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How to Write When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Let me be clear—I’m writing this while sitting in the middle of class. My students are free-writing and I am writing with them–because I always write with them and because I get 10 minutes to write.

Maybe that wasn’t the answer you were hoping for. But it’s my reality. Week by week I take stock of my schedule and I try to designate and carve my writing time out. It changes every semester—sometimes it’s during office hours. Sometimes it’s before dinner. Sometimes it’s after the kids are in bed. But increasingly those times are now being swallowed up, too. Office hours and that hour before dinner are now gone with the 4:30 class and the commute. So what to do? Write only on weekends? Wait until Christmas?

3894044841_d3b7e9e0cb_z-580x386I’m sure you all have some version of this scenario. For many working writers the daily routine of writing is a privilege and a luxury. I have writer friends who just wait until the semester breaks and do all their writing then. That doesn’t work so well for me. I feel like regular contact–however brief—with my creativity is more productive than marathon sessions where the work feels like a stranger.

So how do I write? Here’s what I’m doing this semester:

Schedule my writing time. As in: write it down on the calendar every week just as I would schedule a doctor’s appointment or a conference call. And don’t forget the very important write it down part.

Don’t discount the 10-min slots. A lot can happen in 10 mins (see my old post here). And don’t forget: I’m drafting this article in class while the students are free-writing for 10 minutes. And also don’t forget that 3 classes with 10-min free-writing sessions each equals half an hour of writing. It adds up.

Write everywhere. Not only can you write in 10 min bursts but you can do it everywhere. The 10 mins you waste on social media while waiting for someone in the car, during the bus or train commute, waiting in the doctors lobby—always have a notebook with you ready to go.

Keep a list. Keep an ongoing list of all the stories you want to write. Keep it on your phone or in your wallet and add to it every time you get a new idea—this will allow you to jump right into an idea when you find yourself alone with 10 mins rather than floundering and wondering what to write.

Write it down now. Don’t wait. If the idea is coming, go to the bathroom and write in the stall if you must. Because if you think you will remember this great idea when you get home…you might not. I’ve lost a lot of good ideas this way.

Use voice memos. Sometimes the idea won’t wait for you to find a pen. When you are without paper, speak your writing into a note on your phone.

Block out a weekend or a whole day whenever you can. This requires some planning, so don’t wait. Do it now and write it on the calendar and guard it like date night, like your creative relationship depends on it (it does).

Set yourself up for success. Some people approach writing like exercise—they think they have to work out 3 times a week or it doesn’t count. But it’s easy to falter under such high expectations. Don’t set yourself up for failure with an unrealistic goal.

Be realistic but committed. Have you ever learned an instrument? Carving out just 15 mins a day to practice is powerfully cumulative. And fifteen mins of writing every day will make you and your work progress. It’s not easy, it’s not glamorous, but it will work.

And finally try not to be jealous of those with wide open writing schedules. Assume they’ve paid their dues in other ways and be grateful to be a writer, dammit! It’s truly a gift to be here!

To your writing success!

PS: Do you have other tips? I’d love to hear them! (I really would!)

PSS: Maybe you should join us for a writing retreat in 2019?

 

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