I once polled a group of writers asking what frustrates them most in the writing life. The answer wasn’t that hard to guess: finding time to write. But in the responses a common oversight became apparent. It wasn’t the varied tasks a writing project requires or even the demands of social networking that held back the writers I questioned. It was the minutae of life itself. I filed the observation away for a future blog post to help writers manage all the other stuff, but first I needed a handle on these aspects of my own life. After a year’s effort (really longer if you count my earlier floundering attempts), I still have a ways to go, but I at least know enough to teach others.
For a writer balance looks a little different than for most people. Because we operate from home and the very nature of writing tempts us to slip away at odd moments, the divide between home and work is often blurry. Add to this the pressure most writers feel to produce and the fact that social networking spans both arenas, and the normal boundaries become all but indistinguishable. The solution isn’t easy but can be done.
Enforce boundaries of your own. Whether you observe a strict schedule, follow more of a flow-chart, or keep your to-do list in your head, it’s important to check out of the office on a regular basis. My schedule flexes with my circumstances, but for me right now setting a minimum number of hours to write works best. Then, each day, I put in those hours. Every once in awhile, I fall short, but for the most part I manage to meet my own writing goals.
In my desk-job days, no matter how busy it got, one of my co-workers took an hour each Friday to straighten her desk and brainstorm ways to do things more efficiently. Her improvements ranged from the way she positioned her pens to developing a checklist for ordering office supplies. She honed in on spending less time on the things most of us take for granted. Since I’ve begun emulating her, I’ve developed a system to manage meal planning, cooking for the week on the weekends, shopping in bulk, maintaining my yard, and saving time on house cleaning. I’ve also applied this technique to writing-related tasks. I’ve developed an email-management system and now plan each work day around a template. The more time you save doing repetitious and/or mindless tasks, the more you’ll have for writing.
I include this point in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner because I haven’t perfected this skill. The writing profession by its very nature could make a workaholic of anyone, if allowed. Writers today experience tremendous pressure from competition. Besides the fact that more people than ever are writing and publishing books, we’re shouting to be heard amidst all the other noise out there. But people are busier than ever, and there’s more overall to distract shrinking attention spans. The e-book revolution has impacted the publishing world by both reducing and increasing opportunity, depending on your publishing route. There’s a massive push to produce felt by all writers, but when it comes to our writing projects, it’s important to resist the urge to rush. These contradictory needs create tension for writers, and often our response it to overload ourselves. It takes poise to let an opportunity go, but keeping your schedule sane can mean missing out once in awhile.
Finding time to write is both easy and hard. It takes strong-mindedness and the determination to change what may be some old habits. Only you can determine if the reward is worth the cost.
What are some ways you can make time to write?