Monday, July 9, 2012

How do I make time to write?

by Stephanie Morrill


This is a question that's being discussed in the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, and it's something that I have regularly asked myself for the last 12 years. In this busy life, how can I find time to write?

Don't trick yourself into waiting

It's easy to fall into a trap of thinking, "I'm too busy now ... but next week." Or next month. Or after you finish that class. Or once you're done with school.

The reality is that most of the time, life will be very full. There have been seasons of my life - like when my husband worked all day, we had no kids, and I wasn't working - when finding time to write was easy. But even as a person who makes a living as a novelist, I fight for every bit of writing time I get.

Establish concrete, manageable goals

Sure we all want to finish our book, but what's something you can do five or six days a week to make that happen? Is it 500 words a day? Or 2,000 words a week? An hour of editing? Define what it is you want to accomplish on a regular basis, and then...

Communicate your goals to the people you live with


Many of you share a bedroom and a computer with siblings, which means you'll need to get creative and think through what's reasonable to request. Can you get up an hour early - even 3 days a week - and write? If you share a room, maybe you can bargain (more on bargaining in a bit) for an hour of privacy in there everyday so you can bring the laptop in there and have some quiet, uninterrupted time.

Can you recruit your parents into helping you? Your parents may not fully understand or support your writing obsession (that's another topic for another day) but if they do, ask them for help. A couple weeks ago when I spoke at the One Year Adventure Novel conference, I told the parents one of the best things they could do to support their aspiring novelists was to guard their writing time.

If my daughter came to me in 10 years and said, "I'm trying to write a book; can I please have the computer from seven to eight every evening so I can accomplish my daily word goal?" I would work hard to make that happen for her. Now, if I discovered that she was spending more time on Facebook (or whatever will be distracting us all in 10 years) than she was with her characters, my devotion to giving her quiet writing time would fade. So if you're asking for writing time, make sure it actually IS writing time.


Learn to bargain


My husband is a runner. Which means he sometimes needs to find hours on the weekends that he can go run, like, 22 miles. So we bargain with each other. I help him carve out time to go run, and he helps me carve out time for writing. And everybody wins because we're both much happier people when we've had that time.

Is there someone - a sibling, a roommate- who you can bargain with? Is there a way to get what you both want?


Utilize those free 5 or 10 minutes

This is something I didn't get good at until I had babies and it became necessary to survival - I learned to write in little bursts. Free five minutes? Maybe I could do a paragraph. 10 minutes? That could be a whole page if I really buckled down.

It won't feel like you're making a ton of progress, but boy does it add up.

Don't wait for the computer

If you don't have access to your computer 24 hours a day, make use of your non-computer time with a notebook. When I'm playing outside with the kids, I'll often grab a scrap of paper and jot a rough draft of a blog post, backcover copy, or a scene. When I finally get to my computer, I can make better use of my allotted time.

Use a timer

Many days, my timer is critical to me getting things done. She's nothing fancy:


Just an old kitchen timer that was retired when the magnet broke off. If I'm having trouble focusing on my manuscript, I'll tell myself, "I'm going to write for a solid 25 minutes." Then I'll start the timer and go. It keeps me off email, and it often helps me bust through whatever wall I'd hit that keeping me from wanting to write.

When my 25 minutes are up, I'll sometimes give myself a couple minutes to get a drink or fire off a quick email, but then I start the timer again.

Maybe you struggle from TOO much time...

As frustrating as all that "life stuff" is that gets in the way of dedicated writing time, sometimes the structure school/work hours provide forces us to make use of our free time. Sometimes no structure and lots of free time means zero to little productivity. I sometimes observe this in the people around me who claim they want to write a book but don't have the time ... yet I see them playing Farmville in the middle of the afternoon. We all need to kick back, of course, but when we're chasing a big accomplishment like writing a book, we also need to force ourselves to shut down the distractions.

For several years, I didn't work or have kids and my husband was gone from 7:30 to 5:30 Monday-Friday AND getting a Master's degree. This left me with quite a bit of time on my own. We briefly discussed me getting a job but finally decided I would invest my time in writing. And I did. For 3 1/2 years, I treated writing books like a job, and that's why it IS my job now.

If you need help with budgeting your time, I loved this post from Michael Hyatt about creating an ideal week.

What are some ways you've found time to write?


49 comments:

  1. Ah, a subject near and dear. I'm a morning person, so when I get desperate for writing time, I get up early--like at 5 a.m., before my little boy wakes up at 6, to have that precious hour of writing time. And the short-bursts are critical too yes.

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    1. I can't believe you didn't comment on the giraffe, Roseanna :)And 5am is some super dedication. I can do 6, but only if there's coffee present.

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    2. I may not have commented, but I did indeed notice it and grin. =) Cute little fella, gotta say. ;-)

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  2. I'm on the 'too much' writing time side, honestly. I'm trying to make goals of 2 or 3k a day. I can do 4, but I don't often because it's too tiring. My main problem is finding time for reading and such and balencing it with writing.

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    1. I think you have to find your sweet spot, word count wise. If I HAD to or happened to be really chugging along, I can do 4k a day for a week, but that's about it. I used to really stress myself out about the fact that I had the whole day to write and that I SHOULD be writing 5k everyday or something ... but now I realize how ridiculous of an expectation that was for myself.

      Some writers pick daily writing hours - whatever time of day works best for their creative side - and then the other part of the day they use for reading or marketing or email or whatever.

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    2. Yeah, my average is 2k and I'm comfortable with that. I think I'll stick with that, unless I'm on some kind of abnormal writing spree. Thanks Stephanie!

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  3. I might need to get a timer. lol I have enough time, I just...don't. I open the computer, stretch, and think, "Ok..I have an hour of free time, I'll use it to write..." And facebook snags me, and then blogger, and then...oops..Time to make dinner.

    I can't wait for the someday post about parents not understanding writing. That would be my Mom. :-/

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    1. I'll post about it soon, Ashley. You're not alone! :)

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    2. Could you also talk about parents with TOO high expectations? *Looks at dad who expects 6 figure book deal*
      Thanks!

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  4. Between the Internet, younger siblings, and parents who want chores done, I often get distracted from writing. I think setting a timer should really help me write in the free time I have.

    I've heard that you should write every single day, even if it isn't much. However, sometimes I just feel tired or annoyed with my story and I don't want to work on it that day. Do you find time to write every single day? Or is it okay to take daily breaks from your story?

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    1. That's a good question, Jill, and I think it depends on the season of life/season of your career. Before kids, I wrote (or edited) 5 days a week. With little kids, I'm still working on writing-related stuff 5 (usually 6) days a week, but I can't always fine time to write each of those days. Which is sad. I would like to be able to :(

      The benefits of pushing yourself to write daily (or 6 days a week) is that you stay in the storyworld. When I open my manuscript on Mondays, I often feel like a bleary eyed visitor in my storyworld, and it takes me a bit to get back into it.

      If I'm feeling annoyed with the story or something isn't working, I might grant myself permission to set it aside for the day. Especially if I can pinpoint the reason (a rejection, up all night with a baby, etc.) But if I'm just feeling lazy, I push myself.

      Helpful?

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    2. Thanks so much! That really helped!

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  5. My mom really understands my need to write. With a tough school year coming up, she has already talked to me about my schedule. I will have one night a week (I think it's Tuesdays) that she will take me to Barnes and Noble for a couple hours to write. The other nights I will spend with family, youth group, and studying.

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  6. The belief you husband had in you from the begining is so sweet & special :)

    I needed this post today, I can swing both ways, there are times when I an crazy determined and get it done & then times (maybe it's too much time to write) that I procrastinate, like right now,. I'm not totally fired up about any specific idea so it's been easy to let it slide. Last night, i couldnt sleep and was thinking about how this week I have to buckle down & set some concetrete ideas and goals!

    When I am crazy determined some things that help:
    My alpahasmart and iPad,
    Sometimes I use a voice recorder I talk into
    The phone calander/alarm- a BIG help- when I know I'll have consistent free time I'll put it on my calendar, let's say at 2 pm, I set it to beep 15 mins before *start getting ready* 10 mins before *wrap up what your doing* 5 mins * get ready*. 2 pm, set your timer & go. That sounds annoying but it does help.

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    1. He's pretty great :) It helps that writing has always been part of the Stephanie-package. I didn't suddenly take it up after we'd been married for 10 years, like some spouses do. (Though even then I suspect he would encourage me to go for it.)

      When I'm not fired up about an idea, it's easy for me to let it slide too. I think that's okay. Especially since I know you just finished a first draft. There's nothing wrong with taking a break after an accomplishment :)

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    2. The 14th is my 6 weeks, I out it on my phone as "AWAKEN" lol.
      I've been using this time to come up with as many pieces of ideas that I can and maybe sometime I'll be able to put them together. Although this weekend I had an idea I may try to follow through :)

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  7. Great post! I really have to stop procrastinating.

    I always find that I have plenty of great scenes in my mind, but when I sit down to write them, they are all just about a page long. For example, I feel like I'm in the middle of my novel with what I planned out, but I've only written 12 pages, single spaced...any ideas?

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    1. I have SO been there, anonymous. There's nothing wrong with writing short stories, so that's an option.

      A lot of times I think I have a great story idea, but what I really have is a great story premise. This is a post I wrote on developing bigger story ideas: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-if-i-never-have-another-good-idea.html

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  8. I usually have plenty of time to write in my tablet, but I dont do much on the computer with it until the story is basically done. What would make my life great is if I could just dictate the story while washing dishes and have someone/thing take it down for me and save it on a disk:)

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    1. Oh, gosh, wouldn't that be amazing? Someone should invent that...

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    2. They should. Too bad we're writers, not inventors.:P

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    3. Speaking as a writer whose brother once wanted to be an inventor, this ever-so-classy idea might just be possible. But I'm also an alleged optimist who still believes teleportation will come....

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    4. Are you implying teleportation wont come??;)

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    5. I try to believe it will come before my close friend finds a way to come visit from Georgia (she moved before Easter).... that's why it's super optimistic lol. I saw this Love Boat episode once (please tell me I'm not the only fan) that included a typewriter that would automatically type what you said. I bet they thought they were SO high tech.....

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    6. Oh yeah, I hate it when friends move.
      ...never seen that, but it sounds like they probably did think it was super out-there.

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    7. Yeah, it's just a really old show about a cruise ship lol. My Ma got the whole fam addicted to old TV shows. Prob the only teens in this generation who grew up on Hogan's Heroes and Laverne and Shirley lol. Life is interesting... :)

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    8. Oh, I like old TV shows. Like Bonanza and Big Valley:)

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    9. Haven't heard of Big Valley, but my sister loved Bonanza. We watch Family Ties, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies, McHale's Navy, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Maverick, F-Troop, Hart to Hart, Hogan's Heroes, Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, The Monkees, and so many more.... It's nutso.

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  9. Maddie, what kindof tablet do you have? I have an iPad and in the app store they have some called Fragon Dictation for free. All you need is a headset!
    It's from the Dragon Naturally Speaking company, they sell dictation softwar and I think they have apps for other brands too.
    The only thing is sometimes it's doesn't translate correctly, when you go to edit you'll wonder what you meant sometimes.

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    1. Lol, Tonya. Might get some unusual plot twists that way! :)

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    2. I dont have a tablet at all, but I'm trying to save up my money to buy one. I'll have to remember that app.
      Lol! I dont know what I mean when i write it myself sometimes!:D

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  10. Stephanie, as always, thank you for this. This summer I was certain that I would be able to crank out a first draft of my WIP in no time. It's summer and unlike last year I'm not taking college courses! Boom! Magic amount of free time, right? Wrong. Just the fact that my WIP is still my WIP clued you in to that. :) Well, it has been a bit busier a summer than I expected, but all these weeks of striving for a few thousand words has finally added up and I'm nearing the finish line. Yay! By the start of fall term, I'll have written The End (God willing and the creek don't rise). Thanks for this encouragement to keep going at it.

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  11. Well, currently I'm on my six-weeks-off from my finished rough draft, so I'm focusing on other projects--making my webcomics, digital art, learning violin--instead of writing. But I am getting a lot of brainstorming done, and taking notes on ideas for future stories. But ordinarily, especially during the school year, I really need a NaNoWrMo attitude to make enough progress. It's too easy to check my emails, deviantART, tumblr, do some doodles....and then writing time is gone. I think during revisions, which I'll start in August, I can try to sit down and dedicate a day to re-writing each scene. I hope.

    Anyway, I'm done rambling now. Thanks for the post!

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  12. I have the problematic situation in that I am a night writer. I can happily sit in the run up to midnight, and the wee hours of the morning, with my laptop buzzing away and the little keys tippity tapping. Oh, if only I didn't pay for it so dearly the next day. I can hardly keep my eyes open sometimes. It is through this unfortunate circumstance that I have fathomed myself to be some form of nocturnal creature. Perhaps if I went and lived with the bats and badgers of the night I might actually get this novel finished sometime soon....

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  13. Oh, Farmville! You just took me back in time about four years. ;)
    My problem is definitely too much time.

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  14. I struggle with getting uninterrupted time. And the wonderful allure of "I'll start tomorrow..." :) But I'd love to learn to make use of those 5 or 10 minute parts of my day. I seem to think I have to a have a few spare *hours* to write. But no! I can fill up those spare seconds. And you're so right. It does add up.

    I'm really enjoying following the blog! I'm a teen writer and this blog is super encouraging.

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    1. So glad you've found us, Cait!

      I still do a ton better when I have a couple hours of uninterrupted time. Working in 5 to 10 minute bursts has been a learning process for me.

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  15. Oh,man - I've been looking for the answer to this daunting question for way too long. Thanks so much, Stephanie! Great advice! Finding time to write is so difficult for me as I have TONS of schoolwork. It's SOOO stressing! So, I wake up, rush to get ready, 7 hours of school, get home late afternoon, eat, homework for 3-4 hours, dinner, shower, then bed. IT'S CRAZY! Finding time for writing is so hard - especially when parents don't understand your passion. I try to journal and write daily, yet after school I am so dead tired and the last thing I want to do is focus. Stephanie, would you have any possible solution to this problem?
    Thankyou so much! Stephanie, I don't know how to thank you for such an inspiring and informative blog that motivates me to put pen to paper.
    P.S: Love that cutie giraffe! I bet it motivates you to write - along with your coffee! :)
    Thanks again!

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    1. Writer at Heart, yes, that particular giraffe was sent to me by my critique partner for Christmas. When I have something in my story that I need to research, instead of stopping right then, I'll type GIRAFFE instead. ("As I came down the stairs, GIRAFFE was on the radio...") And because of that habit, I have a growing collection of giraffes in my office :)

      Onto your question, there are life seasons for writing and there are seasons for living life and collecting material. It sounds like you're in more of a living life/collecting material stage. It can be frustrating, and it can feel like you're not making any "real" progress, but these stages are important too. So try to ease up on yourself and take advantage of the times when you're feeling rested and motivated.

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    2. BTW: That habit with the giraffe is too cute! :) Thanks again!

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    3. Aha, and here's my answer. :) Thought I'd come back and check if you'd answered the question I left on another post already. :)

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  16. The problem I have is that I have plenty of time to write, but I'm not sure what I want to do next. I've probably trashed ideas for more novels than there are classic books.

    I have an idea I just got a couple days ago, but I'm taking it slow, getting to know the MC...and for some odd reason, listening to Adele songs. Not sure if this is a good sign, but Set Fire to the Rain and Rolling in the Deep suit this one side of the MC perfectly.

    Also, when is the next writing prompt going to be up? They were a real help; especially since they kept me thinking and got me a little more comfortable with the concept of free-writing. :)

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