Aspiration to Perspiration: Making Time to Write

One of the most common complaints from aspiring writers is that they “don’t have time to write.” It’s true that life has a way of filling up your time with things both mundane and important. Your job is stressful and you’re working lots of OT. Kids. Family obligations. Opportunities to see friends you haven’t seen in ages. Tests to take, classes to pass. The playoffs are on TV. You’re almost done beating Red Dead Redemption.

Some of this might sound familiar to you…

Really, though, what we mean when we say “I don’t have the time to write” is “I’m unwilling to make the time.”

There are lots of good arguments, justifications, and explanations for not meeting a word count on a given day. For not spending that hour with your nose pressed against the blue-green glow of the monitor, fingers flying at the keys. I know very well what some of these excuses are because I’ve made (and still make) many of them.

But of course, the only way to be a writer is to write. You can’t get around it. I realize that’s no big secret, but like most things, it’s easier said than done. So let me tell you how I overcame inertia and a million other valid (and invalid) excuses and got myself back on track.

Routine

My day job is a fairly demanding one. While I’m lucky enough to work in a creative place in a creative industry, I still come home tired every day from working my brain so much. My focus is shot, my eyes are tired from staring at a screen for 8-10 hours, and I just don’t want to sit at a desk.

I’m a night owl. When the world is silent and still, I love to stay up and work. It would seem an ideal time to write except that my brain is fried. It’s generally a better time to read, recharge my batteries, and (sometimes) goof off.

As I got more and more serious about a writing career, I realized I was going to have to carve out some time somewhere else. Make a routine. That left me with the unlikely option of getting up early to write—and I’m not a morning person.  But I’d heard good things from people who wrote in the morning: the world is still silent and still, and sometimes your brain is asleep so the internal editor shuts the hell up and you can just write.

Those first few weeks were terribly difficult, and I admit more than once, I hit the snooze alarm and chose an extra 20 minutes in a warm bed over the cold, intimidating glare of an empty document. But gradually, I grew accustomed to the early rising, and now I often wake before the alarm. Even on the weekends. Now my feet don’t always hit the floor in a frenzy of enthusiasm (apologies to Mr. Bradbury) but they do carry me from bed to office.

Discipline

That’s when I let my butt take over. I sit in the chair and write for 45 minutes to an hour most every morning. Even if the ideas are bad, even if the sentence structure is crap, even if the characters are cardboard standups and the adverbs cavort with reckless abandon across the screen, I write.

Now I’m not a writer who believes in writing every day necessarily. I need to give my brain a break sometimes, so I mostly write during the week. But I try to spend that time working on some aspect of my writing career even if I’m not cranking out words. Revisions. Submissions. Blog entries…

A big part of discipline for me is focus. Even sitting quietly at my desk, there are a million distractions. Twitter. Facebook. Email. Wikipedia. The Internet. There’s a lot of awesome out there waiting to distract you from writing. Turn it all off. Not only do I close all these programs so I can’t be lured into checking them, but I turn off the wireless, too. If I really need help, I’ll unplug the router. Many writing programs have a “full screen” mode that hides your desktop from view while you work. Just you and the page. No clock. No word count. No Angry Birds icon waiting to be clicked…

My goal each morning is to write 500-1000 words. I don’t always make that count. I give myself some slack as long as I’m making progress on the overall goals I’ve set for myself that week. I call it a win. Sometimes I’ll even jump on Twitter and crow about it.

Sacrifice

So ask yourself as you embark upon this long and winding road paved with words: are you ready to leave your bed an hour early when the house is cold and the cats are pressing close?

Sleep may be the least thing you’ll have to give up. Time with friends and family often cuts into prime writing time. Hopefully you have understanding families. If you’re writing early or late after they’ve all gone to bed, that may ease things. But it’s still time away from the people you care about, so it’s no small sacrifice.

Television and video games can be inspirational and prime the pump for your own storytelling, but how many hours a week are you spending on them? What if you spent some of that time writing? All of it? Could you ditch that premium digital subscription service? Quit that MMO that entices you back day after day?

When I got back from Clarion West, I pulled the plug on TV. After a summer of not watching, I realized I didn’t miss it much. I got rid of the satellite subscription and spent the evenings instead on ideation, blog posts, and reading. I’ve since allowed a little TV back into my life, mostly through Netflix, but I easily gained five to eight hours a week back that I can now use for writing.

Perspiration

I’m a better writer for all these things, and whatever successes I’ve had I credit largely to sticking with the plan, even on bad days. But it’s hard work, and some days are a struggle. So you have to push yourself everyday to do more than the bare minimum. I have games I play with myself. One Hundred More Words. Five More Minutes. Unplug the Router. All three require intense focus and concentration. I like to leave my writing sessions the way I leave the gym–a little sore, out of breath, wobbly-legged from exhaustion and excitement.

So all these things turned me from an aspiring writer with no publications to an aspiring writer with several. I’ve got a long way to go, I know. And I suspect that even after years of doing this (and hopefully some more successes) I’ll still be aspiring to do better. What about you?

What’s your routine? What are you willing to sacrifice to find the time to write? How hard do you push yourself?

 

 

 

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  • Amen, Andy.

    It took me months after Clarion West, flailing about in zero-writing despair, to realise that I *did* have time in my day to write. I just had to shift my wasted, brain-fried evenings into productive, brain-sleepy mornings.

    Now, I go to bed shortly after the kids and wake at 5am, squeezing in at least an hour or two of writing each day.

    All I had to do was discard my “I am not a morning person” mindset, and wake to the stars rather than the sun.

  • Erika Holt

    I *used* to be so disciplined about writing. I would write every morning just after breakfast, before doing anything else. And you know what? I cranked out a novel in six months–a long one at that. Butt-in-chair works and I absolutely have to get back to it. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Galendara

    very well said Andy.

  • thanks everyone! 

    I’ve been struggling to follow my own advice the last couple of days, but isn’t that always the way? 😛 

  • I don’t push myself at all because I am lazy and BAD WRITER GIRL. Thanks for reminding me to stop saying those things. NO EXCUSES, NO MERCY!!!!

  • Steve Scearce

    I think that I have a weird routine, although I have Jim Butcher to thank for some of my habits. I write six days a week. I pump my body full of green tea (good clean caffeine high) about 6pm and wait for the rush to kick in around 7pm. Then I write until about 11pm and call it quits. My daily goal is 1,500 words but I often find myself out of “idea juice” at the 1,100 mark. I do my best writing on a laptop that’s new enough to run MS Word without a hitch but not much else (saves me from online distractions). I often have an old Hammer horror film running silently in the background. The routine has been arduous but I’ve cranked out about 90k words in the last four months. 

  • Sandra M. Odell

    It’s a rare day when I can write at home.  Kids, housework, this, that, the other, are fuel for what I call my “Conspiracy of Distraction”.  Instead of regularly writing at home, I carve out time in the week to go to the county library and write, at least 5 hours at a stretch.  Word count, word count.  They may not always be prime words, but I get them on the page.

    And for those occasions when I can write at home, they usually occur between 2 – 5AM when I would much rather be asleep.  But at least I don’t have the distraction of my youngest son’s dedication to the same Elmo and Toy Story quotes over, and over, and over, and over, and…

  • Anthony Lanni

    I open the laptop every night when I get home.  It’s in the living room, so very often the TV is on… which means I can crank out considerably less new material.  It’s a great time for doing revisions, though.

    And then on Saturday and Sunday mornings I get 4-5 hours of uninterrupted creativity.  That’s where I usually crank out new material.