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4 Tips for Making Time to Write

Learn how to set up a self-management gameplan to write your book with these four time-management tips. by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D

If you have trouble with it, then tough. That’s right I said it—tough! Too many writers use lack of time as an excuse not to write. When you say you don’t have the time, what you are really saying is, Something else is more important right now than writing.

Is that really true for you? Are all these other tasks you’re completing, all of them, more important to you than writing? If so, then stop beating yourself up about not writing and put this book down. Writing has to be a priority for you, at least for the next 30 days. I know you’re probably thinking, “I have to feed my kids and take care of my family! How could she say this!” To this I would respond: You absolutely cannot say you don’t have the time unless you write down all of your activities for one week and prove it!

Remember in the last chapter where I discussed how you might have some new, extenuating circumstance holding you back right now? That is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the regular routine—your daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly priorities. We are talking about why you may have been stuck working on one manuscript for several years, never getting to the end. Or better (worse) yet, stuck writing the beginnings of several stories but never finding the time to finish one of them.

True, if your child had an accident and you have a lot more to do right now, that is a different situation but if your father needs daily care for the rest of his life … well, that has become part of your routine now. You have to accept it and find a way to live your life.

Many parents with a thousand things on their to-do list find time to write; writing is just number one thousand and one. Seriously. Nora Roberts had a lot on her plate when she started writing—and still does—and yet she’s found the time to pen over a hundred and fifty novels. How does she, or how does any author, take on the daily duties of life and of writing at the same time? 

Successful authors manage their time, pure and simple.

Get a small notebook and take it everywhere you go. Write down everything you do and how long it took you to do it. In 90 percent of cases, free moments for writing will be found.

The easiest way to create a new habit is to make it one of the first things you do each day. As each new day progresses, you can be pulled in a number of different directions. There are simply too many distractions that come on once the day is set in motion, not to mention the fatigue that can overcome you after lunch.

What you resolve to do first thing—or at least third thing—in the morning, you will do. It is so much easier to sit down and write a page or two and then conduct your daily business than it is to check e-mail, pay bills, return phone calls, wash your hair, wash your dog, and get pulled into half a dozen different tasks, before trying to write a page or two. This is why many people exercise first thing in the morning. Well, for the next 30 days your exercise is writing. Time management is really self-management.

Have you heard of the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule? It is the principle that 20 percent of your time and effort generates 80 percent of the results, or that 80 percent of what you accomplish is caused by 20 percent of your effort. Most things in life were found to be distributed this way (the distribution of wealth, the number of writers to the percentage of total books sold, etc.)

So, if 20 percent of your effort causes 80 of your accomplishments, wouldn’t it be great if you focused on that 20 percent of result-getting effort 100 percent of the time? Of course it would! Think of all the free time you would have if you only had to do a fraction, the most effective part, of the daily, too-often-unproductive grind. We all waste time and effort, every single day. We do things that will get us nowhere, things that won’t yield any value in our lives. This stuff takes up 80 percent of our effort, if we let it. (There are numerous books out on this principle if you want more information.) This means that as you embark on your BIAM, you must:

  • drop all that busy work that gets you nowhere;
  • drop all the clients who don’t add to your business and do eat into your writing time;
  • drop all the negative writer friends who drag you down;
  • drop the agent who is holding you back;
  • drop all the manuscripts you don’t really love, those you started just because you thought they were marketable;
  • drop all your high expectations—you don’t have to have the cleanest house on the block (one writer was spending six hours every Saturday cleaning her house, and she had no kids or pets!);
  • drop whatever you find is within that 80 percent of wasted effort. Focus on that result-getting 20 percent of effort.

When you focus on things that don’t truly matter to you, you are working within the 80 percent of effort that won’t get you the 20-percent results you want. How could it?

We have so much more time available to us now than at any other time in history; it’s just that our thinking is flawed. There was a time when women spent ten hours doing the laundry by hand; now, we just pop it into a machine. Where did those ten hours go? Get a copy of PBS’s The 1900 House and see how people used to live.

Studies show we actually have too much time available to us, and we squander it.

We fill our days with meaningless tasks. Read Living the 80/20 Way by Richard Koch (, and your eyes will be opened:"We have never been so free, yet failed to realize the extent of our freedom. We have never had so much time, yet felt we had so little. Modern life bullies us to speed up our lives … but going faster only makes us feel like we’re always behind."

Simplify your life and focus on the 20 percent of activity and effort that gives you 80 percent of happiness and results, at least for 30 days.

Don’t get confused here—this principle is not about being fast but about slowing down and focusing on what is important to you. If you want to go to the country (your goal), you can go via the quick, less scenic route or the longer, more picturesque one. Both routes fit in with the 80-20 principle—if you like to drive fast then take a fast route; if you like to enjoy the scenery then take the scenic route. You create your goal and then get there in the way that uses your skills and interests … your 20 percent.

If you force yourself to go via the scenic route when you really love speed, you will be unhappy because you won’t get there fast enough; thus, the scenic route becomes part of your 80 percent of wasted effort. The trick, then, is to know both your “to-do” and “not to-do” list, to know your wants as well as your don’t-wants.

Keep track of your writing time every day using the following Writing Time Tracker. Write in the number of hours you spend on each area, for each day, for one project over 30 days. You can also plug in word or page counts in “Totals.” 

The final rows of each week can be customized. When you sit down to write, note the time and when you are done jot down how long you worked in each category. The “Miscellaneous” category is for research, reading, writing exercises, buying materials, and other writing-related tasks. Use the blank rows for other types of non-writing distractions that come up during your set writing time.

Find the time any way you can and take it. Of course I don’t condone lying or cheating to get the time you need, though some writers have stretched the truth a bit. Dr. Mira Kirshenbaum says: “Don’t ask for time for yourself. If you ask, people can say no. If you just do it, then you’ve done it and you’ve got it. Your being happy is the only change they’ll notice.”

The point she is making in the quote is that, while writing may be important to you, few people in your life will see it as important. Many will just see it as an unnecessary indulgence. Asking them to help you find time for writing just won’t work. Of course if you had a major circumstance or emergency these same people would give you all the time you needed, so the time is there. They just might not see writing as worthy of it.

You have to decide writing is worthy of that time, and then just take it.

One writer had more than three months of sick and personal leave saved up at his day job. His boss wanted him to use some of it before he lost it. He was afraid to take off, but he did and now has a small but steady writing career in the works.

Want more?
Learn how to write a book from start to finish in 30 days:
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