Finding Time to Write
by Jessica Dall
All right, all cards on the table, just writing the title for this blog felt a little hypocritical right now. Obviously I have not had a lot of time to write this blog as of late, and I have written maybe a paragraph of my own writing. Life just sometimes gets in the way. For me, recently, it’s been moving, a nasty bout of tonsilitis, going over edits for books coming out in the next few months, and work, but it really can be anything. Perhaps you really want to write, have a great idea, are ready to go…but your kids need to be taken to karate, and dinner needs to be made, and you just finished a 70-hour work week, and you really should walk the dog… I understand, believe me, I understand. There are hundreds of things in life that take up time, and with less than 170 hours in a week, that hour you spend in traffic each way to and from work can really start adding up.
So what do you when you don’t have the time to go to a writer’s retreat for a week, or even just spend the afternoon somewhere with a pen and paper and no interruptions?
1. Always carry pen and paper. This works best for those writers who like handwriting over typing, but it works for just about any writer on the go. The last time I had a solid 40 minutes to write, I was sitting at a cafe waiting for a friend who had overslept our brunch date. While waiting for people who are late is never fun, while she was doing her best to get there, I had 40 minutes of finally just sitting and writing, because I had pen and paper in my bag. If you don’t have the ability to carry even a small notebook with you (small Moleskines or similar notepads are godsends for small bags/pockets) at least have a pen. In a scrape you can generally find something to write on, you just need to actually be able to write (after all, many great ideas have started written down on cocktail napkins and toilet paper...)
2. Make writer-friendly choices. With the new move, I have now sadly gone from walking to work every day to actually having to commute into the District. Luckily there are a few different ways I can get to work, the main ones being driving the entire way (about half an hour, depending on traffic) or driving to a Metro stop and metroing the rest of the way in (about forty minutes). While having the added benefit of being a little easier on my wallet, taking the Metro into work means that I have about half an hour on a train to sit and write rather than half an hour focusing on the road.
Now, I know that changing up a commute might not work for everyone. Maybe you live somewhere that doesn’t have available public transit, or you need your car with you, or taking public trans would change your commute from 15 minutes to 50 minutes…you definitely shouldn’t make your life harder while trying to find time to write, but try to fit writing in to times that would otherwise be busy. Maybe, if you drive an hour each way to work, you can get a recorder and dictate a story to yourself. Maybe, if you spend your child’s nap time watching television, you could try to write instead (or write while watching TV if you can multitask). Look at your day, and try to figure out if there are places where you’re just sitting waiting or “killing time”. It’s likely you could get some writing in at those points.
3. Schedule “Writing Time”. Routines can be a good thing when trying to find time for things. It’s sometimes easier to motivate yourself when you’ve gotten “Every Tuesday from 7 to 7:30 is writing time” in your head. It can also help if you’re the type of writer that needs an uninterrupted stretch of time to actually work out a scene (some people don’t work well with interruptions, it’s just what your writing style is like). Try to figure out if there’s a quiet night, or morning, or anything else where you can spend some time writing. Then set the time aside and actually do it. It doesn’t have to be hours on end, just try to give yourself half an hour Sunday morning, or Wednesday night, or whenever else you have the time and get some writing in.
4. Make it a group activity. If you have some writer (or want-to-be writer) friends, and trying to maintain a social life is part of what’s making it hard to find writing time, write-ins might be a great solution to get you some writing time. A NaNoWriMo staple, a write-in is basically what it sounds like, a bunch of writers get together somewhere all carting laptops or pen/paper and then spend however long they can stay alternating between writing and talking (when you need a writing break of course). Having other people around also has the added bonus of giving you a little more motivation to actually write (local cafes are often good places for write-ins, including those in bookstores. Starbucks and [my personal favorite] Panera Bread are also great choices for outlets and free wifi).
5. Remember your outside life is important too. Do you really just not have enough time to write even after all of that? Would you have to stop seeing friends, or doing something else that you love to fit in even a couple of words while on the train to work? Then don’t stress yourself. Writing will always be there, the rest of your life might not be. Allow yourself to take a break, and start writing again after you’ve finished wedding planning, or your kickball team’s season is done, or when that big project at work is done. Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you don’t get to have a life.
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