No Time? Write Anyway.
Find the time to write, even when time is scarce.
If you are an adult human, chances are good that you are busy.
The fact for most of us is that in our technologically-enhanced, comparison-fraught, accomplishment-driven culture, we simply do not have enough time. What time we DO have we use like currency, doling it out to things we deem deserving, snatching it out of the grasp of things we don’t.
When we look at time through the lens of scarcity — i.e. there isn’t enough to go around — we quickly prioritize the things that we think are essential. Work. Caring for family members. Grocery shopping.
What gets left behind? Usually something connected to our own self-care. Something we want but don’t “need.” Something indulgent. Self-care. Exercise. Sleep.
But if we can find a way to look at time through a lens of plenty, we can open our minds to new ways of structuring our days so that we can do the creative work that feeds our souls.
I want to offer you both some thought work and small action steps that you can put into practice right away. These are flexible tools that you can implement within the shape of your own life, no matter what your world features, no matter who and what you are responsible for.
You are busy. I know. So am I. And I really, really get it.
It is only partly about finding the time. It is also about prioritizing the work, about making decisions and following through. It is about logistical planning and internal determination. It is about honoring the creative side of you, the storyteller in you, the artist in you.
Adjust Your Mindset
I can’t. It won’t work. There’s no way.
How many of us approach time with a fixed mindset? The schedule is what it is. We have been handed our circumstances. We’ve tried everything to change, but it won’t work. We’re so busy.
All of us do this. In the face of a challenge, we freeze, or we run away, or we get our defenses ready to fight. This is part of being a human being, a feature of our brains left over from the days of being chased by saber tooth tigers.
I want to write, but I can’t. There isn’t enough time.
It is a daily practice to catch negative thoughts as they arrive and release them without getting swept up into despair. The truth is this: there are people busier than us who still manage to finish creative projects and put them into the world. Do they have more time than we do? No. Do they have a mindset that it is possible? Yes.
A large part of the work I do with writers centers around the process of noticing their thoughts (I am a terrible writer! No one will want to read this! Who do I think I am?) and replacing them with neutral, factual statements (I am writing. I will read this. I am myself.) These neutral thoughts are rehearsed each time the negative thoughts bubble up — which they always do.
Try this: Write down all of the thoughts you have about time, both in general and as it applies to writing. Ask yourself, is this factually true? If not, it might be a thought for which to practice a replacement.
(Also important in this work? Breathing. No judgement. Self care.)
Identify Your True Priorities
The word priorities calls to mind a to-do list, ordered by importance top to bottom. In reality, priorities are somewhat fluid; that they change by day, by season, by stage of life.
It is a gift of the human soul that — if we listen — we know when our priorities and daily practices are out of alignment. This is why we wish so hard that we could find time to write, and why we feel disappointed when we don’t. We know that, deep down, writing is a higher priority than, say, watching Schitt’s Creek for the third time. (Not that anyone I know does that. *ahem*)
Try this: write a list of all of your priorities within, say, a typical week. Then rank order them. Where does writing land? More importantly, what other things land below it on the list? Might you choose writing over one of those lower priorities this week?
Analyze Your Typical Schedule
This is where the rubber meets the road. Consider your typical weekly schedule. Compare it to your list of priorities. Are you choosing your top priorities, or are you spending time on things you could delegate or — gasp — leave undone? Instead of trying to squeeze writing into little pockets of time here and there, can you simply replace something you habitually do with 30, 45, even 60 minutes of writing?
When I did this exercise, I realized that even though I felt really busy, there were actually large stretches of time where I wasn’t really doing anything of high priority. My lunch break didn’t need to be an hour long when it only takes me ten minutes to eat. Every evening didn’t need to be consumed by Candy Crush and Netflix.
Try this: take a bird’s-eye view of your schedule. Write out a typical week in hour-long segments. Then highlight the activities that are lower priorities than writing (per the list you made above). The highlighted space indicates pockets of time when you might write.
Schedule Your Writing
I don’t subscribe to the idea that writers should write every day. We all have different rhythms, different lives, different priorities. Do what works best for you. That said, if a writing session isn’t on my schedule, I’m far more likely to procrastinate or skip it all together than if it’s listed there next to my other appointments and responsibilities.
Try this: for one week, actually add writing sessions onto your calendar. It doesn’t matter if they are ten minutes or five hours long. Put them in the same place that you put appointments with the dentist or coffee dates with friends. Then, for one week, practice showing up for those appointments with yourself and your story. See how it feels.
The amount of time you are able to dedicate to your writing doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, if writing is a priority for you, you deserve to find, prioritize, and honor the time to write. You deserve it, and so do your stories.
Stephanie Dethlefs is a writer and book coach. She specializes in coaching writers of contemporary fiction for middle grade, young adult and adult audiences. Join her free online course today! From Stuck to Story: 4 Steps to a Solid First Draft of Your Book.