It often seems everyone wants to write, but honestly, how many actually get the writing done? There’s a huge difference in those two figures. One of the reasons most often cited by struggling writers is difficulty in finding the time. I disagree.
We all have the same 24 hours in each day. How we use that time is the key to success. Take it from a guy who has wasted a ton of time, honestly assessing what you are doing with your time versus what you want to be doing with that time can really change your productivity, increase your output, and make you happier in the long run.
But it is a difficult assessment to make. No one wants to think s/he is wasting time. I would argue that facing that possibility is better than continuing not to be as productive as you want to be. So here are ten areas to review as a way to find more writing time. Are they the only areas? No, but dealing with these will provide a good start toward assessing, streamlining, and improving your schedule to create more opportunities for productivity.
Here we go:
10) Television, magazines, newspapers are time sucks of almost the highest order. Should you shun them completely? Not necessarily, but you need to honestly assess how much time you are spending with them.
Do you read a number of newspapers per day? At one point in my career, I found myself spending two hours reading news every day. That derailed productivity and swerved into indulgence. Same with magazines. Figuring out how much time you really need to keep informed and limiting yourself to just that time can free up your schedule considerably.
And television… Whew, that thing can suck the life right out of you.
Here’s a suggestion: whichever media vice you have, keep a log for one week, honestly cataloging how much time you spend with media. At the end of the week, you might be shocked. Then ask yourself how much of that experience you really need. Three hours of news shows every day? Are all three hours giving you new information? Six hours of police shows, mysteries and thrillers? Yes, you might be “studying your genre” but how much are you really learning and how much is mindless habit or indulgence?
See what you can cutback, and do it. If you find yourself arguing, “but I have only seen that episode of ‘Family Guy’ four times,” you might need a twelve step program. Maybe you can DVR favorite shows (culling the list to just your very favorite choices and dropping the lesser programming) and treat yourself to a marathon of fun one night a week, freeing up the rest of the week for productivity.
9) The Internet can be an even bigger time suck. Some would admit it has completely take over our lives. Time to assert some control. Again, an honest cataloging of when you use the Internet, and why, can be revelatory. Three hours a day on Facebook? Four, collectively, on Twitter, email, Instagram, etc.? How much of that is for your writing career, and how much is indulgence? Be honest.
Equally important, how much Internet activity is done while you should be writing? Hitting social media during a commute or in the fifteen minutes between classes or while on your break or while waiting for a train is different than doing the same while sitting at your writing desk. Separate the places in your life, and keep one area for writing while going on social media somewhere else entirely. This is entirely doable. Early I his career, Stephen King wedged himself into a cramped space in his basement next to the furnish to write. You can be sure he didn’t go there to listen to Red Sox games.
8) Love and lust keeps the world spinning ’round but can also get in the way of your writing. Do you feel yourself getting in the mood for romance (or something more primal) whenever you sit down to write? That is not your loving heart (or other organs) yearning to break free and express their emotions, that’s avoidance preying on your discipline. Writing is hard, romancing your partner (or dreaming of doing so) is a your id cleverly trying to get out of working. Tell it romance (or whatever) is for some other time. And if that nearby picture of your favorite hunka hunka burning love distracts you, move it into the other room.
7) Indulging in anything too much can be bad. Be honest with yourself; does dinner really need to take four hours, or are you trying to avoid writing? Do the dishes really need to be done by hand, the lawn mowed for the second time this week, the bookcase reorganized, or are you avoiding the discipline of sitting and writing?
Yes, we lead busy lives. That is why we need to assess every once in awhile and see if we are using our busy lives to hide from that which is challenging and sometimes painful. Writing is not for the meek, brothers and sisters. Nope. The meek inherit the couch while we write the next powerful work.
6) Clutter can actually keep you away from writing, sometimes actually hiding your desk, burying it in “important” things you need to get to, um, soon. Take one writing session and use it to clear that writing area, and then keep it sacrosanct; nothing goes there but the work. Period.
5) Overcommitment comes from not wanting to say no to people. As a result, we end up at dinners we aren’t really interested in, recitals we would kill to avoid, and so on. We need to learn to say no to some things. Practice in the mirror, it becomes easier. The benefit here is once you learn to say no to some things, you get done what really excites you and as a result, the events you do choose to attend become more enjoyable.
4) Family obligations are often important, but not always. Your sister’s wedding? Yes. Attending the third wedding of your second cousin on your father’s side, the one from Delaware that you’ve met twice? Not so much. Send a modest check if you have to, but keep writing.
3) Poor scheduling can eat up days, weeks, months, years. There really isn’t a choice here; you need to create a schedule and stick to it. When do you write best, in the mornings, or evenings? Schedule the rest or your life around your strengths. And yes, it’s is not easy; I struggle with scheduling constantly. When my kids were wee lads, I found I just could not be away from them once they woke up. I also noticed I was usually up for three hours before they (or anyone else in my house) was awake. That became my writing time, and now i have to keep myself away from morning news shows so i can keep to my writing time. Also, these days I struggle with which comes first, exercising or writing. It is an ongoing debate, but that is the key; battle with your schedule if you have to, but reign that bad boy in and become its master so that you can always have a set time to write.
2) Too many ideas sounds like a blessing, yes? But sometimes a flood of inspiration is really that pesky id messing with you again because it wants to go play. This one is tricky because you never want to abuse the muse by ignoring ideas, but you also do not want to derail your writing by jumping into a new concept and working on that awhile instead of your main project. The result is always numerous unfinished ideas and that never pleases anyone.
Here’s a way to deal with a burst of inspiration: write it down, then go back to your main project. I used to use index cards, now I use that composition pad in my iPhone. So get it down, but then continue with your main project. What happens to that idea? Survival of the fittest. If it needs to exist, it will persist in your life until it does. If the idea does not persist, that was a distraction and not worthy of your time in the first place.
1) Lack of priorities is the number one killer of writers, in my opinion, and that might be a good thing. Shocking idea, I admit, but perhaps we writers are like those ideas we just discussed. Maybe if we need to exist as writers we need to persist until we are, or face the facts that we do not really want it.
During college I would write every morning and then go to music classes. One day the head of the music department stopped me and said, “You clearly love music, but loving music doesn’t make you a musician. What do you do with your free time?” I was so mad at that guy I went back to my dorm and …wrote about it. And wrote, and wrote, until I figured out what he was saying to me.
Aristotle said, “You are what you do most often.” There is no shame in working hard to truly discover exactly what that is. Take an honest look at what you gravitate toward, what lights you up, and cultivate that passion. The most difficult part of doing this is being completely honest with yourself in assessing what it is you do most often, but once you have the answer, your priorities should align more easily.
Years ago, a comedian friend of mine convinced me to give stand-up comedy a try. I loved writing the jokes, rewriting the jokes, editing, organizing and practicing the jokes, I enjoyed doing the stand-up, sometimes. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t burn for it, Not like i did for the writing, so I eventually faced the fact and went home to write, and was happier for it.
We can’t be everything our mind imagine for us. From all those possibilities, we must work to allow our true passion to emerge, and then work to perfect that as best we can. I am still working at mine, and I hope I helped you along in f ding ways to create the time to perfect yours.
Christopher Ryan is author of City of Woe, available on Kindle and Nook, and in print. For more info, click here.