Finding the time to write.

7 06 2008

One of the loveliest people I know wrote the following on the Pantechnicon forum:

Right, how do you all fit it in?

How do I fit in everything that I want to do? There’s the weekly SMALLVILLE review, the movie reviews, the book reviews, the zombie article and the superman article (the latter of which I haven’t even started thinking about) all of which I desperately want to do, and do well. But I also have a wife and kids and a full time job, and I feel like I am neglecting them at the moment.

There’s more, obviously, but that’s the pertinent stuff right there. And while there are answers over on the forum, I thought it’d be nice to go into this issue in depth.

So just how do you find the time to write?

I could give you a huge answer. I could write a whole essay on this. But there’s a simple, one-word answer: Prioritise.

If you’re struggling to find the time to write, it’s time to sit down and ask yourself what’s the most important thing in your life. Then the next important. And the next. Go on, list them. Write them down.

Don’t worry if writing isn’t at the top of your list. Very few people have that luxury, and realistically keeping a roof over your head or spending time with your family is more important to most. But if you’re really serious about wanting to write, it should be in the top five. And if you find that it isn’t, well, relax a little. There’s nothing wrong with not living, breathing, and shitting writing.

Hopefully, though, if you really want to make a go of writing for a living your list will look something like this:

  1. Loved one / children / family commitments
  2. Paying the mortgage / rent
  3. Writing
  4. Some hobby that involves getting out once in a while

Before you get too excited that you got writing into the top five, think on this: I write for a living (full-time, non-fiction), and I earn what I like to think is a respectable wage. A friend who is a freelancer (writing a mixture of articles, journalism and fiction) is on about half that. Another friend who is a full-time journalist is on even less. So, basically, the more fun and interesting a time you have while writing, the less income you will have if it’s your job (and the freelancer’s been a freelancer for years).

Whatever you want to write, be it short stories, novels, journalistic pieces, how-to books or anything else, you then need to find the time. Having identified just how important it is to you, you then come to the magic part.

Time management.

Oh, it sounds scary, but really it’s not. Diarise for a week and see just what you’re spending your time on. Write everything down. Are you spending half an hour on the train every day? That’s half an hour you could spend writing. Are you watching a film a week at 90 minutes per film? That’s 90 minutes of writing time. Are you playing computer games for two hours a day? Cut back to an hour and use the other hour to write.

Once you’ve identified all the spare half-hours in your day, start scheduling. Allocate that time. Trust me, it’s the only way to break your old time-wasting habits and start new, productive ones. Eventually you’ll be so used to spending your time writing that you won’t need this, but humour me for now.

And, crucially, don’t rob yourself of all your downtime. You need fun in your life, and your writing batteries need to recharge. They feed on fun, on interaction with the outside world, on films and friends and hobbies, and if you don’t top them up, you’ll hit the dreaded Writer’s Block sooner or later (luckily we already know how to beat that).

Don’t worry if all the time you’ve accrued through this tots up to an hour a week. Just spend that hour writing. Ignore idiots who tell you that you should be writing ten hours a week, two hours a day, or any other arbitrary amount of time. Write for as much time as suits you, and write as many words as suit you.

Finally, don’t forget to reassess how you spend your time now and then. Priorities change as our lives change. You may find yourself with more spare time, or less. You may find that new things come along which are of a higher priority than your writing, whether short or long-term. If you are in control of your time, you’ll find that you have more of it.

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One response

7 06 2008
Gloria Weber

I can’t help agreeing with that last paragraph. Once a month, I sit down and look at what’s changed in my life, where I am in my writing projects, & reorganize to try and balance out the areas I’m lacking in (usually cleaning my house). But there’s always time (regardless of what my husband claims).

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