Finding time to write

So, what’s new with you?

You get up, go to work, then have a shorter evening than you’d like before bed. Maybe you have to bundle the kids off to school in the morning and collect them later, cook for them and watch over them. Maybe you’re single and dating even though it’s dark and cold out. Maybe you have a beloved dog to walk or a house to clean or a relative to take care of. Maybe there’s just a lot of TV to catch up on.

How do you find time to write with all that going on?

As a proofreader and editor I work with students, translators, prose and poetry writers. When I’m fortunate enough to get return business, the gaps are often explained as being the result of simply being too busy, or not finding the time to write lately.

So what’s the solution?

You can’t make more time. You probably can’t stop doing one thing to make more room for writing, either (although if your problem is TV, sort it out. No TV is that good).

Lifestyles can be busy, especially when we make them busy. Are we so social because we hate to be alone? Do we succumb to all of that easy entertainment because we don’t want to have the space to think? Not only are these problems that should be sorted out, they’re also problems with a built-in solution for your writing woes: stop doing them for a while, and write about them instead, or at least the things that motivated you to do them. Take two weeks off and try.

When my life gets busy, my problem isn’t that I don’t have time to write, but that when I do have time I don’t feel like it. I’m not ready to think and work after all the thinking and working I do at my day job and then freelancing in the evening and at weekends. If I feel a moment of creative inspiration, I have to get home (or at least move from one room to another) and get set up. By the time I have a steaming cup of tea on my desk and the laptop is booted up, I’ve lost it. The inspiration is gone and I’m staring at a blinking cursor in an empty Word document.

A solution that works for my particular lifestyle is routine. One of my favourite writers, Haruki Murakami, has a famously rigid routine that he says not only makes him productive, but also brings him great joy. Murakami-san has the luxury of being successful enough to not need a day job, but a writing routine certainly helps the rest of us, too. Not the usual insipid “write 500 words a day, every day!” advice, but more allocate yourself a time slot amidst the chaos to write. It doesn’t even have to be daily. Just choose a particular time of the week (or day) that is set aside solely for writing. Not only will you find peace in the routine, but you might also even look forward to it. On days where your inspiration comes at other times, jump right in. Then, when your routine writing window arrives, you can rejoice in how you’re already two pages further into that thesis or novel you’re working on.

Personally, I try to get home from the office and immediately start writing. My brain isn’t yet fried, or numbed from a couple of hours of evening TV, and I’m still ‘on the go’ and energised. I’ll aim for 30-60, and if I’m inspired to write for longer then I will. Unfortunately that time is usually when I want to be whipping up a quick meal and stuffing my face, so there’s sometimes a compromise. In any case, I’m slowly making progress with my creative work as a result of choosing a routine instead of hoping for a break in the storm.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

—db