Finding the time to write

This is a perennial problem for most writers, and one I wish I had a better answer to.

Most of the time, the answer is:  I don’t.

Not what you were expecting? Sorry.

When I took up writing again about five years ago after a long raising-my-family-and-returning-to-work gap, it wasn’t too hard for me to snatch the odd hour here and there. And at that time, writing was all I was doing in that odd hour. Well, that and a little internet research on technique, agents, publishers – but in the main, my aim was simply to watch my manuscript grow.

Oh, how I wish that was still the case.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about my naivety when I got my first contract. I knew I would have to create a website, start blogging, get going on social media, but I really had no idea how much promo and marketing I would have to do.

It’s not that I mind doing all that – I quite enjoy some aspects of it. But with a day job and teenagers and a house to run and elderly parents to run around after, the creativity – the actual writing of anything – is, sadly, the one thing that has been squeezed out.

A few months ago, I realised something had to give, so I reduced my hours at work a little, promising myself I would use those couple of hours a day purely for writing.

CleoI’m sure you can guess that isn’t what happened. Now, I’m a little more leisurely over my morning cup of tea, then the cat comes and plonks herself on my lap and demands a massage, delaying breakfast. When I finally switch on the computer, I think, “I’d better check my e-mails/Facebook/Twitter first, in case there’s anything important.” By the time I’ve caught up, there isn’t enough time to get going on a stretch of proper writing before I go to work, so I have a cup of coffee while I think about it and then … Oops, time to go.

Hot teaAnd of course when I come home from work, I’m tired and need a cup of tea, then there’s dinner to cook. I might have a glass of wine with that, and then I’m even more tired. And if I do finally get going on some writing in the late evening, my mind is still spinning when I go to bed, so I can’t sleep, so the next day I’m tired …

You get the picture.

paper scrap PMThe problem is, I’m not one of those writers who can make good, creative use of the odd snatched ten minutes here or half an hour there. If I’m going to write, I need a reasonable stretch at it, something that just doesn’t seem to be available during the week. All I can hope for is a good run at it one morning at the weekend, with a really decent coffee zinging through my bloodstream!

By now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself – Since I’m clearly such a failure at managing my time, can I offer some practical tips on finding the time to write?

Indeed I can. Three, actually.

1)  Don’t clean. Honestly, my standards have gone dramatically downhill since I started taking this writing lark seriously. I just don’t have the time to keep up to it. Yes, it is depressing if I dare to look around me … but frankly, the hubby and kids don’t seem to notice or care, so who was I doing it for, anyway?

2)  Turn off the TV. You probably won’t miss it. I rarely watch much these days. This wasn’t a deliberate decision on my part, more a gradual thing. I would be watching something and itching to get on with more pressing matters. Or I would start a new series, and unless it really gripped me in the first episode, I would be thinking, “Can I really devote another however-many hours to this, when I have so much to do?” Now, I have the attention span of a gnat. I will sit through the occasional movie or something we can watch as a family, but that’s about it.

3)  Think carefully about your social media time. This is something I’m still getting to grips with, but lately I have become more selective in what I do. I blog and appear as a guest on others’ blogs, I promo and tweet and go on Facebook. It’s not all about marketing my books – I’ve made some good friends online and enjoy interacting with them, so I view that as a social element to my day, much the same as having a coffee with a local friend. But social media can be a very good tool for procrastination, and that ten minutes you allow yourself can soon turn into an hour or two if you read every post and click on every link. I’m still a bit rubbish at limiting myself, but I am at least making the effort to be more conscious about what I do.

And now, enough blogging. I need to do some writing. Oh, is that the time? Better feed the cat, then I ought to phone my parents, then I need to cook dinner …

If you’re a writer, how do you make time for it? I’d love to know!

30 thoughts on “Finding the time to write

  1. Marie Laval says:

    Hello Helen. I agree with all your tips. My house is a mess, I only watch the odd half an hour of television and I try not to get too involved in social media, although I do find that very difficult. Good luck with your writing!

  2. April Munday says:

    I don’t do much housework either, but I can and do write in the odd ten minutes. I write while I eat and while I cook, but I do write longhand and can’t be distracted by the internet. I do it because I think better with a pen than with a keyboard, but other benefits are becoming clear.

  3. M.A. Foxworthy says:

    Reblogged this on M.A.Foxworthy and commented:
    I want to thank Helen for writing this. I have been really struggling to get my second book finished because of a lack of time; her post let me see that even someone who has more books than I has the same hardships.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Hello Michelle, so glad if it made you feel you’re not alone with lack of time. 🙂 I don’t have young kids to run around after like you do, though – I don’t know how you find any peace & quiet!

  4. DenaRogers says:

    I love this post, Helen and can relate in so many ways. As for your tips #1 and #2 are right on par. I used to be a little on the obsessive side of house cleaning, but not anymore and I actually think my family quite enjoys being able to sit and relax without the constant nagging from mom to pick up this or clean your room, etc. I also find my husband is more apt to pitch in and take it upon himself to do stuff on his own if I’m not constantly doing everything. As for TV, except for college basketball, I haven’t watched TV in years. Years! I have no clue what shows are currently on and as you said, I don’t miss it one bit. #3 is a little harder to step away from because like you, I feel I need to “check” in before I get started and before I know hours have passed. I’m learning to manage that better, though. So, happy to hear I’m not the only one struggling with these issues. Thanks so much!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Dena. It’s interesting to know we have so much in common with the time issue! Since I am currently enjoying reading your book, I wish you many peaceful hours to get more writing done 🙂

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Hi Jane, Thanks for stopping by. Small snatches of time are just so hard to keep the thought processes on track, I find, but it’s good that you use them well … otherwise you might never get anything written!

  5. woodbeez48 says:

    I find the same problem. I have 2 days off a week now but I don’t always use the time wisely. Then again, I find that little things can take up so much time! I think there is just so much to do and all you can do is to try and find a balance of some kind that works for you. When I find out what that is, I’ll let you know 😉 On second thoughts, I’ll write a book about it! Good luck, Helen.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for visiting, Julie. I agree, those little things – 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there – just seem to suck all the time away! I shall wait for yout find and impart the secret of success 🙂

  6. jeff7salter says:

    I have cycles — usually when I’m on a roll with a first draft — when I’m able to focus sufficiently to knock out 2500-3000 wds per day. I have some sort of hyper-drive in a first draft (that has captured my attention) which compels me to to “compete” with my highest daily word count and try to keep my AVERAGE daily word count around 3k.
    But, alas, when I’m through with those first drafts (11 novels, 4 novellas, and one story so far), I tend to get distracted by email, FB, blogs, “book parties” of colleagues, etc. And of course networking and promotion.
    The one area I’ve been rather successful in has been TV. I used to be a TV addict. When I still worked full time, I’d get home after work, take a short nap, and then watch 4-5 hrs of TV PER EVENING.
    When I retired and moved here (KY), I made two immediate momentous decisions about my schedule: (1) I would NOT turn on the TV, because I knew I’d never get back up… and (2) unless I was physically ill, I would go to the ‘Y’ three times a week to exercise.
    It’s been nearly 9 years and I’ve kept those two “promises” to myself.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Those two promises were great ones to make, Jeff, and I’m sure they’ve contributed hugely to your enjoyment of your ‘retirement’ – and, of course, to your prolific output! It’s so easy to just throw yourself in front of the TV after a day at work, but nowadays I only tend to do that if I’m not feeling well.
      And I know what you mean about a first draft – if you’re really into getting teh story out, it can spur you on. But … 3k per day? Just – WOW!

      • jeff7salter says:

        I don’t always reach 3K per day in a first draft, but I think it’s safe to say that I can average that unless circumstances toss in a day (or days) when I can’t write at all. For example, when my son and his family visit.
        I tend to be very jealous of my writing time, especially during these first draft marathons.

      • jeff7salter says:

        BTW, I should clarify a couple of things: I don’t cook much, don’t clean much, and our kids are grown. Many of my colleagues spend 80 hrs a week just on those things.
        I’m drawing a pension from the library job (that I retired from in 2006), so I’m not working for anybody else.
        And I should say that I see a good bit of TV while I’m exercising at the ‘Y’… and watch probably 1-2 hours of TV at home per WEEK with my wife.

      • Helen Pollard says:

        Don’t cook much, don’t clean much … hmmm, I like the sound of that! Sounds like you have the TV allowance just about right. I must admit, I don’t get much exercise at the moment – another thing to fit in! But I DO try to have a short walk every day before I go into work.

  7. Lorna says:

    Yes, can relate to this too – my only way to getting things done is having really tight deadlines. I have one at the moment and it’s not working as well as I’d like in terms of my writing getting done but I’m getting there. After all, I have 3 more months till the book launch (self publishing) – hmmmm!
    yes, giving up on cleaning is a good idea and the only night I really watch TV is a Sunday night.

  8. Karen (K.S.) Jones says:

    Terrific post, Helen! And I have all the same problems that you seem to have … and I’m working on the same three solutions that you mentioned! It took a few years for me to realize any of it though. My biggest challenge these days is still social media — trying to keep up with the rest of world when, in reality, I probably should focus on me and what I am doing. I just need to be better today than I was yesterday, and at some point I will get ahead!

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks, Karen. Interesting that those three particular solutions seem to resonate with everyone. I agree that social media is the hardest … you don’t want to appear unsociable, do you? And I find that if I give it a miss for a day or so, I only seem to have a big chunk to catch up on when I switch back on! One day I’ll find a balanace …

  9. Kathy says:

    Thank you for a great post. I thoroughly relate and I so enjoyed reading all the comments too. Yes, the hardest is finding the time. I do sometimes get a bit envious of my single writing friends who do long sprints on the weekends while I’m catching up on shopping, laundry, cooking soup for lunches, and family time. I do love spending time with my family so my envy makes no sense. Even though I often have long periods of time to write during the week while I homeschool my kids, I still get so distracted by social media. I think it’s my biggest time suck. But I find if I ignore it, I miss important news from publishers or self-publishing groups I belong to. It’s a real struggle. So yes, I also miss those carefree days before having to promote my books when my fingers used to fly across the page. But I’m so grateful for where I am today and where I’m heading in the future no matter how challenging it is.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for visiting, Kathy. You’re right – social media is a double-edged sword. It both enables us and stymies us! But I wouldn’t have met all you lovely people without it 🙂

  10. Jacqueline Seewald says:

    I like your suggestions, Helen. I took an early retirement so that I could devote myself to writing fulltime. However, social media does eat into the time. I try to limit it. But we do need to promote and publicize our work as well. My suggestion for making more time: set aside an hour when you get up in the morning before going to work. That’s a good time for a sharp mind.

    • Helen Pollard says:

      Thanks for visiting, Jacqueline. I agree mornings would be best for me brain-wise. Maybe I need to do the writing BEFORE I allow myself to get embroiled in anything else!

  11. jeff7salter says:

    the link to this post just popped up again and I re-read the whole thing before I realized I had previously commented.
    Reading it just now, with a few minor changes (like the full-time job and the wine) it could be words out of my own mouth…..

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