When I first started my goal of writing every day — 812 successful days ago — I had to deliberately set about finding time each day and forcing myself to sit down and use it as best I could. I took to it pretty quickly, and spent more and more time each day working on my writing, but now that I’ve faced some recent challenges in finding time and accomplishing even a reduced daily wordcount, it’s worth talking about those time-finding and maximizing strategies for the first time on this blog, as well as some things I’ve picked up along the way.
I don’t have time to write
Almost every writing advice blog and podcast covers this common whine. Heck, I’ve heard it tackled on entrepreneurship podcasts, workplace personnel development sessions, and just about every “follow your passion” piece of advice out there.
We do have time. We just choose to misuse it.
Perform a time audit on your day. I’ve done this before in my personal life and at work. What do you really spend your time on. 10 minutes reading facebook posts? Tweeting? Watching the news or that TV show that you just can’t miss? Playing online chess? (or is that just me). That’s all time that can be spent writing instead. I’m not necessarily saying that it should be spent writing, but it is time that you have that you’re choosing to do something else with. So, for that matter, is your sleeping time.
All of this is time that could be used writing. Make a note of that- a real, physical note, somewhere.
Don’t go overboard
I did this for a little while. I started with the Magic Spreadsheet idea that everyone has 15 minutes per day to turn out 250 words. I could tuck that into my lunch break at the time or, after I bought a Nexus tablet and stylus, found I could easily get twice that amount done on my commute, writing on the train or in the bus. But from there, I got carried away, as I often do.
The Magic Spreadsheet pushes you to go for a higher word count each month. Well, it gives you the option to do so, and where I see a raised bar, I go for it. So, after 30 consecutive days, it wanted 300 words, then 350. . . eventually, I was up to 1100 words per day of writing. But to accomplish that, I was writing at breakneck speed in all of my free time and giving up my other hobbies. If I wasn’t at work, or spending time with my family, I was writing. And I got tired of it.
I learned that while it’s important to find time to write by cutting out other activities that are less fulfilling, I definitely need to budget in time for relaxing, stress-free activities, too.
So now, go back to that physical note of your free time, and figure out where you can write. For me, until recently, the answer was to write early in the morning. I got up at 5 and wrote before breakfast and work. The house was quiet and free of distractions. It was just me, my coffee and my keyboard. Then, during the rest of the day, I could write again, if I felt like it- if it was going well- or I could seek other, relaxing stimuli if I needed some time away. The key is finding a balance that works for you.
Getting too used to a routine
As I said, I was writing at 5am, which was a great start to my day. I’d get my words done, feel excited by my story, then go on with my day. I had a good hour or so to write then, too, so I could collect my thoughts then hit the keyboard. If I got stuck, I could stand up and pace around the living room while I worked things out. Not anymore. Three weeks ago, I had to change my working schedule so that I go in to work at 6am instead of 8:30. I couldn’t move my wakeup time up by 2.5 hours, because then I’d be a zombie by 7 at night, and that wouldn’t be fair to my family. It’s a short-term thing, but I suddenly found myself down to less than half an hour of writing time each day.
With my drastically reduced writing time, the techniques I discussed in my writing and work stress post have been invaluable. I am not nearly so functional at 4am as I am just an hour later, even though I go to sleep earlier, too. So, despite the reduced time, it is more important than ever that I begin my writing sessions by reviewing my previous day’s writing and character profiles and that I review each scene after writing it to make notes for the next. The book is progressing very slowly, but at least it’s not a mess.
What I’ve learned about writing time
It’s not how much you have, but how you use it. It took me a long time to get over the idea that writing time was all about how many words I got on paper. In fact, it took me nearly 1 million words to get there. Finally, I’m able to focus on the quality of those words as well (and thereby hopefully reduce the amount of time spent on the hated editing process). I only hope that the effort shows through in the final product!