We’re not here to talk specifically about what’s going on in the world right now. We’re all aware. Just as much as I’m aware that a lot of you coming to this blog are looking for things to read that aren’t about the state of things. I not only respect that — I also wholeheartedly agree with it.
But it would be irresponsible to not take a few minutes to talk about time. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves with a lot more “free time” than we anticipated. This can be a good thing — many of us are doing our best to make the most of it, if and when we can. It can also be a struggle, though.
So many people are talking about how they suddenly have more time to write than they ever have before. Yay! It’s exciting, or it can be. But let’s at least acknowledge the fact that just because you might find yourself with more time at the moment doesn’t mean writing is magically going to become easier.
What can you do to cope with that? I have some ideas.
We’re almost always tempted to fill more time with more distractions. To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with distractions. We all need space in our days to separate ourselves from the real world, even if it’s just for a little while. The problem is that sometimes we get so distracted by our distractions that we never actually get around to actually doing the work we set out to do.
We don’t always want to structure our free time — that’s why it’s called ‘free’ time. Not all of us have the luxury of hours upon hours of “time to ourselves.” If you’re suddenly faced with more time than you know what to do with, you’re going to want to take advantage of that. Of course you are!
But one of the things that makes writing so difficult is that it’s often presented as a hobby when even “fun” writing still requires a lot of hard work. Giving up your personal time to do work probably sounds like the absolute last thing you want to do right now. If you want to write more, though, you pretty much don’t have any other choice.
Setting and sticking to a writing routine can completely change your life. You don’t want to use your free time to think, at least not all of it — that’s understandable. You also don’t want to feel like you’re “scheduling” your free time because that makes it feel less free. I get you. I’m with you.
But if you are determined to use your free time to write — at least a little bit of it, anyway — you’re going to need to establish some structure. I know that’s not what you want to hear. Think really hard about all the times you tell yourself you’re going to sit down and write, but don’t. What’s usually stopping you?
More often than not — whether you want to admit it or not — the only thing stopping you is the fact that you don’t have a plan. You don’t know when or where or how you’re going to write when you wake up in the morning, you just know you want it to happen. Maybe that’s just not enough. Maybe you need to take things one step further.
Here’s what I generally recommend if you have space in your day to fit writing in:
- Know your peak productivity windows. I know from years of trial and error that I am most productive between the hours of 7AM and 11:AM and 2PM-6PM. Ask me to write at any point outside of those two windows and I might still be able to do it if I have to, but I’ll kick and scream the whole time. If you know you’re not going to get any writing done before noon, don’t try to get any writing done before noon. Schedule your writing time in the afternoon, when you know you’re most likely to actually sit down and do it.
- Treat writing like a scheduled appointment. Let’s say you want to set a goal to write for 30 minutes during one of your peak productivity windows. That’s doable, right? Your next step is to choose a time and place like you would if you were meeting a friend for lunch, and put it down in your calendar or planner. It doesn’t have to be every day — you get to choose. The point is that sometimes you need to schedule your writing time. It doesn’t have to take up all your free time, just a small portion of it to start.
- Plan what you’re going to write/what you’re going to work on. One of a writer’s worst nightmares is sitting down fully prepared to write … but having no idea what they’re going to write about. What you don’t want to do is waste precious writing time trying to decide which project you want to work on. Have that in place before you sit down, knowing that if you do want to change your mind and work on something else, you still have the freedom to do that.
- Use a reward system that works for you. In order to stick to a writing routine, you have to train your brain to recognize that writing = good. Even when writing becomes the thing you really don’t want to do today, you’ll be much more likely to do it anyway if your brain is trained to know that you will feel AMAZING after you accomplish the one thing you said you didn’t want to do. Rewards differ from person to person, but when you finish a scheduled writing session, you should always grant yourself that reward.
Writing is worthwhile, but challenging. We all secretly wish we had more time for it, but being granted more time won’t automatically guarantee writing success. Make the most of your time — when you’re working and when you aren’t — and remember: You write because it’s important to you. It counts. It’s always worth it.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.