Making time for writing is a bit like making time for exercise. No matter how flexible your schedule, there never seems to be enough time to do it. But just like we all need to stretch out our hamstrings fairly regularly, writers need to sit down at the keyboard and stretch the writing muscle, often. It’s radical but true: if you plan on making it as a writer, you actually need to clear the decks and find the time to write!
For me, today is a perfect example of how writing time can get swallowed up. Theoretically, I have the whole day to write. In reality, I have a dental appointment, a couple of phone interviews for future stories, a lot of back and forward setting up interview times for upcoming stories, and a tradesman arriving to fix something (that will be noisy so I’ll need to get out of the house). Oh, and visitors arriving early evening. I’ll be in and out of my (home-based) office all day. When am I supposed to put fingers to keyboard amongst all that?
Here’s the trick. Some writing tasks need decent stints of concentrated effort. If I’m doing a first draft of a tricky story – something that’s a bit complicated, or a piece requiring numerous interviews woven in amongst my narrative – I want a clear run of about two hours where I can work solidly on one draft. Ideally then I might get up and stretch a bit, and perhaps dive in for another round if I’m on a roll.
But over the years, I’ve learned there are also plenty of ways to sneak in shorter periods writing. These snippets of time may not be perfect for the more complicated stories, but for short pieces or profiles where only one voice is involved, snippets of time can add up.
It’s an art which I’ve perfected through travel writing. When I’m on the road for a travel story, it’s rare to have long, uninterrupted periods of writing time. So I write in small ‘grabs’ where I can, and then sit down and edit it all together later on. I won’t necessarily come home from a trip with a solid draft in my back pocket, but I’ll have a series of coherant ‘chunks’ which I’ll easily be able to weave together in the editing process.
Pressed for writing time lately? Here are five opportunities to sneak in some writing (or writing-esque) tasks.
1. The bus.
If you’re trying to fit in writing around a full-time job involving a public transport commute, I have great news. This is an excellent time to sneak in a bit of writing. I know what you’re thinking: “Sue, you haven’t seen my bus. It’s packed, and unless I get there super early, I end up with my body pressed up against a bunch of sweaty strangers. Hardly time to pull out the notebook.” Okay, if that REALLY is your commuting plight, you may want to pass on this one.
But before you do – I’d suggest this. Can you wait for the next bus? The bus with an actual seat? Where I live, buses often come in pairs (Why is that?). Most people run to the first bus, or the express bus, leaving one bus packed and the other bus wide open. I say, “Take the bus less travelled” because it will probably have a seat. If you have a seat, you can pull out your notebook and write. Even a couple of paragraphs morning and night will add up over a working week.
2. Your lunch hour.
Now, you can definitely find a seat during your lunch hour, right? Maybe you can even find one in an atmospheric spot – in a park or by the water; perfect fodder for scribbling out the basis of a blog post or opening up the laptop to tweak with a current story. Don’t spend your whole lunchtime writing though – you need a break from the rest of your day. But by the same token, don’t sniff at a stolen 15-20 minute stretch. Do that three times a week and you’ll have scored a bonus hour or so of writing.
3. Sparrow’s fart.
Early. I mean really early. Figure out what time everyone else in your household gets up, or when you normally need to get up, and beat it by an hour. Night owls: this won’t work for you. But for busy, determined folks who don’t shiver at the idea of getting up when it’s dark, this can really work. My favourite part about nailing one of these ‘stolen’ writing hours is bathing in the glow of my success throughout the rest of the day. (I know, couldn’t I just do it and not spend the rest of the day high fiving myself? Apparently not.) Hey, whatever it takes.
4. Forget the pen. Use your voice.
Okay, this one’s left of field but it can work. Remember all those executives in the 1990s who spent their days dictating into voice recorders? This could be you. Don’t write your story: voice it on the walk from the train station to your house, or in the only other hour you have free a day, the one you are using to exercise. (Note: If your excercise involves jogging, or group fitness, this probably won’t work. But if you stretch out with a local stroll, this is worth considering.) There are some downsides. You’ll need a headset, and you’ll need to walk along talking into it (I’m assuming you’re going to record into your smartphone, that’s what I’d do in this case). So basically, you’re going to look like a bit of a
wanker. foolish person. But who cares: because you are writing! (Well, almost, you’ll have to transcribe it later. But what you are doing is capturing the important thoughts to use later. That can only be a good thing.)
5. Can’t write? Do a related task.
If none of those are grabbing you, remember this. Writing is broken into various parts. Researching. Thinking. Interviewing. Planning. More researching. More interviewing. Editing. Drafting. Rethinking. Re-drafting. More editing. Maybe one of the above times is perfect for one of these writing related tasks. With a smartphone, public transport is a great time for some light story research. Lunch hours are great for editing an earlier draft. Divide up the task and trust me, you’ll be that much closer to conquering it.
How about you? Got any tried and tested times or locations for sneaking in some extra time for writing?