How Do You Make the Time to Write?

Since college, I’ve held fast to an existential philosophy that goes something like this:

We make time for whatever is important to us. Our actions are the biggest indicators of who we are.

Not surprisingly, when I began working for Writer’s Digest, I had little patience for writers who complained about having lack of time. We’re all given the same amount of time in a day, and we make choices we must be held accountable for.

Those who don’t have time to write:

  • haven’t yet made the necessary sacrifices to create time (like giving up TV or sleep)
  • OR: don’t yet have the discipline to set aside the time to write
  • AND: may be too afraid to make the time (fear of failing or starting at all)

When attending the Midwest Writers Workshop one year, I met Haven Kimmel‘s mother, Delonda. It was an otherworldly experience since I knew her first as a character in Kimmel’s memoir, A Girl Named Zippy.

At the time, I was not writing a word. I carried guilt over it—I was an editor and publisher of references for writers, yet felt uncomfortable telling anyone I was a writer. Because I really wasn’t (despite the degrees and background).

As I was confessing my lack of writerhood, Delonda said, with such grace and empathy, “Why dear, you’re exhausted.”

It was probably the kindest thing anyone had said to me at that point in my life, and she squeezed my hand as she said it.

I had never looked at it from that perspective before.

Suddenly my own choice came into view—it wasn’t a matter of being “good enough” or productive enough or disciplined enough to be a writer. During this period of my life, I focus on Writer’s Digest, and I have to acknowledge that, for as long as I do, my energy for other things will be limited.

It’s important to acknowledge and fully realize what choices we are making—either in the short-term or long-term—that impact other things we want to achieve. What sacrifices are we making, implicitly or explicitly?

We can’t have it all (at least not all at once). We have to choose.

Photo credit: gilderic

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16 thoughts on “How Do You Make the Time to Write?

  1. Tricia Calvert

    Thanks, this is a good reminder. It’s funny what I can allow myself to get sucked into in a day’s time. The "b" word comes to mind again, boundaries.

  2. Tom Evans

    It’s worth noting (even if you don’t believe it) that time isn’t fixed in its perceived duration and even its flow. The mode our consciousness is in affects the speed of time and it’s possible with just a little training to get 4-8 work done in just an hour.

    http://www.thebookwright.com/2010/04/01/four-fears-talent-time-006-time/

    Where it gets really fun though is when you get the words you are writing sent back to you from the future …

  3. Carrie Snider

    This post really hit home. I’m a mother of two small children AND a writer/editor. I spend all my time writing/editing for other people, but recently I realized I need to write for myself. I have started carving out time here and there, and now I have a blog and am writing a YA novel. I have never been so happy or felt so alive. Making time is the only way.

  4. Darren Miller

    This is so painfully true. Now, at 40 (as of this past Saturday), it is vital information. When I first graduated from high school, I wanted to be a writer, but my parents were firmly against it for "economical reasons" so I got my degree in education and became a teacher. In my final year of college, I met a professor who thought that I had written something extremely worthy of publication, but I didn’t submit this almost guaranteed (due to his influence) opportunity out of fear, not just of failure, but of success as well.

    For 14 years I poured my life into teaching. Several times that dream of writing resurfaced, but my wife had no desire to be married to a "starving artist" at that point. During the summer of 2007, I left teaching (just a year removed from being "Teacher of the Year"). I was burned out (a former student’s suicide among other things made me re-examine and reorganize).

    When I left teaching, I thought I was finally ready to become a writer (I had submitted something a few years earlier, but quit again after a rejection) and wrote every day for about a year, but meeting financial obligations got in the way again. Now, I hope I am ready. Really ready this time. The net has introduced me to some great writers and I feel that the support of this online community will be a huge help in overcoming my obstacles.

    One thing I learned in a grad course a few years ago has stuck with me as I begin this quest. It is that in order to become something, you mist first see yourself as that thing. For someone trying to quit smoking, you mist first see yourself as a non-smoker. Someone dieting must first see themselves as a fit person. I must see myself as a writer. On my blog’s about me, it is the first thing listed: "I am a writer." Now I must take the visualization to actualization. As Yoda said, "Do or do not, there is no try."

  5. The Writer Mama

    I purchased a book on becoming more prolific and I won’t say the title, since I now resent the book for implying that writers who use deadlines to be productive are not "real" writers.

    What? Using deadlines, for me, gets the writing done. When it’s novel-time, I’ll use NaNoWriMo for some good old-fashioned structure.

    I’m pretty kinesthetic, so this reliance on external hoops and jumps to produce makes sense to me. If I could create a physical obstacle writing course and then run it with my words, I would. After all, I used to set these up in the basement as a kid. And as for exhaustion, it will suck all the words right out of you.

    So, never apologize for not writing. Just seek the succor that writing can provide in the way and on the time frame that works for you. 🙂

  6. Tom Bentley

    Arrghh, how DOES one find the time? These days, I’m doing it in dribs and drabs—and for me, the problem is compounded all the more because there’s so much good writing ABOUT writing on the web these days, and it’s hard not to pretend that reading about writing is, well, sorta/kinda like writing. Which it isn’t. (In fact, I wrote a guest post close to this topic on your sister Guide to Literary Agents blog, but don’t go read it—that would keep you from writing).

    I’m lucky in that I work at home as a marketing copywriter by trade, though I’m trying to share that with a love of travel/journalistic writing. But, dream of dreams, fiction, the biggest mountain in my mind. Working at home does relieve any commute, and there are no kids to chase around. But dang, is it easy to get distracted and off-point, and then find it’s time for that 5pm cocktail.

    Hmm, maybe eliminate the cocktail? Horrors!

  7. Julianne Daggett

    Most people work and have to be at work most of the day plus at home they have to cook dinner, clean the house, take care of the lawn, drive to places they need to run errands to and so forth and finding any time to write in a busy day can be difficult, even on the weekend when most people aren’t at work.

  8. Brian Sheehan

    Jane – What remarkable insight. You have a beautiful sensitivity to what lies at the heart of a writer. My writing has been on overload the past several months, and especially now following the AWP conference in Denver. My wife and I stopped by the WD booth briefly to speak with you. We ended up ‘bookending’ our conference experience by beginning with "What’s Your Platform?" and ending it with "The Prosperous Writer" Each of those sessions are evidence of all the choices we need to act upon if we are to achieve the success we set out to attain. All the sessions in between made for quite a bounty of a sandwich.

    Before AWP Denver, I had only a manuscript for a memoir gleaned from several years of writing, including completing workshops at the remarkable Denver Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop. Now, and this goes to all the panelists, you can pat yourselves on the back. I purchased my domain name, set up the beginnings of a web-presence, have signed up on facebook, altered my LinkedIn page, and have begun to blog. My intent is to also contribute to other online communities in order to get ‘known before the book deal’, which I am working confidently to obtain. I guess that leaves twitter.

    I say all this not to gloat but to simply state that it does take work and it is entirely possible to do that work. As others have pointed out, that requires sacrifice. I work full-time at a demanding and creative job in television, leaving me little time other than nights and weekends to write. I also tremendously take to heart the previous posts relating to ‘self-care’ (read: sleep) as it is now going on 2 am and my passion still hasn’t run out. All this to say I appreciate so much the efforts of you Jane, and all the others who have shared their expertise with those of us in the hinterlands, foraging through the wilderness that we all call writing.

    Your efforts are deeply felt and recognized. For that I thank you,

    Brian Sheehan
    brianjsheehan.com

  9. Siddhartha Herdegen

    I think we can briefly borrow time from the future, by working harder and sleeping less, but we will eventually have to pay it back with interest. Not to say we can’t make choices—clearly we need to make time to write or we will never do it—but we have to appreciate the amount of work involved in the creative process and respect our body’s need to rest.

  10. Theresa Milstein

    What a tough decision, but most writers have to split their time between jobs and families. Right now, when I don’t sub, I set aside four hours for writing. Of course, I squeeze in writing a lot of other times. Before I started my blog, I used to write a lot more, so I need to balance that better. But my blog writing is important to me. It’s the reading and commenting on other blogs that take so much time!

    I hope you find more time to write.

  11. Ollin Morales

    Yeah. I think I might suffer from all three of these. But I have to say that work and family take up a lot of time no matter how hard you try at times, things just seem to pop up that need my attention, but maybe I’m just making it all up? I don’t know, when at the moment you cannot write to make a living, it’s hard not getting your day job get in the way, especially if you’ve grown up in less than privileged circumstances. To be honest, I’ve learned a person’s determination can only go so far, sometimes life hits you with a big slugger, and you have to bow down, at least for the time being.

  12. Simon Larter

    Giving up sleep seems to be something most writers are good at. Perhaps this explains the prevalence of caffeine addiction among writers. Not sure what explains the alcoholism, but I’m sure it’s all related somehow…

  13. JEM

    I’ve started taking the train to work to find the time to write. You’re definitely right about making time and what your priorities are in life. When you start taking yourself seriously, time will show up in all kinds of places.

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