Make Time for Writing

Often I hear someone say, “I wish I could find the time to write.” Folks, writers don’t “find” time to write. They create it. They set aside two or three hours every day, or every few days, whatever it is, to devote to writing. Full-time writers write full time. Part-time writers make time to write in the evenings or on the weekends, whenever they aren’t working at something else.

And believe me, writing is work. Approach your writing as a job. Schedule it and put discipline behind the effort. Writing is also art, so make space for creation. Sometimes your writing requires an hour of staring out the window, or walking a couple of miles on the beach to work out the scene that is formulating in your head.

Finally, writing is craft. So you have to work at getting better at writing not just by writing, but by reading and learning from other writers. Attend workshops and conferences. Take a writing course. Then practice what you learn.

How do you make time? There are any number of techniques for scheduling writing time. First, look at your life and decide what you’re willing to devote to it. Are you willing to give up TV on weeknights? No? Then maybe it’s the second round of golf each weekend. Maybe you can get up an hour earlier each day. When my daughter was very small, I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. and write for an hour, before the rest of the household was awake.

It really does mean sacrificing something. And I might add if it’s not a sacrifice, it’s not worth doing. Writing has to mean something to you. A good gauge of that is what you are willing to give up to pursue it.

Chuck Palahniuk, who has written 14 books, including Fight Club, talks about his “egg timer” method in this essay on “13 Writing Tips.” Set an egg timer for an hour or half-hour and then write until it chimes. It’s a way to force your brain into writing mode.

I use a variation of this: I pour myself a cup of tea and promise myself I won’t stop writing until the tea is gone. Usually I stay at my desk well past the last sip and finish whatever I’ve started. Soon I’ve written a blog post or another scene in my novel or a chapter of my memoir.

I’d love to hear of other techniques that work for you. Let me know and I’ll compile them into a future post. Now, it’s time for another cup of tea.

Some Tips for Daily Writing

It’s a beautiful morning! Sun is streaming through the front windows and door. The dogs have finally settled at my feet after breakfast and their morning romp through the house. I’m thinking about writing and an age-old problem: When do you find the time?

Nearly all of my clients struggle with this. Like many writers, they have day jobs and families. One of my clients is a high-powered businessman who is married with a 4-year-old son. He’s plagued with trying to find the time even for daily journaling, which I recommend for all writers.

So I put together some tips for him. Some are mine but most of them are the advice of other writers, notably Natalie Goldberg, who wrote one of my favorite books, Writing Down the Bones. I also found a list of 80 prompts by a journal writer named Mari McCarthy, which I’ve attached here (and here’s the link to her website, Create Write Now).

First, I suggested some specific times to get him started. This seems to be a universal problem – carving out the time to actually sit down and write. What I suggested for him is essentially to get out of the office for at least 30 minutes every day. He happens to have an office next to a lovely park and across the street from a quaint town library. So I told him, on Mondays and Wednesdays, take your lunch and go across the street to the park. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I told him to buy a sandwich or salad, close his door at noon and tell his assistant not to disturb him. Write for at least 20 minutes. If you’re on a roll and have the time, keep going. On Fridays, go to the library and pull a book of poetry from the shelf. Read two or three poems, then write a response to one of them. Or begin a new poem of your own. Take the entire lunch hour if you need it. But write.

On the weekends, I told him to set the alarm 30 minutes before the rest of the household is awake and use that time to journal.

I work at home and have few distractions (outside of my dog, who thinks it’s important to nudge my elbow every hour or so). But I still get bored – uninspired – by my surroundings and so often will take my computer or notebook and escape to a local café. I used to actually drive 20 miles to my favorite coffee shop in the Santa Ynez Valley once in awhile. When I drove up last weekend, I was heartbroken to discover it was closed.

The point is to step out of routine, which stimulates your imagination, releases your muse and sparks creativity.

Writing is a commitment. If you want to be successful as a writer, you have to put the pen to paper, (or fingers to keyboard) and write. It’s that simple. And that complicated. The missing ingredient is discipline. You can’t write without discipline. And the best way to establish discipline is to set a routine and follow it scrupulously. Stephen King does it. Natalie Goldberg does it. Ray Bradbury, Michael Collins and David Sedaris do it. Every successful writer I know of has a writing schedule – and is disciplined enough to stick to it.

So, take a few minutes today and set a regular writing schedule. It will be the recipe for your writing success.

If you have some techniques that enable you to write regularly, I'd love to hear them. Just add them to the comments below.