Finding Time to Write

We are all so busy these days.  I know many people who rush from appointment to appointment, engagement to engagement, without, it seems, a clear sense of just what their priorities are, or what they would most like to be doing.  I’m sometimes tempted to ask them: If you could do only one of the things on your schedule today, which would you choose?

I’ve been thinking about this because I just taught a workshop called, ”Jumpstarting Your Writing,” and as usual, most of the participants described days that were full of work, workouts, volunteer activities and social engagements.  They want to write, they said, but it’s so difficult to find time.

And what they say is true. When you’re as busy as our culture currently advises, it’s nearly impossible to add one more thing to your life. You’re already stretching every minute to bursting, and even if you try carving out time to write, once you sit down, you’ll be winded from dashing to your desk or computer after your last activity, and so tense about being late for your next, you’ll find it difficult to sit still.

Faced with this time deficit, you have two options.  The first, which I highly recommend, is to start off setting aside a very, very small amount of time to write.  Say 15 minutes at the most.  In my experience, one quarter of an hour is a small enough slot, that for most people, it “feels” doable.  If the time allotment doesn’t feel too taxing, we’re more inclined to start.  And once we start, it’s that much easier to continue.

If you decide to take this route, you’ll be surprised at just how much you can write in 15 minutes a day.  In the first place, writing day after day eliminates much of the anxiety and punitive self-talk many writers engage in.  The initial few days, you might be aware of the critics trying to force themselves into your consciousness.  But you’ll quickly see that with regular writing, the critics have much more difficulty getting a toehold.

As well, you’ll find that without realizing  it, even after you’ve stopped writing for the day, you’ve been thinking about your writing somewhere deep inside.  And when you take it up again the next day, you’ll find words landing on the page more quickly than they once did.

The other option is more dramatic, but I can attest from personal experience that it works: give something up.

When I became a writer for real, which meant showing up at the page at least five times a week, I sacrificed one of my most pleasurable activities: going out to lunch with friends.  And believe me, it was painful. And frightening.  Since I was teaching at the time, I spent a great deal of my day sitting alone in my office, preparing my classes.  Lunch was my time to see friends and reconnect with the outside world.

But I really wanted to establish a writing practice, and I knew that I didn’t have time both to write and eat lunch with friends.  So I told myself that I’d try keeping my lunchtime calendar clear and substitute writing for social luncheons, for a month, and to see how that felt.

Painful as it was not to see my friends, I discovered that creating a writing practice was quite rewarding.  And surprisingly, I didn’t feel lonely.  In fact, I felt less lonely than ever before.  When I asked myself how this could be, I quickly realized that by honoring my commitment to writing, I was honoring my commitment to myself.  Far from being left alone when I wrote, I now found myself each day for several hours in the excellent company of one Jane Anne Staw, and she was enough.


Dried Flower, Inspiration Point

8 thoughts on “Finding Time to Write”

  • Thank you, Jane. I needed this post today. I spent the entire day at my son’s baseball tournament, yet am still beating myself up for not writing. I make time for everyone and everything else except my writing. But my inner critic has been yelling at me so loudly when I sit down to write, it’s no wonder that I avoid it. However, I’m willing to try 15 minutes a day, in the spirit of experimentation, just to see what happens. Thanks again.

          • Funny should should check in today. I just received the email to your new blog post. My writing is going a tiny better than before, but not as well as I’d like, mostly because I’ve been prioritizing everyone else’s needs (my clients, my family, my friends) over my own. Small wonder that I feel drained. I’ve also had some publishing-related discouragements, and that hasn’t helped. Thank you for checking in. I think frequently about your book and your suggestions, and every day I put “Write 15 minutes” (sometimes “Write 15 f*cking minutes”) on my to-do list. Some days I get to check it off, but most days I don’t. P.S. I wish these theme would alert me when you reply! 🙂

          • Cynthia,

            I would suggest that you stop putting writing on your to-do list. Actually, I’m trying to do away with that kind of list in general. Working from such a list means that you never allow yourself to sink into anything you do, and it changes the quality of your days. Try scheduling writing into your day. Actually write it down as an appointment with yourself. That strategy seems to work better.

            Good luck!

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