Finding the Time (when you don’t have it)

How many people have sat at their computer, word processor open in front of them and a wistful sigh on their lips: “If I had time, I’d love to write a novel.” Okay, maybe I’m making the scene a little more dramatic than it needs to be, but you get the idea.

Let’s be honest, most writers have day jobs. It’s hard to have the energy for creation when you haven’t eaten for two days. That means we need to balance responsibilities. Whatever we might prefer to do, our employers demand a frustrating amount of our time (jeez, you’d think they’d be more understanding of our aspiring dreams…). I’m lucky to have an awesome manager, but I still can’t write on the job.

On top of this, many of us – myself included- have families. I love my kids, but let me tell you, if ‘time demands’ has a picture in the dictionary, it is their adorable, too often mouthy and far too often fighting amongst themselves faces.

This leaves us in a difficult place. We really want to write. It’s in us trying to burn a hole out of our skulls. We don’t really want a hole burned in our skulls, thus we need to find a way to let it out. But there’s work, kids, groceries, hygiene, other humans who want to spend time with us… the list goes on of things that get between us and our craft.

It’s really easy to sigh and just say you’ll do it in five years. But you won’t. And you damn well know it. Because in five years it’ll be something else – that promotion, your kids’ soccer games, your knitting circle (people have those still, right?). Here is an important thing to understand: days don’t get longer. You will always have the same number of hours in which to juggle your tasks. That’s it. So use them.

Find the Holes

You have more time than you realize you do. I mean it. It’s when you’re waiting to head out in the morning or during a weekend lull between activities. Learn to recognize the little pockets of time you do have. If it’s something you really want to do, keep a day planner. Decide that a certain hour or two is yours, and schedule it for yourself. We really do have time. We’re just not used to seeing it because the world is filled with inane nonsense seeping into the space without us even noticing it’s happening. That brings me to my next point…

Shut out the Distractions

If you truly want to take on a task like writing a novel – or any big project- you need to accept that it takes a lot of time, and you’ll need to sacrifice other things to make that time happen. As a culture, we really do need to watch less tv, for example. Every hour you spend staring at the screen could have been five hundred words of your creation. You need to take a look at your goals, and decide if you want them enough to make those sacrifices. Not everyone does, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Like I said earlier, the world is filled with nonsense that seeps into your days. Be mindful of it – social media, tv, overbuying (I’m not saying go minimalist, but being surrounded by so much crap that you can’t find the particular crap you need takes way more time than I bet you’d believe).

Instead of getting lost in your facebook feed for an hour, open your computer and write. Take a day to get your space organized, and you’ll save so much more time in the long run. There are ways you can tweak your routine to pull a few more hours from a day.

Set Goals

If it’s writing you want to do, set a progress goal. I lean away from word count goals myself, because I find them difficult to visualize. I set scene goals instead. (I will write two scenes today, or I will edit this chapter). For me, it’s easier to measure, and leaves me with something that feels complete at the end of the day, even if it’s only a complete section.

This goes for any kind of extended project. If you don’t set goals, it’s easy to get discouraged by your distance from the FINAL goal. But that goal is really far away and you will move at a crawl to get there. Setting goals within your work reminds you of the progress you are making.

This is my favorite one… STOP SAYING YOU DON’T HAVE TIME

The single worst killer of progress is shrugging and saying you just don’t have time to do it. Maybe you don’t in that moment. Fine. Pick the moment you DO have time to start. Because you do have time. Even if it’s half an hour before you go to bed. Start small.

Maybe you can’t sit for four hours a day to plug away at a manuscript. Who the hell can? But you can set your alarm an hour early for some quiet time to work. Yes, that might mean you get up at five. Trust me, that’s not much worse than getting up at six. Be willing to make the sacrifices you need, while balancing the time demanded elsewhere.

There will always be days when you really are on the move from morning to night. It sucks, but it happens, and way too often. There really are situations where you’re stuck working two jobs and managing a family on your own, when writing a book is that last thing you can think about filling your hours with.

But if it’s something you’re passionate about, take baby steps until your schedule opens – there is always time for that. Carry a notebook, scribble out a scene when you’re on the bus or waiting at the doctors. A slow start is still a start.

And once you start, even slowly, the rest follows.

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