I am no stranger to the many obstacles writers with day jobs face on the regular.
At the moment, I am living with four other people and a one-year-old husky (who still acts like a puppy and I love her very much anyway). There are moments I have to lock myself in the bathroom just to get away from the distractions and the noise long enough to write a blog post or an article or a few paragraphs of the first draft of a book.
This is after I have spent all day doing work that does not allow much spare time for writing on the side. Add on to that the fact that I am mostly editing and writing headlines, which uses up a lot of brain power, and it’s easy to understand why there are nights I don’t even want to look at my work. I just want to go to bed.
It’s possible to make time for writing when you work all day and have a family and other things going on that need your attention.
It’s not easy. But it’s possible. I’m writing this post right now even though there’s a barking dog and an obnoxious movie and hammering going on in the background.
I’m making time. You can, too. Here are my suggestions for how.
Know your go-to excuses for not writing (and the things that distract you most). Let’s be honest: Long days at the office (or wherever you work) more often than not leave you distracted and unmotivated by the time you finally make it back home. It’s not your fault — it’s usually just the fact that you used your brain all day and it’s tired and some days you just want to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for six hours straight.
You’re here to figure out how to write instead of staring at the ceiling, though. First, let’s talk about the things that are most likely standing in your way.
Before you can practice good writing time management, you first have to be aware of the things that most often stand in your way both before you sit down and as you’re attempting to stare at your screen praying words will somehow magically appear.
Everyone has their hangups — for me it’s email. I absolutely HAVE TO check my email every time I pick up my phone for some reason, which is why I had the app removed from my phone for a while. If I let myself pick up my phone while I’m writing, I’m going to get stuck in an email hole. And that’s not good.
So I have mostly trained myself not to touch my phone while I am in the middle of working on something, such as a blog post. The first step is knowing what holds you back. The second is figuring out how to prevent that thing from holding you back in the future.
Some common excuses writers encounter before sitting down:
- Feeling “too tired” at the end of a long day/week (we’ve all been there)
- Worrying you won’t be able to do your best writing late at night/while sleepy
- Feeling too stressed or overwhelmed with work even when you’re not at work
- Feeling too stressed or overwhelmed with things that have nothing at all to do with work.
And these are just some of the things that hold you up even before you’re in front of your keyboard.
Some common distractions writers face when they’re trying to write:
- Social media (Twitter, YouTube)
- Email/Text messages
- That random thing you forgot to do earlier and absolutely have to do right this second apparently
- Rereading what you’ve previously written instead of doing actual writing
- Doing “research” when you should be writing.
How do you say “no” to excuses? That really depends on what’s causing you the most grief at any particular moment.
To prevent your most likely distractions, you might have to “schedule” your “nonsense time.” This is one of my favorite things to do now, and it has completely changed the way I work.
If you’re distracted by email or social media, for example, block out the 15 minutes after dinner and before your writing time and use it strictly to do whatever the heck you want — including checking your email, doing that random thing you keep forgetting about, and spending at least a few minutes just mindlessly scrolling. Sometimes — SOMETIMES — it’s okay to just give your brain a second to unravel.
The key is to separate your distracted time and your productive time so you are less likely to find yourself somehow back on Twitter after five minutes of not really getting any writing done (again).
Create a schedule you can stick to. You don’t have to write every day to succeed as a writer. For many people, what matters more than writing large quantities of words more frequently is making time to write consistently, such as sitting down to write around the same time every day or reserving specific blocks of time several days a week where they can focus specifically on writing.
Sometimes getting writing done outside of work is all about making the best possible use of your free time. And while you may not have hours upon hours of this before or after you leave for your day job, you might be surprised at the amount of space throughout your day.
This could mean spending 10 minutes writing while you are on break or waiting for a meeting to start. Or writing while sitting on the couch with your family watching TV in the evening. These are not ideal circumstances. Some people find it hard to concentrate during short bursts of writing or while other things are going on around them.
You have to find a way to make it work. If you can make time for a larger writing session — again, even if it’s not the most favorable option — try it for a few weeks and see if it works.
Is there a solid block of time after the rest of your hosehold has gone to sleep (or before they wake up) during which you could get some writing done? Do you have time during your lunch break? Do you take the train or subway, which could allow you some time for writing before or after work?
Once you find the space in your routine that’s most ideal for writing — even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes at a time, which is still better than nothing, or very early or very late at night — make it part of your schedule and stick to that schedule.
This might mean you have to treat your writing sessions like “appointments” that appear on your calendar. Sorry Dave, I can’t meet you for drinks every Friday night anymore, I need to spend that time writing. But how about once a month we keep it a tradition?
While you may not always be able to keep your appointments, this might help you keep a more consistent schedule. Routines don’t help every writer stay on track, but trying to establish one is definitely worth trying.
Set goals you can easily achieve in the time you have to write. Setting goals is an essential part of making sure you get some writing done during your “down time” from your day job. But how you go about setting those goals can mean the difference between succeeding and scratching your head wondering why you haven’t yet.
I’m all for encouraging writers to challenge themselves and constantly aim to improve and do better with each writing session they complete. But before you can challenge yourself and set “stretch goals” you should first make sure you know how much writing you are capable of accomplishing per session.
This often means starting with small writing goals that might seem “easy.” Just because something is easy doesn’t mean it’s not serving a purpose. Again — something is always better than nothing, especially when you are already struggling and you just need to start from the bottom up.
What an “easy” writing goal looks like really depends on what you are hoping to accomplish or what you are capable of accomplishing without too much added stress. I, for example, can very easily write 2,000 words in a day. I’m just used to it. However, you might struggle to write 100. You can get there, but barely.
So start with that. A goal doesn’t have to be big or have some kind of wow factor attached to it. Just set a goal that you think you can reach and try reaching it consistently. Achieving goals boosts our self-esteem and our confidence. The more you succeed, the more motivated you will likely be to keep coming back and making the time for writing — especially when you would rather do something else.
When something doesn’t work — or stops working — figure out why. I’ve been that writer crying on her keyboard at 10 PM when writing goals haven’t been met for the fourth day in a row wondering why work hasn’t been getting done.
Don’t be that person. If you’re suddenly struggling to make writing happen, take a step back and identify your roadblocks. Are you under a lot of stress (do you need to trim down your goals for the time being)? Are you more exhausted than usual (do you need to write a little less this week to make more time for sleep)? Do you need to try writing in the morning instead of at night, or the other way around?
One of the most frustrating things about routines is that they change. They have to. Sometimes even the schedules and routines and goals we establish for ourselves simply stop working — often because they have become mundane enough that they no longer motivate us do keep doing the same kind of work.
So don’t be afraid to change things up when you start to notice they aren’t having the same positive influence over your productivity or motivation as they used to. The idea of switching the way you do things when you’re already used to them might not seem like the solution you’re after, but you might be surprised how effective a new schedule or pre-writing routine can change your whole writing life for the better.
Though I would love to go more in-depth on each of these topics, the barking and loud movie and hammering are really getting to me. So I’ll leave this discussion here for now. But hey, at least I wrote something today, right?
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.