How to find time to write: advice from the experts

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As a writer (or wannabe writer) you’re often juggling many other priorities and it’s easy for writing to become the last item on your to-do list. So how do you find the time to write?

The short answer is: you make time. There is no way to wave a magic wand and hope that more than 24 hours will somehow appear in your day. If you want time to write, you are the only person who can make this happen.

Too many writers think: “I’ll write that when I have more time” or “I’ll wait till I retire or the kids grow up”. The reality is that’s an excuse. If you really want to succeed as a writer then you need to … write! And the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll succeed. Because guess what? It takes time to:

  • master your craft
  • nurture connections with other writers and people who can help you
  • find your voice
  • carve out a real career as a writer.

However, some people find it a struggle to find enough of this magic thing called time.

1. There will never be a perfect time to write your novel

Allison Tait is author of the upcoming series The Mapmaker Chronicles and a presenter at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She provides 6 reasons on why you should start writing your novel now.

There will never be a perfect time. “There is only now. Now is as good a time as any, right?” Allison says. “Writing is not convenient. As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, writing is not an inclusive task. It requires a certain amount of selfish time and space, which is not always easy for loved ones and others who live with writers to take on board. Having said that, a person can do a lot of the hard yards of writing – the thinking – whilst physically present in day to day life.

“I do a lot of my best plotting and planning whilst weeding, showering, vacuuming, washing up, and doing the other mindless tasks required to keep a family home running. I do my actual writing at night, in the deep silence that only comes when others are asleep. It’s not always easy, but I take what I can get. You can do that, too.”

2. Book your writing time into your diary

Author Natasha Lester is teaches Creative Writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre. She wrote a post on how to fit writing in your life.

She has an extremely practical approach to carve out time to write. Natasha says that, every month, she pulls out a monthly planner, blocks out any time that she is unavailable to write (such as when she is attending an event) and then fills in her available time with prioritised jobs.

First, comes the task of writing down all the things she needs to do. Second, Natasha works her way through her list of jobs, assigning them to available times, day and night. “I start with the most important things first. If I have an author talk booked in, then I have to prepare a speech, or at least look over the speeches I’ve given before and choose one to suit the occasion. If someone’s paying me money to talk to them that month and it’s all booked in, then that’s a priority for me and I start allocating tasks on that basis.

“Writing books is obviously a priority for me too, so that gets put in next, along with tasks like writing this blog and newsletter etc. Eventually I get to a point where all the available time slots are full. There are always things in my To Do list that don’t make it onto the calendar for this month. I cross out all the things that have made it on and leave the ones that haven’t. Next month, I’ll transfer them straight into the To Do column and it might be their turn then.”

3. Use every pocket of time at your disposal

Freelance journalist Sue White says that making time to write is like making time for exercise. She has posted here about 5 ways to make time for writing. So many people feel that they need to be sitting at the right desk, or in the right environment (ideally by the seaside in a dreamy house!) before they can be inspired to write. But Sue is far more pragmatic than that.

She suggests that you can carve out time to write while you’re waiting for the bus, you can use  your lunch hour or wake up at a sparrow’s fart to get some writing time early in the morning. In other words, there are pockets of time sitting under your nose. You just need to make a point to use them!

4. Plan your writing blocks around your life

Author Claire Scobie teaches Creative Writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre. In this post, she explores the quandary of how to find time to write.

Claire echoes Sue White’s idea that you can snatch brief periods of time interspersed throughout the day in order to write. She refers to author Mardi McConnochie speaking at the Sydney Writers’ Festival: “I’m paraphrasing here, but she said that once she’d conceptualised and planned out her latest novel (and she’s a self-described ‘great planner), she then wrote it one day a week, with a sprint of several weeks at the end to finish it, and it took four years.

“I’ve heard another writer say that he cut his working week down to four days and took every Wednesday off to write. He preferred taking a day off mid-week, so his colleagues didn’t think he was just taking a long weekend. Another writer friend carves out blocks of time (2 or 3 hours) to write her book in cafes and juggles that with a part-time legal job.

“Of course, if you’re an early riser you can do what Bryce Courtenay did, and get up at 5am and write for three hours before going to work. Or if you burn the midnight candle, like Téa Obreht, whose novel The Tiger’s Wife was named on the New Yorker’s list of Top 20 Writers under 40, you can write all night. During one chilly New York spring, 25-year-old Obreht would start at 9 pm and write til 6 am.

“These days it is such a luxury to be able to write full time. But it’s heartening to know that you can do it in between everything else.”

Ultimately, finding time to write is only going to happen if you are dedicated to becoming a writer. And making the excuse that there aren’t enough hours in a day is simply that – an excuse. Remember that 10 years from now, you’ll only be wishing that you started that novel 10 years earlier.

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