Friday, February 8, 2013

Elbowing Your Way In: How You Can Make Time to Write

Not too long ago, I was chatting with Derek, a Twitter friend of mine (@wrytersblockDH) who is a busy, busy man with a busy, busy day-job. He's also a writer. As we talked about finding time to write, he said to me:

"It's the mental energy to write after a 12-hour door-to-door day I can't find."

It's hard to argue with a statement like that. After all, Derek is in the same shoes that I'm in, the same shoes that a lot of my other friends are in. We're working day-jobs, some of them hectic. We have lives filled with family, church, school, volunteer work... And after a full day of activities, we often feel tapped out. The energy to write or create anything artistic just doesn't seem to be there.

How do we find and renew our creative energy?

That's the question I'm parsing out on the blog for the next few months. And I think the answer is going to take several steps. It's not a single stop; it's a journey to finding that mental energy. But it begins with a decision to move toward what we want. A goal. In this case, I think the goal is to write more. Maybe to write enough to get good at it. Maybe to get good enough to be published. But setting the goal is step one.

Why? Because the bottom line is this: we have to choose to make time to write. It doesn't fall in our lap. We have to hunt the writing beast down and take it captive. And there must be tools we can use to make the hunt easier for ourselves. I'm on a search for those tools, and you're coming with me. Let's journey together to find ways to keep our creative selves vibrant and productive. We are worth it, don't you think?

The first tool we can use is a simple one, but it may be the most challenging to master. It's self-knowledge. You have to know what makes you tick, so you can fit your writing into your life. This may mean fitting it in. It may mean clearing out some of the obstacles that keep you from writing. It probably means both. But it's in knowing yourself that you can make the kinds of decisions that you can live with and stick with over the long haul.

The people I know elbow their writing into their life in many ways, depending on what works for them as individuals. Some have flat out told me: "I don't read much anymore." Or, "I don't watch TV anymore." It just takes too much time to do those things and write.

Personally, that doesn't work for me. That's not how I tick. I like reading too much to give it up. But I don't read as much as I used to. Many times, I skim books. And I read differently too. I read for technique more than I do for content. It's not often I can lose myself in a book anymore. Knowing that about myself helps me choose what I read and what I dump at the wayside. And that helps me have energy and time to write.

Fantasy author Peter V. Brett has shared publicly that he, too, had to struggle to make time to write, just like those of us who are writing but aren't published yet. Brett had a full-time job, a family, and friends, and he didn't have a lot of time to write. But he did spend one and a half to two hours commuting each day. So, he wrote during his commute.

He's obviously the kind of guy who can put in his earbuds and concentrate on writing in a crowded space, and he knew that about himself. That's why his decision worked for him. (Listen to him talk about it on the Speculate podcast here, starting around minute 10:00.) I don't have the same opportunity he had, because I drive to work. There are no trains here. But I can be at work early or stay late to write, and sometimes I do that, because I know that works for me.

Another friend of mine, Renee, has created a mobile writing style because as a grandmother helping out with the grandchildren, she loses writing time to driving the kids long distances to and from school. Rather than going home after dropping the kids at school, she stays nearby. Renee says: "I take my grandchildren to school, then set myself up at the park, typing in the car or at a table. (I now carry a table and chair int he care, so I can set up anywhere.)" Talk about being ready! She also uses a battery backup for her laptop, which helps her be mobile.

I don't have the free time in the middle of the day that Renee has. But I try to keep a notebook handy when I go out, so if I suddenly find myself with free time, I can write at the drop of a hat. Being mobile definitely works for me. In fact, it's often easier for me to write outside of the house, because when I'm at home, I get distracted. So I trick myself into productivity by going to a local bookstore or coffee shop with my laptop.

Obviously, the key here is to make the most of what you have to work with. This doesn't completely answer Derek's question about maintaining the energy to write. I'm moving toward that issue over the upcoming series of posts. But the first step to reclaiming the mental energy to write is knowing what works for you as a writer and, frankly, as a person. Not everyone likes mobile writing. Not everyone can concentrate during a commute. Not everyone can give up TV cold turkey. But there's something you can do, and you have to figure out what that is and do it. Only then can you make that first step toward freeing up your time, protecting your creative juices, and get some writing done.

Now, you share: What do you do to make time to write? How do you protect or revive your mental energy for creative activities? Have you ever given anything up to make room for your art? Share about it in the comments, and be sure to mention the tips you have, the things that work for you. And if you're doing the #writinghabit challenge, in which you write every day (even if it's just a word or two), tell me how that's going for you. I want to hear about it!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. One thing you have to know is your bio-rhythms. Even if I have the time to write between 3 and 5, I've learned to do something else becase my brain is just 3 steps back during those two hours. Like anything, you have to do your best to establish a routine and think of crossing the finish line.

    1. That's a good point about biorhythms. We need to build a routine based on what works best for us individually. Personally, I envy people who can get up at 5AM and write for an hour or two before heading to work, but I don't write well at that time of day. But I do well at night, so that's when I try to do the bulk of my writing.

    2. When I've written at 5am, it's usually because I've been up all night, or couldn't sleep and up since 2 or 3am. I am also more of a night writer, except when it came to NaNo, and I wasn't working a job. I could write any time day or night then.

    3. That's the "best" way to write, isn't it? To have no other job. But of course, if you're not independently wealthy, then it's also the "worst" way to write. It's important to pay the bills, I'll tell you that. As for time of day... Well, I might be able to write at 5am if I'd been up since 2 or 3, but I still don't think I'd do as well as if I rested fully first. Did you find that true for you too?

  2. I made a commitment to write 750 words every day for a month, using the website. It usually took me less than half an hour (I'm talking unedited, 'getting-words-on-page-not-worrying-about-content' writing) and I got up half an hour earlier to do it, just to establish a habit of writing every day no matter what. If I couldn't do it in the morning I made sure to get my 750 words done by writing later in the day. I have stopped using the site for the moment, and am writing slightly differently, but it was the kickstart I needed to establish an attitude of 'must write' every day, even when my brain didn't feel like it.

    1. I've heard many people mention Personally, I haven't tried it, but it seems like a lot of people like it. And I say, whatever works, do it! Here's to many happy days of consistent writing for you, Eve!


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