I am thankful that, since I started writing novels at the age of 14, very few people have said to me, “I wish I could write novels; I just don’t have the time.” Anyone who’s a writer themself, or who’s spoken to a writer about their job (because yes, essentially, it’s a job, even if you aren’t being paid for it yet) knows that people don’t finish novels just because they have a lot of free time on their hands. If you want to write a novel, you need to make time for it.
Obviously, this is much tricker than it sounds, especially if you already lead a busy life.
Though I have a lot going on nowadays, I actually have more time to write than I’m used to having, and it’s incredibly refreshing. When people ask this 24-year-old version of me how I find the time, I think, “Are you kidding? I don’t have homework anymore–I have all the time in the world!” That’s not technically true, since I do work 40 hours a week. But I started writing novels in high school, and that commitment required much more than 40 hours a week. Because the second I got home from my eight-hour (sometimes nine-hour) school day, I was expected to do homework and have it all finished by the time I woke up at 6 a.m. the next day.
Seriously, of every period in my life I’ve experienced so far, finding time to write in high school was the hardest. On top of my workload, I didn’t have complete control of my schedule. During the weeks I spent at my dad’s house, I had to be in bed by 9:30 (I finally got him to extend the bedtime to 10:30 when I explained I needed more time to write). Beyond that, I have struggled with sleep anxiety my entire life. I might’ve been in bed by 10:30, but I usually didn’t fall asleep until midnight, at least. Sometimes later. So I was exhausted all the time.
But developing a regular writing habit was important to me, and I knew it was the only way I would finish a book. So I was strict with myself. I wrote Sunday-Friday, allowing Saturday to be my day off. My ideal block of writing time is 2 hours, so I made sure I was ready to write by 8:00pm and finished by 10:00pm. Sometimes I wonder to myself, “How did I stick to that schedule?!” I haven’t been able to maintain that sort of schedule since. But I know how I did it: because I couldn’t afford not to. If I deviated from that way of doing things, I wouldn’t get to write, because the time wasn’t there.
College was its own beast. I may have had more control over my schedule and fewer hours where I was required to sit in class, but my homework load doubled, and for some reason I agreed to take on more responsibilities with each year (a newspaper job, various club commitments, later a second job, and oh yeah, a social life, sort of?). Still, though, high school was the hardest. In college I could stay up late and do homework, or stay up late and write. I could decide not to attend a club meeting if I wasn’t part of that club’s cabinet.
Compared to all that, my current situation is a freaking breeze. When I get home from work or from the internship I just landed, I don’t have to do ANYTHING that has a deadline, unless I’ve agreed to a freelance piece for that week. That freedom allows me to write as well as do other important things, like spend time with my fiancé. I’ve even managed to work in a weekly D&D campaign (social time), and a yoga class twice a week (exercise time), which are both great for self-care.
All that being said, not everyone has this luxury. Committing to a craft like this is hard, especially if you’re a student or a parent. I have some tips for people who are struggling to fit writing into their schedules:
- Be flexible about how much time you spend writing. I am terrible at this–I’m greedy about having my two hour time slot, or at least an hour and a half. This has led to me deciding not to write because it’s “too late” or I have to be somewhere “too soon,” even if “too soon” means I’m leaving an hour from now. Some people may only be able to write by squeezing an hour or 30 minutes in here and there. Every minute counts.
- Get creative with where you write. I prefer to write at home, so, again, I’m terrible at this. But in high school I was more flexible, maybe because back then I didn’t have my own nicely decorated desk with its own comfortable chair (I used to write on my bed with stacked pillows acting as a makeshift desk). If you have one, pack your laptop, tablet, or even phone in your bag and take it with you wherever you’re going. Maybe you can write during your lunch break at work (like I am now), or right before a doctor’s appointment, or in transit if you take public transportation. These scenarios aren’t always ideal, but if your schedule is hectic, it may be what you need.
- Choose to write over doing something else. Obviously you can’t skip work if you have a day job, or neglect homework, or ignore your child if no one else is around to care for them. But if you want to make this happen, sacrifices will have to be made, as long as those sacrifices aren’t detrimental to your health. Every hour I spend writing is an hour I could spend with my fiancé, or hanging out with friends, or reading, or playing a beloved video game. Sometimes it’s an hour I could spend sleeping (I know, that’s against the “detrimental to your health” rule–try to be better than me).
- Take breaks. Writing may require sacrifices, but you do need time to unwind. Even when I was keeping to my strictest schedule, I still gave myself Saturdays off. If you don’t make room for you-time, or for spending with the people in your life, your emotional health will suffer. No art is worth seriously destroying yourself over.
- Cultivate a loving relationship with your writing. Writing is a venture with no immediate payoff. Sometimes, there’s no payoff at all. I’ve been writing novels for ten years and am still working towards publication, so the rewards I reap from writing haven’t been monetary ones, at least so far. If you’re in the writing game for money or fame–even small-time fame–over everything else, don’t do it. Your love for writing needs to come before those motivations. It doesn’t mean you can’t want money or fame, but if you don’t love writing from the bottom of your heart, it will be very, very hard to keep going when you get discouraged.
My advice is limited to my own experiences and may not be applicable to everyone. Especially parents, since I’m not a parent yet and have no idea how authors who are parents ever get anything done. I’m pretty sure they’re superheroes. But I hope it helps someone out there who may feel a little helpless.
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