Making Time to Write
On a recent visit to my parents’ house, I happened upon a treasure trove of journals I’d kept during my childhood and adolescence. There must have been a dozen, all tucked away on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. I marveled not only at the progress of my penmanship—a definite improvement over time, given my tendency to dot my exclamation points with hearts in second grade—but also at the frequency and length of my entries. Every day, it seems I had something novel to say about what transpired around the lunch table at school or how I felt about some recent event, whether that was a friend’s birthday party or something I’d heard about in the news. Pages and pages devoted to each entry boggled my mind, especially now that I’m an adult with what feels like lessening hours in the day to accomplish personal and professional tasks. I used to have all the time in the world to write about whatever crossed my precocious little mind. Could I ever find the time to write like that in adulthood?
There isn’t one tried and true answer to that question for writers. Finding a rhythm in your relationship with writing is subjective and fluid, changing over time depending on the numerous other responsibilities that beckon you as a person in the world. For example, I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me extraordinary flexibility with time. I’m “on the clock” beginning in the middle of the afternoon. That means that on a good day, I dedicate my morning hours to writing. My husband leaves for work and after getting ready for my day, I sit down at our kitchen table with my MacBook by 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. ready to write. I emphasize the “good day” point because all writers know that such days can prove elusive. As mentioned in our earlier blog post about inspiration, the call to write doesn’t always ring with absolute clarity. There are plenty of mornings when I open my computer and deep dive straight into my digital newspaper subscription because of some explosive story awaiting. (If anyone ever comes across a study of writers’ productivity levels pre- and post-presidential election of 2016, send it my way!)
Even if the news cycle isn’t your cup of tea, the modern world offers plenty of distracting poisons to pick from. The Internet alone supplies infinite possibilities for procrastination: social media sites, YouTube, retail platforms, Google! You could waste an entire day typing on and reading from a screen with no substantial work to show for it; I know because I’ve done that, many times. Some days are simply bad writing days, whether you’re intentionally procrastinating or you’re unable to make time that day to write. Perhaps like many aspiring authors, you’re not only a writer, but a professional who reports to an office each weekday for a traditional nine-to-five job. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent who reports to a little one or two or five who need your undivided attention and unconditional love. No matter what your career, you are human, which means that no matter how fervently you love to write and want to make it a livelihood for yourself, you will have to balance your devotion to writing with your devotion to other duties. That includes active duties to people, places, and jobs and passive duties to relaxation, rest, and yes, the occasional Netflix marathon or extended scroll through your Instagram feed.
So how do we do it, then? How do we make time to write when so much else begs for our time, energy, and attention? The obvious answer is to make it a priority and do it, whenever and for however long you can. You’ll never be a writer if you don’t actually write, so find a time most days of the week to sit down with your thoughts and a vessel for capturing them. I know a writer who religiously blocks out the hour after dinner to work on her novel; as soon as the last dish is dry, she’s off to her desk with a timer and cup of tea. I know another writer who steals time during his subway commute, scribbling on a legal pad when the train is delayed or a seat opens up. I know night owl writers and morning bird writers, who utilize those odd hours when roommates or the rest of the family are asleep to savor the peace and quiet. You also don’t have to approach the time to write on your own; there are plenty of writing workshops, real-world and virtual, to keep you accountable to not only yourself but fellow writers. There are also writing retreats or artist-in-residence opportunities for authors with the time and money to invest in prolonged bouts of productivity. You can even block yourself from visiting certain websites if the siren call of celebrity gossip or online shopping becomes unbearable.
Whatever timing works for you, honor it and follow it often. Even and especially if what you’re writing isn’t “good.” It’s easy to fall prey to feeling like you cannot or should not write because your words aren’t coming out how you had hoped. Suppress the urge to edit yourself before you’ve even begun to put words down. Find your rhythm to write and stick to it for as long as it works for you. As soon as you notice your attention or energy lagging, acknowledge those feelings and try to discern what timing works better. You don’t have to write every day. You don’t have to write well. But you do have to write. If I could do it as an unread child diarist, you can do it as a writer who hopes one day to be read.