Stephen King famously argued that in order to be a writer, one must read a lot and one must write a lot. It’s a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree but one which begs a follow up question – how do you find the time to do it?
Right now I’m finishing up this blog post on my lunch break, snaffling down a Subway sandwich because I couldn’t face making my own, even though I know it’s cheaper and healthier. I’m also thinking about the windows on my balcony that are in such dire need of cleaning that this morning I thought it was really foggy out.
We are all graced with the same 24 hours a day and I have no desire to get into a pissing contest with others about who has it busier because the truth is we all do. Whether you’re a student, parent, worker bee, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or even all of these, I’m betting that there are more things that you would like to accomplish in your life than you feel there is time to do them in (and yes commitments to kids, ailing parents, and friends also fall into this category). There’s no shame in that. We all make choices about who to spend our time with and how we want to spend it. That’s life and it’s a beautiful thing.
If your visiting this blog it’s likely that you’re a reader, and maybe a writer, with an overwhelming TBR pile, set of short story competition deadlines or even just a self-imposed goal to get the novel done before Christmas/Next Year/sometime before you die. Well my friend, you and I are both struggling under the weight of these lofty ambitions so believe me when I say that I sympathise.
Which brings me back to my original question, how do you find the time to write (or read)? To put it tritely, you have to make the choice to do so. Do you want clean windows? Happy kids? A tighter body? A promotion? A novel? A blog? An award winning short story? You have to prioritise what’s important to you first and carve out the time to do it, even if that means diverting your attention away from other things that may also matter.
So how how you find the time to write (and read) is firstly a matter of deciding to do it. That’s the easy bit. I sometimes think life is like a cheap pound shop jigsaw puzzle, trying to slot different activities into my schedule where I know they are supposed to go but where I can’t quite make them fit neatly. Part of the reason for starting this blog was to find the motivation to write a novel – an ambition of mine for a long time. I can’t say that I’ve been successful as yet, but I know deep down that I’m capable of it. Whether or not I do is matter of choice and persistence even when I can only find ten minutes a day to write.
A solid piece of advice that I learned from finishing my PhD is to find a time in your day (everyday if possible but at least regularly) where you can be alone with your task without other distractions – including your own monkey-mind telling you that there are other things you need to be doing.
The idea of suggesting that someone schedule their reading time, at first, seemed silly to me, but when I thought about my own reading patterns I found that this is exactly what I do. I read for an hour before bed almost every night even if that means I end up sleeping a little less. I also read on a Saturday morning over coffee. These appear to be my hours even though I never made the deliberate decision to read at a scheduled time.
Much writing advice follows the same pattern. You need to find the time and place that works for you. I’d bet that even those who baulk at this advice would find that they naturally fall into a pattern where the bulk of writing gets done at specified points even though they may add to or take away from this as their schedule dictates.
So let me summarise my thoughts on how we can find the time to write:
1) Make the decision to do it. Make it a priority above neatly ironed clothes, having the perfect body, making sure the kids only take organic home-made lunches to school, having a happy boss, listening to that two hour phone call from your friend who likes to talk so much (you know what? She’ll understand if you have to cut a meet-up short – she’s probably got stuff to do also).
2) Set aside some time in your schedule for it. Notice the patterns that you naturally fall into and try to make them habit. If you need to, let people know that you are not available at this time. HOWEVER, don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally need that time for something else but promise yourself that when the crisis is over, you’ll return to your normal ebb and flow.
3) Every now and then reflect on the things you’ve accomplished, not on the things you’ve yet to do. This is important because you’re doing great but sometimes you’ll struggle to see it.
4) Don’t get too hung up on the paraphernalia surrounding the process. I would love a private study at home but having one won’t make me a better reader/writer/blogger. Moleskin notebooks and Cross pens are gorgeous (I even have a couple) but they will not make you a writer. I don’t even believe that having a single designated writing space is strictly necessary, although it can send a message to others that says “Fuck off, I’m busy (Love you!).” You only need to find a spot where you can be alone for a bit – even if that means hiding in the bathroom with your laptop. You know what makes you a writer? Writing.
5) There will be times where you need to devote more time to the project e.g. The final stages of a PhD, the final third of the novel, when the short story submission deadline is tomorrow. These times can be particularly challenging as you need to carve out greater chunks of space to complete the task. But I’ve learned that these times are the exception rather than the rule and the bulk of the work is done in the short bursts, the small regular intervals of activity. So there is no need to get overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead of you. You’re ahead of the curve even if you’re only taking ten minutes a day.