What I Mean When I Say ‘I Don’t Have Time to Write That’

I’m not lazy, I’m not distracted. I’m overwhelmed.

An amazing writing opportunity just waltzed its way into my inbox. I fell in love with it right away.

And then I turned it down.

My heart hurts. I’m literally hot with frustration. I WANTED TO DO THE WRITING THING.

But I couldn’t. Because I do not have time for it.

And no, I don’t mean “I would rather watch Netflix all evening every evening than work on this project with you.”

I mean I ACTUALLY don’t possess the time required to say “yes.”

Admittedly, I am the furthest thing from a time management expert as you can be. And by that I mean I am happy to give suggestions to help writers manage their time better, but there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t still struggle to work on the most important projects first … or say no to things I really want to do, even though I know there isn’t room in my schedule for them.

But I’m getting better at it. Slowly. I’m trying to say yes and no to writing projects more strategically. Trying being the keyword here.

What I struggle most with is not immediately working on a new idea/project the second it smashes through my office window and lands on my keyboard.

There are so many ideas and possibilities and desires running through my head every moment I am awake that there is no way I am ever going to be able to give them all the care and attention they deserve.

At this moment I have two articles that need to be written before lunch tomorrow (It is 8:25 PM as I wrie this) and about six others I desperately want to write instead. Not because they are more important but because I have trained myself to hang on to every ounce of inspiration I can get — maybe a little too well.

When I get an idea, and I feel motivated to turn it into a story, I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to keep having to put things off due to the time constraints that come with being a human living in the real world — a full-time adult and, sadly, only a part-time writer.

But the reality is that I don’t have a choice. If my only responsibility throughout the day involved writing to my heart’s content until I couldn’t stand it anymore, maybe I wouldn’t have a list of story and project ideas over two pages long. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so anxious and overwhelmed thinking about all the things I haven’t written yet.

Maybe worrying about all the things I’m not going to have time to write wouldn’t keep me awake at night.

But of course that’s not the way life works for most of us. I may not have a partner and/or kids, I may not be in school and I may not have to deal with a daily commute to my day job. But it doesn’t matter WHAT fills your time, what matters is that you do your very best not to neglect things. What matters is that you eat well and exercise, and play with your puppy, and dance out your stress, and relax with a good book for a little while each day.

And sleep. You reckless, stubborn blob of ambition and adrenaline and caffeine, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET SOME SLEEP.

For me, it’s not the work that’s the hardest part about writing, or being a writer. It’s figuring out which work is most important, and saying no to things I would give ANYTHING to be able to weave together and share with the world. It’s knowing that no matter how hard I work, no matter how many hours of Netflix and YouTube and Hulu and reading and friend time I give up, there will still never be enough room for everything I want to squeeze into my life.

I’m not complaining about having a lot of things I want to work on, and opportunities and platforms through which to make these things happen. If only you knew just how grateful I am for what I have. I have earned everything I have been given because I have WORKED. So hard. For so long. I haven’t just dreamed, I’ve pursued. I’ve persisted.

And I work even harder every day to make this blog as helpful as I can make it, because I want so much for other writers to be able to find the opportunities and platforms they deserve. I know I can’t help everyone, the same way I can’t please everyone. But I do things like this because I know what it feels like to write and write and publish and publish and feel like you’re trapped in a vacuum where no one can hear or see you. And I don’t want anyone to feel alone in that place. Because you aren’t. At the very least, I’m here. Always reading your comments even though I’m having trouble keeping up answering them.

Never feel guilty or put yourself down because you don’t have time to write what you want to write. Yes, eventually, you’re going to have to make time. You’re going to have to figure it out. But just because you don’t have time right NOW doesn’t mean you never will. Like, I can’t wait to finish the first draft of my novel so I have more time to … start writing another novel? We’ll see. There is not time, at least in my world, to write two novels at the same time.

If you want, you can do a full audit on your weekly schedule to figure out if there is extra time and space available for writing that you didn’t see before. Sometimes in our brains we think we only watch an hour of Netflix and that’s not too bad right? But we actually watch four hours of Netflix and wow, think of how much more writing you could get done even if you cut that down to three.

We are all humans with the same basic needs, and sometimes, you technically have the time to write but not the energy required to do it well. And you know what? That’s okay. Again, you can do an audit just to see what’s taking up your energy and if there are any changes you can make to make more room in your life for Making Words Happen.

I just don’t recommend the “I’ll wait until this life stressor is over and then I’ll figure it out” method, especially for writers. Because there is always going to be stress, things are always going to be happening and if you keep waiting “for things to settle down” you’re never going to write that book, or start that blog, or write that screenplay you’ve had stuck in your head since college (sigh).

Time isn’t the enemy we think it is. It’s just a really cranky stubborn toddler who needs a stern talking to every once in a while. Okay, that was probably a bad example. We can’t control time, okay? No matter what happens to you, time will continue moving forward constantly and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

What you can control, however, is how you use and respond to it.

It’s writers who make the best of the time they have that succeed in the end.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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