You know the saying, “Writers write every day”? Here’s the thing: this isn’t true. The vast majority of successful writers don’t actually write every day; maybe most days, but not every day. Sometimes they get sick, or overwhelmed with family stuff, or go on vacation, or get hit by a car, et cetera. Things come up, life happens.
The real saying should be: “Writers finish.” Successful authors finish projects, period. If you never finish, you’ve effectively done nothing. …Unless you’re writing just for fun, and then none of this advice matters anyway. BTW, good luck with that Cinderella/Batman mashup story told from celebrity shock jock Howard Stern’s point of view!
As I’ve said before, putting words on a page is the hardest part of writing. It’s always the reason an aspiring novelist fails to write a book. Usually it comes down to time. The most common excuse for genuinely wanting to write a novel, and then not writing a novel, is the lack of time for writing. They’re always too busy…so they say.
Luckily, the concept of finding time to write is not complicated. Maybe this post will be short for once! Writing is basically the same thing as exercising. It’s rewarding but also difficult, meaning you’ll either consciously or unconsciously be constantly fishing for excuses not to do it. “I don’t have time!” is the oldest excuse in the book. What’s even more insidious is the longer you go without doing it, the harder it is to start again. If you wait for inspiration to strike or to suddenly get the urge, you might start something but you’ll never finish anything.
Also like exercise, the best strategy for forcing yourself to actually write is to schedule a specific time in your day, and then stick to it like it’s a doctor’s appointment.
Bottom line: If you make it a priority, there is always time to write.
Here are 4 steps to finding time to write:
Step 1: First, figure out what time of the day is best for you. Consider your daily obligations as well as when you’re most productive. For instance: are you a morning person or maybe a night owl? Is there a key chunk of time between when you put the kids to bed and your own bedtime that might work? Can you eat and write at the same time during your lunchbreak?
Step 2: Next, decide how often and how long these time blocks will be. Depending on your preference, you can either spend a lot of time writing large chunks fewer times a week, or spend less time writing small chunks more often. Again, like exercise (…writing really is like exercise), it’s generally more effective to write for smaller amounts of time four or more times a week, mainly because the more time you spend not writing, the harder it is to start again. But everybody has their preference, so do whatever works for you.
Step 3: Once you’ve decided when you’re going to write and for how long, decide what you’re going to do with this block of time. Come up with a goal. Ideally, you want to sit down and write part of your story. If you’ve already started to write a story, a simple goal is to start where you left off and force yourself to concentrate on continuing the story until you reach the end of your time block—a time-based goal. You can even spend some of this time-based goal staring into space, but the point is you don’t give up and do something else. You remind yourself every second of that time that you’re supposed to be writing.
Another goal you might give yourself is to finish a chapter or scene, or reach a word count—a productivity-based goal.
It goes without saying (though I’ll say it here anyway) that you need to eliminate distractions somehow. This is called willpower, and only you know how much help you need with it. Find effective ways to prevent yourself from messing with your phone, or checking social media, or surfing the internet, or whatever (you know your vices) when you’re supposed to be writing.
Step 4: After you do this a few times and stick to it, adjust as necessary and fall into a rhythm that works for you. For instance, I have a modest goal to write 300 words a day. I’ve discovered over the years that my average writing speed is about 250 words an hour, no matter how hard I concentrate—yeah yeah kinda slow, but it is what it is—so I know it’ll take me a little more than an hour to reach my goal. 300 words a day is not much (it’s the equivalent of 1 to 2 pages of a hardcover novel), but if I do it almost every day, the result is ~2,000 words a week, ~8,000 words a month, and a full manuscript in about ten months. So, writing only 300 words a day still allows me to write, edit, and publish one book a year.
And if I can do it—with a husband, two young kids, a full-time job, and way too many hobbies…I also exercise a lot—then you can too!