Finding Time to Write
by Moira Allen

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Are you wondering when you'll find enough time to start writing? If so, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, you'll never have more time than you do right now. The bad news is... well, that is the bad news.

Time is never "found." Time can only be "made." If you decide to wait until your kids are in school, or in college, or you have enough money to quit your day job, or retirement, you could wait forever. The only way to make those writing dreams come true is to start looking at the time you have now, today -- and find ways to make that time work for you instead of against you.

Treat time as an investment.

Some say "time is money." A more accurate statement might be that "time is like money." We have only so much, and must make decisions about how and where to spend it.

Writing, like any new career, requires a start-up investment of time. Many new writers, however, feel uncomfortable with that initial investment. Those long, unpaid hours at the computer or keyboard often feel "wasted" or "self-indulgent" (especially if you aren't satisfied with the material you are producing). Worse, many writers have family members who share this view.

This start-up time is essential, however. It takes time to build your skills, sell that first article, and develop a client base. If you were to sit down today and send out your first set of queries, it might be two to four months before you receive a response, six months before you make a sale, and eight months before you actually see your first check. But if you don't invest time in that initial "doldrum" period, you'll never see that check at all.

Step Two: Examine your "time budget."

"Making time to write" doesn't mean finding "free" time; it means reallocating time from other projects and activities. Before you can do that, however, you must discover exactly where you are "spending" your time.

A good method is to purchase an appointment book that breaks the day into 15-minute segments. (These are available at office-supply stores.) For two weeks, diligently record where every block of your time goes -- including eating, sleeping, brushing your teeth, etc. Be honest: If you lingered for an hour over your cereal reading articles about Leonardo DiCaprio, write it down. (At least record it as "celebrity research.")

The results of your log may surprise you. Do you ever have those days when you feel as if you never sit down from dawn to dusk -- yet can't say, for the life of you, what you accomplished? This log will help you discover where that time went. You may be surprised by how long certain tasks take, and how many "unnoticed" tasks nibble away at your day. You may also find that you are spending a great deal of time on tasks that you don't care about nearly as much as you care about writing.

Step Three: Examine your priorities.

No matter what you're doing now -- working, raising a family, going to school -- you already have a "full" schedule. Your first reaction to the thought of scheduling writing time into that schedule is probably "How? Where?"

Chances are, you are going to have to make some tradeoffs. You may have to give up some activities in order to reallocate that time. A good exercise at this point is to look at your log and categorize the various activities you pursue. Possible categories include:

Step Four: Eliminate time-wasters.

We all have them. Some are conscious; some, however, creep into our lives in the guise of habits, procrastination devices, and assumptions about what we "should" and "shouldn't" do. Here are some of the most common:

Teach others to respect your time.

Many of us have learned to drop everything when someone else requests (or demands) our attention. It could be a spouse, a child, a coworker, or that friend who calls every day to talk about her problems.

If you don't guard your time, no one else will. It is not enough to simply request that others respect your "writing time;" you must enforce that request by refusing to drop what you're doing whenever someone interrupts you. Otherwise, people will interrupt -- not out of malice or lack of consideration, but because you have given them no reason not to.

Many "writer moms" (and dads) enforce the "if it's not on fire or bleeding, don't bother me" rule. This is sometimes easier to do if you have a door that you can close, but that's not always essential. What is essential is convincing others that you mean what you say: When you say, "I am writing and cannot be disturbed," that means that you will not stop writing unless the house is on fire.

Sometimes this also means refusing to answer the telephone, or even turning off the ringer. In some respects, a caller ID machine is even better than an answering machine, because you can see who is calling before you pick up. If the caller is your "friend with a million problems," simply pretend that you're "out" and don't answer. The same applies to neighbors who know that you're "home" (and therefore, obviously, available) and want to drop by for a chat or a coffee break.

Protecting your time means cultivating the art of saying "no," "later," and "I have to go now." At first, this may seem the most difficult task of all, but eventually you will realize that your new attitude hasn't caused the rest of the world to view you as an ogre -- and you're actually getting some quality writing done!

If you're looking for time to write, don't wait until tomorrow or next week or until the kids have grown up and moved out of the house. Start today. It's really all the time you need.

Find Out More...

Eliminating Timewasters - Moira Allen
http://www.writing-world.com/coffee/coffee26.shtml

Enforcing Boundaries: Making Sure Others Respect Your "Right to Write" - Kristi Holl
http://www.writing-world.com/life/boundaries.shtml

I Could Be A Writer, Too - If I Only Had The Time - Roberta Roesch
http://www.writing-world.com/life/roberta.shtml

Juggling Hamsters: Tips for the Busy Writer - Eugie Foster
http://www.writing-world.com/life/foster14.shtml

Take Control of Your Time! - Kelle Campbell
http://www.writing-world.com/life/campbell.shtml

Copyright © 2001 Moira Allen

This article may be reprinted provided that the author's byline, bio, and copyright notice are retained in their entirety. For complete details on reprinting articles by Moira Allen, please click HERE.


Moira Allen is the editor of Writing-World.com, and has written nearly 400 articles, serving as a columnist and regular contributor for such publications as The Writer, Entrepreneur, Writer's Digest, and Byline. An award-winning writer, Allen is the author of eight books, including Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals, and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests. In addition to Writing-World.com, Allen hosts VictorianVoices.net, a growing archive of articles from Victorian periodicals, and The Pet Loss Support Page, a resource for grieving pet owners. She lives in Maryland with her husband and the obligatory writer's cat. She can be contacted at editors "at" writing-world.com.

 

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