Whenever writers list their goals, they’re likely to include, “Write more often,” “Write every day,” or “Schedule more time for writing.” Unless we actually put in the time, we won’t achieve the goals of starting, finishing, and marketing our work. Yet time to write often seems elusive as the days, weeks, and months slip by.
Time-management experts stress the need to MAKE time. If we begin each day hoping to “find” writing time, we’ll likely be disappointed. And have you ever promised yourself “I’ll write when my life settles down”? Life rarely settles down, and conditions for writing are seldom “perfect.” People have jobs, family responsibilities, household chores, errands, and community activities, not to mention job changes, health issues, travels, moving, holidays, natural disasters, and other challenges. Still, committed writers manage to write.
If you read the second blog in this series, you might now have your list of SMART writing goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (sometimes listed as Realistic), and Time-bound. Now work toward those goals by scheduling your personal writing times and making them as productive as possible.
Where Does the Time Go?
To take charge of your schedule, you’ll want to know—really know—how you currently spend your time. Time-management experts suggest recording your activities during a typical week. You can download free worksheets online or create your own. My template lists the days of the week from Monday-Sunday across the top (widest part of the page). The time of day runs from top to bottom along the left side in half-hour segments from 5 AM to 4:30 AM.
After you finish this exercise, take a close look. Maybe your current schedule clearly reflects your priorities, with time to achieve your writing goals? That’s good to know. But if your activities don’t align with your goals, it’s time for a re-do. One writer discovered that he spent over ten hours each week watching cooking shows. Though he enjoys cooking, he would rather have written his book by year’s end than learned hundreds of new recipes, so now he limits himself to two favorite cooking shows per week. Another writer noticed her tendency to wander off to interesting but irrelevant websites while researching articles. Still others spent more time on social media than they thought. Many spotted ways to complete household tasks and errands more efficiently or save time by organizing their homes better.
Making Time to Write
Next, decide how much time you can reasonably devote to writing and identify the best times to write. Which activities in your schedule are fixed? Which are flexible, and optional? For parents, good times to write might be during the baby’s nap or hours when children are in school. People with jobs outside the home might schedule writing time on weekends.
Successful writers offer these additional suggestions:
- Wake up earlier. Many writers schedule their writing early each morning, especially if they are most productive in the morning. In her book Writer Mama, Christina Katz suggests ways that that busy parents can “Scrounge for an Hour in the A.M.,” maybe by agreeing to get the children ready for bed at night while your spouse takes charge in the morning. Katz also suggests ways to “Gather Every Afternoon Moment” and “Wring Every Second from the Evenings.”
- Watch less TV.
- Screen phone calls.
- Set specific, limited times for email and social media.
- Write on your lunch break or while riding public transportation to and from work.
- Write while you are waiting (at the doctor’s office, etc.). I used to dash to the library to write while my children were taking swim lessons or dance class.
- Group errands efficiently to avoid extra trips.
- Plan menus for the week and make extra stews, casseroles, and other meals to freeze.
- Delegate chores. Young children can pick up their toys and books, put their clothing in drawers, and do other age-appropriate chores. My three children did the laundry, kitchen clean-up, and dusting, among other chores. One was our official salad maker. They became more responsible, and I was able to teach and write dozens of books.
Consider limiting social activities that are less important than your writing. For example, you might want to change your weekly lunch-with-the-group to once or twice a month.
Make Writing Time Count
How can we maximize those times we set aside for our writing? Here are more tips from successful writers:
- Limit distractions when possible.
- Play music if that helps your writing.
- Use a comfortable chair with good back support.
- Write at the times when you are most alert and motivated. Do mundane tasks when you’re not at your “peak.”
- End each session in a way that helps you focus quickly when you resume your writing project—for example, ending in the middle of a sentence.
- Take care of yourself.
You already know the benefits of healthy eating, exercise, and enough sleep. Besides promoting overall fitness and boosting energy levels, exercise can improve mental functioning by increasing blood flow to the brain. To avoid sitting for long periods of time, many writers pause for stretching sessions, a brisk walk, or other activity, such as sweeping the kitchen floor or loading the dishwasher.
Start each writing session with a positive mantra that works for you. It can be something as simple as “I am a writer” or “Just write.”
It’s Up to You
As a freelance writer, you’re in charge of managing your business and your schedule. Create writing routines, and take pride in steady progress. Use your precious 24 hours a day wisely. For many years, I have kept a framed quotation near my desk that might inspire you, too. It comes from Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote:
“By the street of By-and-By, one arrives at the house of Never.”
Victoria Sherrow has published short stories, articles and books (fiction and nonfiction) for readers aged preschool through adult. Her books have received starred reviews and been honored by the American Library Association, Parents Choice Gold Award, National Association for the Advancement of Science, and NYPL Best Books for the Teenage, among others. Victoria has taught at The Institute of Children’s Literature for more than 25 years and has also been an assistant editor and writing contest judge.