to do in order to maximize my writing time.

1. Carry a notebook and pen, a recorder, laptop, etc.
One thing I noticed about myself is that even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. Story ideas, conversations between characters, ideas for scenes…these are always running through my head. I tend to get epiphanies when I’m in the shower or doing the dishes. I may not have time in the middle of a load of dishes to rush to my computer and write a scene the moment it occurs to me, but if take a second to jot down a few notes, then I have something to work on when I can sit down at my computer. This both saves me the frustration of trying to remember something I really wanted to include in my book and saves me precious minutes of think time when I am in front of my screen.

2. Get chores and errands done in a timely manner.
This is something I struggle with, but if I can get my household chores and errands completed early in the day, then whatever spare moments present themselves can be used to write. I can concentrate on my story instead of feeling guilty that I should be doing dishes or laundry instead.

3. Treat it like a job.
Author Rosellen Brown spelled it out perfectly. She said:

It’s a job. It’s not a hobby. You don’t write the way you build a model airplane. You have to sit down and work, to schedule you time and stick to it. Even it it’s just for an hour or so each day, you have to get a babysitter and find the time. If you’re going to make writing succeed you have to approach it as a job.

Just like a “real” job, writing is not always fun. It’s work. It’s HARD work. Editing, critiquing, rewriting, researching, replotting…this stuff all takes time and can sometimes get downright tedious. This is why treating writing like a job can really be helpful. You don’t always like your job, but you still have to do it. Approach your writing like you’d approach your job. Just Do It! Agatha Christie said:

Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.

It is not always important WHAT you write – that is what editing is for. What is important is that you sit down and DO IT. Butt to chair, fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper). When you least feel like writing is when you need to do it the most.


In an effort to do this, I do two things.

• Make a writing schedule.
My children are in preschool from 8:30 to 11:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays, and my son is gone those hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My daughter entertains herself well for and hour or so if my son isn’t there to fight with, so those four days are my writing days. I will squeeze in writing any other time I can, but I schedule my set writing hours while my kids are out of the house or asleep. Fridays through Sundays I try to write for an hour after everyone has gone to bed.

• Set goals.
In addition to having my scheduled writing time, I set a word count goal for each day. My goal is to write 1000 words a day. Sometimes I am on a roll and can get that done in half an hour, and sometimes I will write for two hours and only get 500 words out. Sometimes I meet my goal, sometimes not, and sometimes I exceed it. I can almost always get 1000 words written in about an hour – which means an hour and 1000 words a day, five to seven days a week, and I’ve got a finished novel (first draft) in three months. Regardless, it gives me something to shoot for. You can set your goal higher or lower, depending on the time you have available, but give yourself some sort of objective to aim for.

4. Prioritize your activities

We all have spare moments in the day. What we do with those moments is what is important. If you truly want to find the time to write, you have to be willing to sacrifice. I have a lot of television shows that I love. I love to read. I play the piano and cross-stitch. I have children that want to play with their mommy (although I would like to note that time with my children is NOT something I sacrifice in order to write).

This is where having a writing schedule really helps. My writing time is scheduled in the mornings. That means when my kids come home, I can play with them, do some chores, spend some time in the afternoons reading a good book (if I am lucky enough to have the time), and watch my favorite shows in the evening. And I can spend my time doing this because I know I have already met my writing goal for the day.

If you work full time, you can try and squeeze in some writing time on your lunch break, or wake up a little early or go to bed a little later in order to get your writing time in. It IS possible to find moments to write, no matter what your schedule is….but sometimes it requires a bit of sacrifice.

During the summer, my kids are not in school, so I tend to tape whatever shows I want to watch and write in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed. Or I’ll write in the afternoons instead of reading or playing piano, or choosing some other activity. And very often (because Real Life has a funny way of intervening and throwing all my well-made plans out the window) I sacrifice sleep in order to write. Last year when I was finishing my novel, Treasured Lies, I was waking up at 4:30 in the morning and going to bed at midnight because the only time I could sit down and write, uninterrupted, was when my family was asleep. That is not something I could keep up indefinitely, but in a pinch, I am willing to sacrifice a little sleep in order to write.


Now, let’s face it, Real Life is going to get in the way sometimes. It’s going to throw your carefully crafted schedule right out the window, probably on a daily basis. But it shouldn’t matter. If you want to write, write. Find the time. Eat dinner a little faster and use the three minutes you saved scarfing your meal to write a few lines. Carry a recorder around and dictate your book while you vacuum. Scribble on Kleenexes while you wait at the doctor’s with your sick child (just be careful not to use said Kleenex for said sick child’s nose). The time is there…you just have to find it and use it.

Author Kenneth Atchity said:

Every human being has exactly the same amount of time, and yet consider the output of Robert Louis Stevenson, John Peabody Harrington, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury,William Goldman, Neil Simon, Joyce Caorl Oates, Agatha Christie and John Gardner. How did they accomplish what they have? They weren’t deflected from their priorities by activities of lesser importance. The work continues, even though everything else may have to give. They know that their greatest resource is themselves. Wasting time is wasting themselves. When people ask them, “Where do you find the time?” they wonder, “Where do you lose it?”

6 comments:

Scott said...

Michelle - I write when I write! I learned long ago that I'm not an everyday writer. It's just not gonna happen. I normally block out time every evening just for writing, even if that block is only 30 minutes long because of a busy schedule. 30 minutes is 30 minutes after all.

When I'm starting a project my normal goal is: 50,000 words in 30 days! Yeah, that seems extreme, but it works for me. I set M - F goals when doing this, and then S/S goals that are much higher. I don't expect perfection out of my rough draft, I just expect the general gist of the story I'm telling.

Lastly - don't feel guilty when you don't write. Trust me, I struggled with this for years until I finally accepted that I write when I write, and that's enough for me.

Great post. I hope you get back in the swing of things soon.

christine_fonseca said...

Great post...and I have having the hardest time getting on track too!

Michelle McLean said...

LOL well, you'll notice I say that these are the things I "attempt" to do :D With two small children, my goals don't always (in fact, rarely) get met...but I do try to write every day. And when I am trying to get a project done, I try even harder to get a few hundred words in every day, at the very least.

I think I am one of those people that works better with a deadline....so setting that goal helps spur me on when I'm lagging behind. But I am learning to be less hard on myself when the goals aren't met. Because let's face it, stuff comes up. And there are some days that I just plain don't feel like doing anything (like the last couple days) :D And I'm learning that that is okay. Everyone needs a break...as long as I don't drag it out too long, I've gotten better at allowing myself some slack ;-D

B.J. Anderson said...

Great post! And I see myself in a lot of those things you do to make time. :D

Jeannette said...

I struggle with this too, even though my kids are older! Summer is always difficult. Hope you find your groove again soon. I agree with what you say about prioritizing, setting goals, and scheduling. Those things really work!

BluePixo said...

When children see that the family is working together toward a goal, or working together to make life better for one or more members, they are much better able to understand that doing the work of the household is a form of power. They see that their work contributes to the good of all, that they are appreciated, and that they make life better when they pitch in.


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