It’s ironic that I find myself giving advice on finding time for writing, when I spend most of my time complaining that I never have enough time to write. Like all mums I’m busy (I’ve yet to meet a parent who isn’t), and trying to fit creative pursuits around school runs, dog walks, kids’ clubs and the endless cycles of general domesticity can be a challenge to say the least (do my family really expect dinner, clean clothes and food in the freezer yet again?). But despite this, I have managed to get a fair bit of writing done in the last year, and so this week I thought I would share some of the tips that have worked for me. They’ve been gleaned mostly from snippets I’ve picked up from self-help books, podcasts, talking to other writers – and of course, the odd bit of personal experience. If you’re a writer or a blogger (isn’t every blogger a writer?), I’d love to hear some of your tips, and if any of these ideas already work for you!
1. Block out Time for Writing
It sounds obvious, but I really think it’s helpful to look at the daily time you have available and schedule in blocks of time to actually write. For me, this only really happens when my kids are at school, and once I factor in the dog walk, shopping, and that endless cycle of domesticity, I only find myself with about 3 ‘working’ hours in the day, equating roughly to about 15 hours across the week. Unfortunately I have to factor into this work I do for my self-employed husband (boring but essential), and a bit of voluntary/community type stuff (which isn’t boring but does still have a habit of eating into the day). This leaves me with about 10 hours a week in which I get to do the work I want to do for me, and I’m now in the habit of blocking these hours out – either in my bullet journal or just simply in my head (I’ve now accepted that a social life is a long-forgotten thing of days gone by). I find the process of blocking out and ‘owning’ my writing time as invaluable – I know how little of it there is, and so when it comes, I try to make the best possible use of it I can.
2. Use Opportunities as They Arise
Of course, as well as scheduled time blocks, there will always be other opportunities for writing – an unexpected play date or that half hour waiting at a kids club perhaps (I’m writing this article on a solo train journey to an appointment). Having a notepad and pen on you at all times is always handy – just having the ability to jot down ideas or thoughts when you have a spare 5 minutes can be a lot more productive than you think.
3. Use Your Writing Time Wisely
I like to think I’m pretty focused when it comes to writing, but in reality, I’m prone to distraction, procrastination and self doubt. One of the tips I picked up on one of my favourite podcasts, ‘Magic Lessons’, was to set a timer for my ‘dedicated’ writing time, and now when those precious hours come around I set my oven timer for an hour, two hours, or whatever time I have. During that period I don’t allow myself to look at the internet, or get involved with anything else that might distract me – basically I have two choices (excluding toilet breaks and the odd cup of tea) – to look at the timer running down or just to write. I heard Neil Gaiman talking about this technique recently while being interviewed by Elizabeth Gilbert, and since initiating it I have to say it really works (although Liz Gilbert recommends using a beautiful hour glass as your timer, leaving you with the equally attractive options of writing or being mesmerised by the sands of time. For now, my less-than-glamorous oven timer will just have to do).
4. Choose a Location that Works
If you’re a writer who works from home (as most of us probably do), you might find that blocking out time or using the timer technique don’t enable you to tune out the distractions that inevitably come from being in your own home. The doorbell ringing, the dog barking, that load of washing you could just pop on…or the alluring call of Wi-Fi. When all this becomes a barrier to writing I’d suggest getting yourself out and visiting a café, or your local library – preferably ones without Wi-Fi – to spend your allocated writing time in blissful doorbell-ringing, washing-pile-neglectful peace. Just try to avoid spending all your time chatting or engaged in people watching (a trap I’m often inclined to fall into). Although in my defence, you can gather a lot of writing material through chatting and people-watching too!
5. Find Times that Work For You
None of the above will amount to much if you’re trying to write at a time when you’re just not feeling like writing, and it’s important to find a time in the day that 1) you can commit to and 2) allows you the energy and motivation to actually write. Personally I suffer quite badly with fatigue from autoimmune thyroiditis and find that trying to write any time after about 3pm is just not going to work for me. Thankfully, my ‘energetic hours’ – which last from about 9am-3pm most days – fit in quite well with the periods in which I’m available to write and do the other necessaries. During good periods I sometimes manage to get up and write before anyone in my house has woken, but for several months now this just hasn’t been an option. I try to make the best of the time and energy peaks I have available, but ‘burning the midnight oil’ on the keyboard is unlikely to become a fruitful writing strategy for me. If this works for you, fantastic! I won’t pretend not to be a little envious as I scuttle off to bed each night before 10pm.
6. Acknowledge that Your Writing is Important
The final thing I would say is that it’s unlikely you’ll ever find the time for writing unless you and those around you acknowledge your writing is important. It’s all too easy for people (including writers themselves), to think it doesn’t matter, that the world won’t stop turning if an article or a book doesn’t get written, that it’s not important in the great scheme of things, that it’s just a silly hobby or a dream. Unfortunately whilst some of these things may be true (hopefully not the last one!), there wouldn’t be a lot of colour or creativity in the world if we all thought like this, and let’s face it, I think we could all do with some colour and creativity in the world right now. Treat your writing like it’s important and other people will do likewise. And with that in mind, it’s time to work out your schedule, set your timer, find the right location – and go forth and write!
What do you think, has this article helped you? If you’re a writer, how do you fit in the time to write? Do you use any of these tips already or do you have your own to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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This is really interesting Gail, it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing in the future. Not necessarily to lead anywhere just because I always used to love writing and I don’t feel quite as confident in it as I used to be. Listening to that podcast you recommended has really inspired me to be more creative, I loved the Neil Gaiman one, however I will have to put it on hold until the twins start nursery. Even though it is only afternoons I think I could manage to block out an hour once every other day to write. I’m going to keep this one for September! I hope maybe one day we get to see some of your writing, other than the blogging obviously 🙂 xx
Aww thanks Hayley, this is a lovely comment. I really hope you find the time to write a bit more come September. I think it’s sort of addictive once you start! Yes the Magic Lessons podcast is fantastic isn’t it? I’ve picked up so many snippets from it, can’t wait for series 3! x
I am trying to do this myself. It is all about finding the time that fits. I find the time to write not as bad, but the time to edit I find difficult x
I am a really slow writer Susan, and tend to edit as I go along which is probably completely the wrong thing to do! Yes finding the right time can be difficult, I tend to make a big production out of my writing time – I’m trying to get better at just fitting in bits and pieces even when the conditions aren’t exactly ‘perfect’ 🙂 xx