How to Find, Rather Than Make, Writing Time

I’m always drawn to articles about being more productive. I come to them with a hopeful expectation that some gem inside will hold the power to transform my writing time. And usually I’m left feeling disappointed—more than disappointed, actually. Guilty. Because while these articles are great at pointing out things that can be seen as a waste of time, they forget to take into account one important thing: People (yes, even writers!) need downtime. We don’t need to fill every moment with something that’s quantifiably productive. Plus, for writers, the happy truth is that downtime can be productive in all sorts of ways.

Don’t feel pressured to give up things you enjoy—however mundane—to make time to write.

Take TV, for instance. Productivity experts jump straight to this topic almost without fail. Turn it off, they say. Think of all the other things you could be doing instead. Productive things.

They’re right, of course—in theory. Let’s talk about reality. What does yours look like? I, for example, am a working mom. I get up extra early to spend time with my son before we head off to day care and work. My lunch break, if I take one, is a visit to see how he’s doing. After work, we rush home to squeeze in as much time together as possible before, too soon, it’s time to put him to bed. And when he’s asleep and I sink onto the couch next to my husband for the first time all day, I’ve already been going nonstop (quite productively, mind you) for a full 15 hours.

There are lots of things I should do with the hour that follows—things I’ve been meaning and wanting to do, including making time to write. But you know what usually happens? We watch a little TV together. We laugh at a sitcom. We end up starting a conversation about something that happened that day and then realize we have no idea what happened on the show and have to start the DVR all over. We eat ice cream.

And you know what? I like it. We need downtime. Sure, we could be doing other productive things (or spending more “quality” time together), but the truth is (good or bad) that what we both want to do in that moment is something mindless. For some of us, at certain times of the day, that’s what it takes to unwind, and anything else would be forced. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the place my best writing comes from.

If you want to write more often, find the “write time” for you.

I’m a supporter of doing what you want to do. I have been ever since I was a kid. (Think back to what it was like to clench your fists and think, I can’t wait until I’m a grownup so I can do whatever I want to do! Conjure that feeling up—and then go have chocolate chip pancakes for dinner. You know you want to.)

My point is this: You don’t always have to give up things you enjoy—even mundane things, even things that you’re reluctant to admit you take enjoyment in—to make time to write. You don’t have to feel guilty about everything you do that isn’t writing. (And there might be other reasons you enjoy those things that you haven’t considered. You know what there’s lots of on TV? Good writing—dialogue, characters, plots, settings, themes, ideas …)

Does this mean I don’t get any writing done in the evenings? Actually, there’s a period later in the nights that I’m less fond of—when my husband falls asleep the instant his head hits the pillow and I lie there marveling at how he can do that. I often redirect that time to my laptop, even if only 20 or 30 minutes—and a great unintended side effect is that my work-in-progress stays in my mind as I drift off to sleep, so the “boys in the basement,” as Stephen King dubbed his creative subconscious, can work while I rest. And the work I’ve done in these periods is not at all negligible when working toward my weekly word quotas (see my previous post on weekly versus daily word quotas: Do You Really Need to Write Every Day?).

How can you go about finding time to write?

I’m not saying this will also work for you. What I am saying is this: Try to notice time in your day, even if it’s only 15 minutes, when you are not doing something you enjoy or something you have to do. What time do you already have that you can reuse as writing time?

Focus also on what’s already working for you, and see how you can expand on your own best practices and employ them elsewhere.

What are the most effective ways you make time to write? Share your tips below!

Hint: This topic is on my mind because of a future issue we’re working on. I’d love to hear your ideas! Leave a comment below to keep the conversation going, and you might just see your response printed in WD. 

Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest

Follow me on Twitter: @jessicastrawser
Like what you read from WD online? Don’t miss an issue in print!

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12 thoughts on “How to Find, Rather Than Make, Writing Time

  1. Ted

    I have a question. When you’re limited in time to write, as is most everyone, how do you narrow it down to WHAT to write. I don’t mean content or ideas; I mean do you spend those precious minutes on a “Your Story” submission? Or do you concentrate on the larger project you want to get to but are afraid to do now because you lack confidence in your ability? Whew, there, I said it. What do you all think?

  2. Rosalinda Morgan

    I find time early in the morning at 6 when everything is quiet. My husband does not get out of bed till 7 AM, then he walks the dog. I have a full hour and a half for productive writing. I can read, work in the garden, do some housework, shop during the day and when my husband is not around (we’re both retired), I hit the computer again for writing or rewriting. At night, after dinner I might put another hour writing or just catch up on my reading.

  3. elisavietta

    Through three babies and now 17 books, my first rule was: never do housework when they are asleep, use that time to WRITE. As important: to RE-Write. When a babe is at the breast, a book should in my hand TO READ. When they are awake, hand them a dustpan as soon as they are old enough to grab it. Insomnia nights? WRITE. Always carry pencil and paper: the back of a check will hold haiku. Read my

    Additional Advice for a Young Poet
    “A writer has nothing to teach and everything to learn, at all times.” Albert Camus
    1.
    Only one paper napkin
    for those six empty minutes?
    Cover it with a poem.

    Wipe your face
    on the other side.
    Between the splotches: write.

    2.
    Lose your pen?
    Try a pencil. When this
    breaks, wears out,

    charcoal till you’re black
    as the burnt stick
    worn to smudge.

    Write with ash
    on the sea.
    Write on grass,

    red ink on flames,
    blue on the sky,
    white on snow.

    When all implements
    disappear,
    use your blood.

    Elisavietta Ritchie
    [Confrontation 2006; Real Toads, Black Buzzard Press, © 2008 Elisavietta Ritchie; Cormorant Beyond the Compost, Cherry Grove Series, WordTech Communications, © 2011 Elisavietta Ritchie]

  4. HisMrsGaylor

    Wonderful article!
    I have notebooks and pens scattered through the house to catch spontaneous bits of writing ‘inspiration’, then, when I have found the ‘write time’, I simply gather them up, sort through the mess and start writing. It works for me because it can be hard to find large chunks of time to devote to writing, but I am thinking about it most of the time and have the sweet relief of knowing that if I am struck with an idea, I can jot it down and then move on. I don’t worry about forgetting things.
    *AND* I try, ever so hard and yet often unsuccessfully, to suggest a schedule for my writing. Usually I write after my husband goes to work at night, and after a week or two of doing that, as soon as I hear the lock turn in the door, my brain starts working on words, it’s ‘The Cue’. The house is empty- everything is over and I can just have it it…..
    Andi @ washboardstorms.com

  5. sydliyah

    I find that I can justify my obsession with reality competition show because I am able to write during the boring critique parts and during the commercials. I watch the performance. Get inspired and then write during the other parts of the show.
    I am also spending to much time during work hours writing. I think I am secretly hoping I get fired, so I can write full time. But, since no one is paying me to do this, yet, I should probably keep my day job. Still working on balancing it all out. But, thinks for the post. Nice to hear about others who struggle with this.

  6. spywriter

    I take the time to play Pogo pool or Scrabble before I write.
    I hope to win the $5000,00 grand prize. 5 games usually.
    But then I turn around in my chair and there on my bookshelf is a stack of books
    given to me by a good friend just before he died. Insomnia, Lisey’s Story, Cell,
    Needful Things. Christine. All books by Stephen King.
    And then of course your mind reminds you that Stehphen King didn’t get to be the King of Horror
    playing video pool.

  7. awborger

    Three practices that have helped me:
    1) plan lunch and dinner after breakfast, and make a list of other household tasks, so they are off my mind.
    2) email, phone calls and social media are rewards for after I finish my writing session.
    3) after 45 minutes or so, if I have time for a long session, get up to ritually make a cup of tea.

  8. Pedalpusher

    I have a bag which contains writing notebooks, reference materials, pieces I’m working on, pens, etc. I have this ready to go, so I can take it with me at a moment’s notice. I took it to a basketball game last night, where my son had to be at the game an hour and a half before start time. I used that time to catch up on reading, writing and jotting down ideas. I take it with me just about everywhere.

  9. vrundell

    One trick of mine is to write early (I mean EARLY!) while my kids and husband are still asleep. They naturally wake around 7:30-8am while my body clock is set to wake the rooster. I get at least a solid hour of quiet for writing or editing, plus my brain is rested and my eyes are fresh. It’s my most productive time to write, by far.

  10. Raincountrywriter

    Thank you, Jessica, for telling me I don’t need to feel guilty every time I choose to do something other than write. I want to write, I need to write, but I need to live my life, too, and pursuing one thing shouldn’t preclude enjoying the other. Yes, I need to stay disciplined with my time–the work won’t write itself! But I appreciate hearing that it’s okay to ‘vege’ from time to time, as well. And–here’s a wondrous thought–there are other things that are as important (and maybe more important) than writing! Thanks for giving me the freedom to accept that fact.

  11. Pat Marin

    I use my AlphaSmart at the kitchen table in winter weather while making soup. I cut everything up in advance, then set the timer for when I need to add something to the pot. Meanwhile, I write. I’ve written as much as 1800 words working this way.

    In nice weather, Hubby and I go to the waterfront for lunch or longer. Again, I take my AlphaSmart to work. Why don’t I take a laptop? You can’t see them in broad daylight. It amazes me how much work I get done.

  12. wild

    Maybe I’m just plain lazy, but getting up at 6:00 a.m. to write just doesn’t stir my creative juices. My mind is usually still fast asleep. And *sheepishly* my alarm goes off and each time I roll over and turn it off. I get up around mid morning when my mind has had plenty of rest and start writing then. I take a short lunch break and continue writing for a few more hours in the afternoon. Afterwards I have to go grocery shopping, or clean my car, and my room. At night I unwind and work on my short stories and poems. Then I call it a night and that is my day in a nutshell and how I find time to write.

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