Writing: How Do You Find the Time?

Like many writers, I dream of the day when I might be able to quit my day job and write full time. Unfortunately for me, that day has not yet come. Fortunately for me, my day job is fairly rewarding and mentally stimulating. Most of the time, I even enjoy it. That said, my job is mentally and emotionally draining, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort to still pull out my computer, night after night, and work on fiction writing.
What do I do? I’m a teacher, a high school English teacher to be exact. And yes, we teachers are have it rough — we generally work long hours, are under immense pressure to produce standardized test result, and are notoriously underpaid. In my case, on top of my teaching duties, I’m also our districts testing coordinator and technology manager. I have a pretty full plate, and as a result, what free time I have is often split between caring for my two kids, writing, and then taking the time to relax and wind down that we all need. Therefore, in order for me to be productive a writer, I’ve had to develop some habits when it comes to writing and scheduling. Some of this might run contrary to the usual received wisdom, but hear me out. I’ve managed to finish a first draft in roughly seven months and have begun the revision process, all while juggling a demanding job and a young family. If I can do it, anyone can.
It might surprise some readers to learn that I don’t adhere to the standard “you must write every day” advice. I do, however, set aside time every night for writing, after the kids are asleep. Every night, from about 9:30-12:00, I bring out my laptop and I attempt to work on my manuscript. Some nights, I might not manage more than a couple hundred words. Some nights, I might not manage any. If the mood strikes me, however, I might write several thousand. What I do not do is give myself pressure, particularly on weeknights, that I must write a certain number of words. I have found that focusing excessively on word count, while it can work for some people, can be demoralizing for those of us who sometimes just do not have the mental energy to write 1000 words a day. Better to write no words on a day when you’re just not feeling it, and one thousand quality words on a day that you are. And when you are feeling it, you’re much more likely to meet and even exceed your goals, more than making up for the days you had to take a writing break. However, the key to this more relaxed approach is still making sure to carve out the time every night, pulling out your computer, and trying to write. If you end up zoning out in front of AuthorTube videos, then you’re still working on your craft. In fact, time spent planning, or brainstorming with a critique partner, or researching travel routes or fighting styles, is all productive time spent.
Somewhat connected to the above point, at some point in the process of writing my manuscript, I stopped tracking my word count altogether, except to occasionally look at it and make sure it wasn’t getting too long. Now, I do not stress about having a certain number of words, instead, I give myself different goals. For instance, I wanted to start my revision process before summer vacation ended, and now, my goal is to have my revision process done by December. Sometimes I set goals in terms of chapters — I want to get this chapter at least halfway finished by the end of the week, or I want to revise this chapter over the weekend. Giving myself more flexible goals, instead of setting a hard and fast word count mark that I had to hit daily or weekly resulted in less stress overall. I have enough stress in my day job, and writing, something that is supposed to be fun, shouldn’t cause more of it. Furthermore, for my overall progress, these sorts of goals are more meaningful. 1000 words might be usable, or not, but a chapter represents definite progress.
Another strategy I utilize is to make absolutely certain that I use my true downtime wisely. That means weekends and holidays are quality writing time, and I would plan ahead of time to set aside at the very least a good five or six hours a day on weekends or holidays. Figure out whether you’re a morning person or a night owl and get into the habit of either waking early or staying up extra late in order to give yourself extra writing time. For me, late nights are especially productive because my kids are asleep, the house is quiet, and I can focus my mind. My critique partner, Bruce, prefers the morning. To be a productive writer with a day job, however, you may have to get used to the idea of keeping rather odd hours on the days when you’re not working. If you have kids, talk to your partner about letting you sleep in on those Saturday and Sunday mornings so that you can stay up a bit later writing. My husband does this without complaint because he’s supportive of my writing goals and is willing to sacrifice a bit to help me be successful (well, and now, our kids are old enough luckily to fend for themselves weekend mornings — I thought the day would never come, but it did!). The point is, when you have time, grab ahold of it. For us teachers, summers are golden. I probably got a good half of my manuscript finished during the summer because I knew, going into the vacation, that this was my best chance to knock out a huge chunk for the next year. If you don’t have summer vacation, but have vacation time, think about taking a writing vacation. Use that paid time off to get productive writing done for a whole week or two.
I’m a busy person. Being a full time writer sounds like a dream to me, but right now it is just not financially feasible, and it may never be. That’s okay though. Even with my day job I manage to be a very productive writer by using my time wisely and setting useful goals, and building writing time into my downtime, whether I use it or not. No one should be too busy to write, and if you find yourself thinking so, instead think about how you might change your process to facilitate your writing goals.

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