YARN Reader Diana Clark gives 5 tips for finding the time and space to write in a post-college life crowded with commitments. It’s great advice for aspiring writers of any age!
As we all know, one of a writer’s biggest challenges is finding the time to sit down and actually, you know, write. Since graduating college, I’ve struggled to find time to write. There are no immediate deadlines, no prompts or workshops to guide me in my self-discipline. Up until very recently, I worked fifty-five hours a week, so when I did get the occasional day off, I was exhausted. I would spend most of my free time doing errands I couldn’t do during the rest of the week, and for the second part of the day, I’d either read or indulge in mindless entertainment.
In honor of YARN’s fifth anniversary, I want to share five tips I’ve learned for making time to write. I know, I know: these lists have been done before, but what might work for some might not work for others, so it’s always good to have a variety to choose from. These are the five changes I’ve made to my creative routine that have slowly but surely brought me back to writing on a regular basis.
1) Work with the time slot you have, not with the time slot you want.
Let’s be honest: A thirty-minute time slot doesn’t compare to a full day of writing, especially if you’re like me and can’t help but think you won’t accomplish anything in a short time. However, once I fought past the pessimism and started working on the damn thing, I couldn’t believe what I managed to accomplish in thirty-minute intervals. Sometimes I’d spit out whole scenes. Sometimes I’d have a breakthrough on something I couldn’t get right the day before. Sometimes I’d only have time to edit a few pages or make a couple of outlines, but whatever it was, it was helping me get my story to where I wanted it to be, and I always felt better for it afterwards.
Of course, a lot of us don’t constantly have our laptops by our side during these short intervals throughout the day, which brings me to tip number two.
2) Bring a notebook with you. Everywhere.
I remember one day in particular, I had a longer break than usual that was still short enough for me not to have time to drive back home for my laptop. I had a new idea for a nonfiction piece and wanted to work on it immediately, so I went to the store across the way and bought a cheap notebook.
Except for when I have to transfer what I’ve written in the notebook onto my laptop, that one dollar purchase has not left my car since I bought it, and thank God. It’s ridiculous thinking about it now, how long it took me to make such a small but effective investment in my writing. It’s easy to forget about writing “the old fashioned way,” since almost everyone does their writing via computer, but if you’re like me and don’t want your laptop sitting unsupervised in your car 24/7, it’s good to have that notebook available no matter where you are. This way, if you’re struck with an idea, you always have a way of getting the thought out even when you’re short on time.
3) Learn to write in public.
Personally, I prefer to write in the privacy of my own bedroom, with the door shut and the beautiful sound of silence. Unfortunately, this also makes it easier to slip up, minimize my document, and hop online. A quick “break” turns into an hour or more of wasting time on the internet, time that could have been better spent writing.
When I write in public, however, it is far, far easier for me to only go online when I need to look something up. Maybe this is just me, but I don’t like the idea of complete strangers peering over my shoulder when I’m on Facebook or Tumblr; it always feels invasive, so I avoid it when I’m out. I also don’t bring headphones with me, which helps with avoiding sites like YouTube, since I obviously can’t subject the people around me to whatever video I’m trying to procrastinate with.
The hard part of this, of course, is getting used to the fact that there will be some noise in the background. It was difficult at first, I’ll admit, but the collective conversations eventually turned into white noise.
4) For whatever your schedule allows, pick a specific time of day for writing.
Most writers have a favorite time of day they enjoy writing, as was thoroughly discussed by previous YARN staffer Julia Wang. I’m sure it varies for everybody, but in my experience, most people I ask are either morning writers or night writers. Sometimes writers have a preference, and a choice: they have time during the day available to them, but simply write better at night or in the early morning. Not all of us have the luxury of choice. If you’re living with a schedule that involves a limited amount of free time, I would definitely suggest picking a time and sticking to it, even if it’s not your first choice. It might mean getting up a few hours earlier or going to bed a few hours later, but if your days are packed with work, then it’s a sacrifice you might have to make.
5) Know when to let go.
In the last month, I had to give up one of my jobs. I kept on getting sick, partially due to the stress, partially due to the fact that I was running on very little sleep (I’m talking four and half hours, five nights out of the week, a schedule I maintained for almost six months). And, as I’m sure you guessed by now, I wasn’t writing nearly enough as I knew I should’ve been.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Of course the extra money always helps, what with student loans and medical bills and life’s unexpected obstacles, but when I took the time to sit down and look at the facts and figures, I knew I could still pay for everything without both places of work.
Please don’t think I’m saying you have to play into the whole “starving artist trope,” a cliché I believe does more harm than good. I have since been given more hours at the job I chose and even received a dollar/hour raise. It’s important to be able to pay your bills, but in order to make time for writing, I had to make a sacrifice. Yes, I’ll have a little less money, but I’ll gain hours worth of writing time while still managing to put bread on the table, which—at least for me—is a huge post-college win.