Writing Problems (And How to Solve Them): Not Enough Time

In this series of posts I’m going to look at the common problems standing between a writer and the production of a finished piece of work (be it a blog post, a first draft of a novel or a completed short story).

I’m going to try to provide some useful solutions (or at least talk about what has worked for me). Feel free to use them, ignore them or shoot them down (and if you elect for the latter, please do it in the comments box below so everyone can laugh at me benefit).

I may as well get this out of the way now. I’m a hypocrit. I suffer from many (if not all) of the problems that I’ll share in this series. As much as I may preach a solution, you can rest assured that there are times when I certainly don’t practice it. We’re all a work in progress.

On with the show.

The Problem Is Time

We’ve all said it:

“There’s not enough time for me to write.”

“I’m too busy.”

“I’m always being disturbed.”

(As opposed to “I’m always disturbed”, which may or may not be a good state for a writer to be in.)

The thing is, everyone is busy. The majority of writers (have to) have day jobs. Some, like me, have to fit their writing around the needs of looking after their children and maintaining a tight household ship (confession: I’m pretty unsuccessful at the latter).

Some writers carve out the time to be prolific, some at least manage a level of acceptable consistency.

So, if you’re struggling to find the time to write, here are some ideas that might help.

Drop The Idea That There Is A Perfect Time To Write

Or indeed a perfect [insert anything: place, type of notebook or pen, phase of the moon] for writing. The experience of writing is rarely perfect in the “lose five hours of your life to inspirational ‘flow’ and, whoops, here’s a masterpiece” sense. Hence, there is no need to plan the perfect conditions in which to write.

I know from experience that my best times to write are first thing in the morning, with a coffee to get me going, and then, after breakfast, the period between 9 and 11am. If I’m feeling fruity then late afternoon (4ish to 7ish) is not a bad time either.

Worst times: just after lunch, say from 1pm until 4pm, when I feel unmotivated and grumpy, and in the evening (any time after 8pm), when I feel tired and in need of alcohol.

So when am I writing this post? I started at about 2pm, and am hoping to complete it by about 4pm. Right when I’m at my lowest ebb.

The problem is, with two pre-school children and a wife that leaves for work just after 7am, my times of optimal production are already taken, filled with fraught, noisy distraction.

I have learnt that if I’m going to write consistently, I need to use the time when my daughter has her afternoon nap and my son (if he’s not at pre-school) has his own post-prandial rest in front of the TV (I’m such a responsible parent).

Not everyone will have the same time limitations as me. My point is that just because you are unable to write when you’re at your most productive, don’t let that mean that you fall into the trap of not writing at all.

Chip Away Rather Than Carve Out

Many people (including the ‘old me’) tend to feel you need a decent chunk of time in which to sit down and write. Shorter periods are just not worth the effort.

The concept is implicit within the idea that a writer ‘carves out’ time for his or her craft (I used the phrase earlier in this post).

Rather than carving out chunks of time in which to write, a time-starved wordsmith needs to ‘chip away’ little time windows in which to produce. As little as 5 or 10 minutes is enough.

Being prepared to write for short periods has a untold benefits (which I will now tell you):

1. There tend to be more short periods than long periods in a day – the law of large numbers (is that a thing? I’m not a mathematician) says that at least one of them will feature satisfactory (note: not necessarily perfect) conditions in which to write;

2. Telling yourself that you’re only going to write for 10 or 15 minutes is a good way to get your bottom to make contact with the chair (c’mon, anyone can sit in front of a screen for 10-15 minutes);

3. The stars may align (or the distractions may not appear) and the 15 minute window turns into a focused hour or two of writing;

4. If the stars do not align, and you’re dragged kicking and screaming back to the real world, you have at least continued on the road to consistency, and maintained your writing habit;

5. You avoid the obsession with creating a masterpiece. No one (okay, few people) can write work of unquestioned genius in 10 minute stints. So the pressure’s off. Get some words down on paper (or screen) and tidy them up later. To have at least written something, whatever its quality, is better than not having written anything.

I’ll return to some of these themes in later posts (spoiler alert: consistency is good; developing a writing habit is to be pursued; the common factor uniting all successful writers is the ability to place their backside upon a seat (preferably one that’s near to a desk)).

Stop Doing Something Else

Everyone has the same number of hours in a day (assuming you’re reading this on Earth).

We sleep, we eat, we poo.

We play, we work, we watch TV.

Some people write (or blog).

‘Not enough time’ is really another way of saying ‘I’m not prepared to prioritise over something I’m already doing, which let’s face it, is easier, with more obvious instant gratification’.

Some posts on the subject of prioritisation, as it pertains to writing, will tell you to get up earlier, or write after the children have gone to bed, or give up TV (huh? whoah there).

I’m not here to suggest you do that (exactly).

In line with my argument that 15-minute time chunks are valid writing opportunities, all you need to do is curtail one (or more) of the things you do by a tiny amount and replace it with time spent writing.

For me, I like to sit down after the kids have gone to bed with an alcoholic beverage of my choosing (not absinthe) and watch a bit of TV. I have therefore been working on a habit to slot in a short ‘writechunk’ (a term I’ve just coined) before I switch on the TV (I allow myself to have the beer – I’m not crazy).

More often that not, said 15-minuter turns into an hour (since external distractions tend to be rare after 7pm) and I find I’ve made material progress with a blog post or on my creative writing. And I don’t feel my life is any less rich for having missed an hour of television.

By making slight tweaks to your schedule, increasing the priority you attach to your writing just a little bit, you start to develop the writing habit. Writing (both the act of sitting down to write and the craft of writing) gets easier and more pleasurable. Naturally, almost without conscious effort, you start to prioritise writing time more and more. Even over sleep.

And that, my friends, is what we call a virtuous circle, which must surely be better than a vicious one.

Over To You

So that’s how I’ve dealt (and continue to deal) with the problem of not being able to find the time to write.

How about you? What are your strategies? Let me know in the comments below.

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