Piecemeal Manifesto – Entry #5 – Finding Time to Write
When people hear I sold a novel, their first response (at least the one after, “You?!?!”) is–“How do you have the time to write?” Sometimes this also comes in the form of a statement like, “I’ve always wanted to write, but I don’t have the time.” Either way, the message is the same–writing takes time, and people don’t have a lot of it. I know I don’t.
For those of you who don’t know, I teach English full-time which means a lot of prep time and grading, plus I have four children, which means the time suck of practices, games, chauffeuring, checking homework, and all of the cool things you want to do with the kids so you’re a good parent and not guilt-ridden. Throw in there my household responsibilities and wanting to, you know, spend time with my wife, and writing time is limited.
A lot of books and sites will tell you that if you’re serious about writing, you’ll find the time to do it. I don’t disagree with that. But unless you’re given ways to find the time, that advice is sort of like telling someone to get better at something by practicing more, but without giving specific tools and methods on how to practice. So let’s talk nuts and bolts.
The 1 Trick that Saved My Sanity and My Writing Life: Set a daily word count and stick to it. This simple trick saved my writing life. Because if looked at my daily schedule and tried to find an hour or two to write, I wouldn’t be able to find it. Besides, you know what it’s like–you sit down to write, check your email, read the news, and “oh, wait, I should see what happened on Can This Dopey Guy Ever Find True Love? last night” (the answer is no), and “Oh my god!, a video of a cat in a viking helmet head-butting a guy in the crotch! Squee!” And now it’s been an hour and you haven’t gotten squat written. But, a daily word count keeps you in that chair until you’re finished. I’ve set a 500 word a day minimum, and pretty much stick to it. That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly, and I still keep up with grading and have plenty of time to spend with my family. Sometimes I can knock out 500 words in an hour–yes, I’m sloooow–and sometimes it may take me two hours (darn you crotch-smash videos!) But when I hit that 500, I know I can quit if I want to, and I’ve done good work for the day. I suggesting picking a word count that pushes you some, but doesn’t stress you out.
The trick to hitting your word count is grabbing minutes to write when they present themselves. Sometimes you get lucky and you might get an entire uninterrupted hour. Realistically though, you’re getting 15 minutes here or there. And when those times arrive, you have to use them. 10 Moments I Steal Writing Time During the Day 1. When I arrive at work before my contract day starts. I’m a better morning writer, and can usually knock out a hundred or so good words in the twenty minutes I have before the first student arrives. Once he or she shows up though, I go into teacher mode.
2. When my contract day is done, but before I leave for home. I have to pick up my kids at the sitter and meet them at the bus, but I have about ten minutes before I have to leave to do that. So I write if I can.
3. Early weekend mornings before the family wakes up. I can sleep when I’m dead.
4. During my kids’ various sporting practices and club meetings. I don’t write during their actual games or performances, but like Allen Iverson said, it’s practice.
5. While I’m making dinner. Table set and food in the oven for twenty minutes? Write.
6. In the car on the way to work and on the way home. Bless the iPhone microphone. Lines and ideas will pop into my head while driving and I’ll dictate them into my phone. I have one friend who writes on his phone on the train into work each day.
7. While kids are at the park. Yeah, I sit on the bench and write. But I get up and chase them around, too.
8. During the kids’ bath time. My wife and I swap nights we give the kids baths. When it’s my night off, I’ll write.
9. After the kids go to bed. This is hard since I’m usually tired, but I’m only shooting for 500 words, and can muscle it out.
10. In the bathroom. Writing isn’t pretty.
4 Ways to Optimize Your Writing Time 1. Get the Freedom app. If you find yourself constantly checking your email or the ballgame scores or your Twitter feed, then Freedom is for you. For $10 it shuts down the internet while you’re writing. If you’re a phone addict, put it in another part of the house, lock it in your car, or give it to a trustworthy-looking stranger passing by. Just make sure it isn’t within reach. Oh, and put it on mute!
2. Outlining your chapters before you start them. This has helped me immensely. At the top of every new chapter, I list, in order, the events of that chapter as I see them. It’s not a very in-depth outline, but it let’s me know where I’m headed, and cuts back on time staring off into space wondering what comes next.
3. Don’t overthink early drafts. I’m 100% guilty of this. Instead of building momentum and fighting through a first draft to get the plot down, I labor over single words or how to describe something and suddenly I’ve lost ten minutes. Screw that. Power forward!
4. Research later. When I’m drafting, I can easily get caught up in researching items I need to nail down for the novel. With DON’T GET CAUGHT it was things like: How fast can someone scale a 50 foot rock wall? What do you call a device that can copy the data on someone’s cell phone? How quickly does ipecac work? This is part of the writing process, sure, but during drafting it’s a momentum killer. Leave a placeholder, and do research like this when you’re finished with your daily word count. Or at work. Heh.
Immediate Homework Assignment: Write down five times during the day you get a chance to breathe for a couple of minutes. Those are five times you can write to get your word count in today. (Sorry, “I literally have no time to write” is a cop out. Do you go to the bathroom? Good. That’s a couple of minutes right there.)