Sunday, March 9, 2014

Finding Time to Write

People haven’t really asked me this question much, but I know it will happen sooner or later. In listening to other writers, I’ve learned that one of the most commonly asked questions for writers is:

How do you (or how can I) find time to write?

Oh, man, is this a big question. But… in some ways, it’s actually a very small question at the same time. It sounds much more complicated than it is, especially when you’re living in the modern world, where there never seems to be enough time. Kind of makes you wish you lived in Star Trek, where they function on a 26-hour day, right? Maybe then you’d have more time to write, because you’d have a whole two extra hours to your day. Except, in reality, adding more hours to the day would not work.

I want to make a couple analogies here about why having longer days wouldn’t help you write. In my experience, and keep in mind that this is just me and not a law for everyone, there is never enough space in my house. It seems that no matter what I do, I don’t have enough room for all my stuff. I’m not a packrat, not in the extreme sense anyway, but I always seem to expand my crap to fill my living space. When I was in college and lived in a dorm room, that room was full of junk. Even when everything was in its proper place, every flat surface— shelves, desk, nightstand, etc.— had stuff on it. When I got an apartment, my stuff seemed to magically multiply to fill every space yet again. Now, outside an apartment and in a house, I still don’t have enough space.

Similarly, my expenses always seem to expand to fill my paycheck. Oh, I got a raise this year! You would think that the extra little bit from each paycheck could go straight into savings, right? That’s funny. Life seems, for many people, not to work that way. You get a raise? Well, your car just broke down and now you need to take on a car loan to get a new one. Bye, extra money. Or, you decided to get that huge flatscreen TV you’ve been wanting, and now you can afford to. There goes those extra funds!

The point I’m trying to make is that if you’re not careful, life will grow to consume all your resources. So if the world suddenly changed to a 26-hour day instead of 24, SOMETHING would come along to take up those extra 2 hours every day. Maybe you’ll get more sleep, or a new exercise fad will come along and sweep you with it, and suddenly you’re spending that extra time playing badminton or something. No magical solution is going to present itself to you and suddenly give you time to write.

You have to make the time to do it.

It’s true what they say: if something is important to you, you will find a way to make it happen. If it’s not important, you’ll make an excuse. I’ve always been the type to do things in big chunks rather than chipping away at things. If I start something, I want to finish it in one sitting and be done with it. So how the heck am I a writer? It takes such huge amounts of time to finish a project! Honestly, for years, I was going about it the wrong way. I was under the impression that if I wanted to make any headway on writing, I needed a few hours of quiet and solitude to blast out a few thousand words. But how often did I get times like that? Maybe once a month or so. When NaNoWriMo came along, I went into recluse mode (yes, the stereotypical secluded, solitary, hermit-like (possibly drunk) writer image). My best friend had to call or text me every few hours to make sure I ate and went to the bathroom regularly. But you can’t live like that. Well, I can’t.

I’ve talked about the Magic Spreadsheet before (or if I haven’t, I’ve already written a post about it and just haven’t posted it yet. There’s something for you to look forward to) and I’m telling you again that it changed my life. If I get one time a month to sit and write 3000 words, hey, that’s not bad. I’ll write 36,000 words in a year. But if I take 15 minutes a day (you can find 15 minutes, can’t you, right before bed, or something?) and write 250 words— and do this EVERY DAY— then guess what. You’ll write about 7500 words a month, and that will end up being 91250 words a year. 91250! That’s a whole freaking novel! And all you did was take FIFTEEN MINUTES every day.

It surprised me that I didn’t have to get “into the zone” to write for 15 minutes. At first, it was hard, but I realized that once I was actually working on the project every day and not just once a month, it’s much easier to keep in that mindset of my story, and I can get into writing mode much easier. I can sit down, whip out some words, and holy crap, I’m closer to finishing, and all I did was sit at my computer for a few minutes before bedtime. More often than not, I would get on a roll and do more words, but then again, I write pretty quickly when it comes right down to it. I’ve been working on this blog post for about 20 minutes, and I’m nearly 1000 words in. Some of you don’t write that quickly, and that’s fine. I’m just telling you what works for me, and you can tweak things to work with your life and your writing style and speed.

(At the time I originally wrote this blog post) I’d been writing every day for about four months now, and in that time, I’d actually popped out almost 200,000 words (again, mostly because I’m a fast writer). I’ve found that writing breeds more writing. I don’t want to stop after 250 words. I want to keep going. Most days, I’ll realize I’ve turned that fifteen minutes into an hour and just did 1000+ words. In 4 months, I’ve finished the first draft of a novel, a 2nd draft of another novel, at least 10 short stories, about eight book reviews, maybe half a dozen blog posts, and a few outlines for projects I’m going to write. I am getting work done!

It’s about prioritizing. It’s frightening how much time I wasted before I started making a point of writing for at least 15 minutes every day. That’s not to say that I don’t waste time now. Sometimes, you need to waste time, just for your own mental health. It’s that whole “All work and no play” thing. I still spend time with my friends, I enjoy sleep (for now), and I work a full-time job with a 45-minute commute one-way. Want to know what my writing/daily routine looks like these days?

Out of bed at 4:50
Arrive at work at 6 (I don’t actually start work until 7:30)
6-7 WRITE (I’ll explain this in just a minute)
Work 7:30-4:30
Arrive home 5:20 (or so)
Watch TV/hang with best friend and kids/play games/maybe write After dinner-bedtime
BEDTIME (anywhere from 9p.m. to 11:30 p.m. depending on what is going on)

So yes, I actually managed to find an hour every day to write. I was always the type to get to work early to avoid morning traffic and get a good parking spot. Used to be I’d take that dead time and go to the gym or read or whatever. But I realized I was missing out on some prime real estate here. I now drag my laptop with me every day so I can write for an hour. But what about that morning that used to be my gym time? Fitness is important too, right?

I did try splitting that pre-work hour between both, but I was getting short shrift. I couldn’t fit a good workout in with good writing time, not really. I’d try to make up more writing time at lunch, but it just didn’t seem to work. I write better in the mornings. And… oddly enough, I learned that I exercise better in the afternoons. And I get an hour lunch… and I’m lucky that my workplace has a gym. So at least half of my lunch break instead goes to the gym, and then I actually eat my lunch and read. So I’m still doing everything I was doing before, before work and on lunch, but now I’m actually able to devote more time to each activity and get some quality out of them. I found an hour to write in my PRIME writing time of day, I get at least a 30-minute workout instead of trying to cram exercise into 10-15 minutes, and I’m still getting time to read every day. And it’s not taking up valuable family/friend time in the evening.

Of course, not everyone has the same sort of day I do. But don’t be afraid to move things around. I had to give up slacking off at lunch and playing computer games in order to write. But that’s just prioritizing. What’s more important to you: writing or playing games?

I’m not going to claim that this sort of schedule will work for everyone. Your job is, no doubt, far different from mine. Not everyone writes best in the morning. I know that there are a lot of people out there who write very effectively during their lunch breaks, whether they’re half an hour or a full hour. Some people actually write out their work freehand or text writing to themselves on their phones (yes, there are people that do this, and kudos to them!). The big point I’m trying to make here is that if you want to find the time to write, you have to actually look for it. The world isn’t going to halt for you so you can sit down and do it. A lot of writers I know don’t sleep much. Some are stay-at-home or work-from-home parents and are lucky enough to get in good writing sessions when their kids are napping, at school or playing on their own. What it boils down to is the fact that you already have the time to write. It may just be hiding behind other things. If writing is important to you, you will find the time to do it. Yes, it involves sacrifice, but again, it boils down to how much you want to do this. If your spouse/children are supportive and can give you half an hour in the evening to yourself, awesome! If your home life just cannot allow such a thing, try eking in a few shorter writing spurts when the opportunity presents itself. I promise, it gets easier.

And I promise, you’ll be amazed how much you can get done in short spurts.

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