Finding Time to Write and Have a Life Too

I don’t know about you, but I always start the summer thinking about all the lovely vacation time I’ll use to work on my next book.

I always take August off from my day job and in July, it looks like a gaping hole of time, ready to be filled with writing.

Hah!

I must be delusional.

The reality is that the summer fills up pretty quickly – after all, that’s why I take time off from work. There’s vacations, and kids, and moving house this year (followed by lots of decorating), and did I mention kids?

So like almost every other writer out there, I have to juggle.

To be honest, summer isn’t all that different from other times of year. There’s the added distraction of having more people in the house (I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to write when I’m interrupted by people who want me to make them bowls of cereal), but at other times of year there are plenty of distractions too.

So if you’re a busy writer with a life outside the writing, how do you find the time to finish your WIP?

I’ve spent a lot of time (time, there’s a recurring theme in this post) working out how to make myself more efficient and productive while not going completely insane, so here are my tips.

1. Be Realistic

The worst thing you can do is set goals you’ll never be able to squeeze in around your life.

I’ve been guilty of this myself. In June this year I published WordPress For Writers, had to get a new novel to my editor, and had a heap of freelance work to do too. Not to mention all the regular domestic stuff.

I had to push some deadlines back and grovel to a few people (apologies to my beta readers!) but I got there in the end.

I think the thing that kept me going through a particularly demanding month was the fact that I could see the summer ahead of me. This year, I’ve deliberately set myself easy goals for August, so I know I can recuperate and get some of my energy back, and be on track when things start up again in September.

But one thing I’ve learned: don’t tell your editor you’ll have a manuscript ready for him on the same day you have another book coming out. That way madness lies.

So if you’ve been setting yourself goals that are just too hard, that affect your sanity and make you feel like you have too many balls in the air, my advice would be to revisit those goals, spread things out a bit more, and give yourself a break.

If you don’t set goals or timescales at all, and find that this stops you getting anything done, then you’re in quite a different situation. Read on…

2. Track Your Activity

So if you aren’t getting as much writing done as you’d like, there’s going to be a reason. And it’s probably one of these two reasons:

  • Motivation or procrastination (I believe these are the underlying causes of so-called ‘writer’s block’).
  • Lack of time.

I’ll get onto writer’s block in another post (I might annoy some people) but let’s take a look at time.

If you need more time for writing (and anyone with a job, family, social life or all of the above probably does), then the first step is to track how you use your time now.

Over the course of a week, keep a diary. Track each hour: what did you spend your time doing?

Chances are it’s a mix of the below:

  • Writing
  • A day job
  • Commuting
  • Household chores
  • Childcare
  • Family time
  • Time with a partner
  • Time with friends
  • Reading
  • Social media and other internet
  • Watching TV
  • Playing games (on TV, computer or phone)
  • Sleeping

You’ve probably got other things you can add to that list. I know a writer who also spends time painting, and another who’s a singer. So add hobbies to the list.

Add up how much time you spent doing each of those things during the week. You may surprise yourself.

Which brings us to:

3. Ditch the Time-Wasting

Be honest with yourself.

How much time did you spend on activities which are just procrastination?

Are you happy with how much time you spent on social media? Watching Love Island? Playing Candy Crush?

I’m not saying these things don’t have value – I’m not a luddite – but media and internet use is often where you can claw back time to use for writing.

Let’s say you’re spending four hours a day on TV, internet and gaming. That time helps you wind down from work. It might be sociable time you spend with other people. So you won’t be able to cut all of it out, but maybe some.

If you cut out two hours of that, would you suffer, in terms of relaxation? Would your friends notice you were on Facebook a bit less? (Or would they secretly be relieved you aren’t sharing every tiny aspect of your day?)

That would give you two whole hours a day to write.

Two whole hours!

Assuming you can write 500 words per hour (and I know lots of people can write more than that), that means that in a week, you’d have written 7,000 words.

Seven thousand words.

In ten weeks, you’d have a 70,000 word novel. Just ten weeks!

If your online friends have missed you during those ten weeks, you can return to them and brag about how you wrote a novel while you were away. How cool would that feel?

And imagine you write 1,000 words per hour. By finding two hours a day, you could write that novel in just five weeks. Heck, you could carve out one hour a day and write it in ten weeks. That gives you a spare hour for something else (reading, maybe?).

Ditching social media is hard. It involves changing habits, and fighting behavior that is addictive. (That isn’t an exaggeration – social media is designed to be addictive.) I’ll write about it in more detail in a future post, but I hope the figures above are making you see the potential benefits of doing it.

And social media may not be your time sink. It could be commuting, in which case could you write on your commute? I wrote one of my novels while doing a twice-weekly three-hour commute. It was the perfect opportunity to carve out a space and a time for writing and get some serious words down.

Go back to your list of what you spent your week doing, pick the things you could ditch, and cut down on them. Now you have more writing time.

4. Find Your Productive Times

Once you’ve found some extra time you can use for writing, it’s time to use it more effectively. If you can’t find any extra time and are working with what you already have, this is even more important.

Keep a record of when and where you write, and your words per hour. You can use a spreadsheet, a diary, or just a notebook.

If you do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll soon get a picture of when and where you’re most productive.

I recently realized that I write faster in the afternoon when working at my local library. So guess what? That’s where I write now.

5. Get More Sleep

If you analyzed your activity for a week and decided you spent too much time asleep, I’d urge caution.

There are plenty of writers who get up an hour earlier to find some writing time. I can see the temptation. It’s quiet, there’s no one else around, and lots of people write write best at the beginning of the day when our minds are clear.

But missing out on sleep will impact on your productivity. Sleep lets our brain clear itself out for the next day. It recharges the batteries and allows us to think more clearly when we wake up.

It has long-term health benefits too. So much so, that some Scandinavian countries are now paying compensation to healthcare workers who contracted cancer after working night shifts. There’s evidence that lack of sleep can increase your risk of obesity, cancer, stroke, and dementia.

I imagine you still want to be writing later in life, and don’t want illness to get in the way. I know I do, which is why I get plenty of sleep.

So if you do decide to get up early to write, make sure you go to bed early too. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and you’ll be a better writer because of it.

If you don’t believe me, try monitoring it for yourself. Track your writing speed during every early morning writing session, and the number of hours’ sleep you got the night before. If there’s a correlation, then you need your sleep.

6. Measure, Monitor, Repeat

Life doesn’t stand still. We’re all busy people, and things change in our lives and in our writing.

So keep on doing the steps above.

Despite finding my most productive writing times, I still monitor my productivity every time I write. I want to know if things have changed, and if I need to adapt. I’ve already done this twice.

Keep an eye on your activity and your time-wasting, and check things don’t slide back to how they used to be. Remind yourself how good you felt when you spent an hour writing instead of watching TV.

Tell other people what you intend to do, as that makes it harder to give up. If you plan to spend a morning writing, post your word goal to Facebook before you start, telling people that if you post again before lunchtime you’ve failed. Then when you finish, you can post your actual word count and your friends will help you celebrate your achievement.

Or tell your family. Explain to them that seven am is your writing time, and that you’d like them not to disturb you. When you’re done, you can give them your full attention, knowing that you met your writing goals. Which will make you more relaxed and alert to the people around you, instead of thinking about the fact that you should be writing.

Good luck!

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