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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
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