Finding Time to Write

bestsellers' list, creative writing, distractions, finding time to write, publishing, Uncategorized, writing
One of the reasons a lot of people have never written a novel, or completed any other writing project for that matter, comes down simply to the fact that they can’t find the time to write. But there are various different attitudes strung along that continuum. Some say that they can’t find the time because their social calendar is full. In this case, each social event is weighed up against the desire to write and, after the briefest of punch-ups, writing takes a dive in the first round and is once again put on the back burner. Others say that whenever they sit down to write they are too easily distracted by other things: TV, the Internet, finishing a crossword, reading a book, staring out the window. This is a common complaint that is easily remedied by a bit of objective examination of the circumstances. But there are people on the other end of the spectrum, who believe that everything should be sacrificed in order for you to achieve your writing goals. I have even heard more than one well-known writer maintain that he chooses writing over his wife and children and has no trouble abandoning them to concentrate on his writing…
One aspect of writing that makes a difference in whether or not you ever achieve anything at all, is whether you take a professional attitude to your writing projects. If you view them merely as pastimes or hobbies, then there is little to stop everything else impinging on your writing time (although you could argue that there are many people who take their hobbies more seriously than they do their day-time jobs!). If you say to yourself, “Self, you must be serious about finishing writing projects and take steps to guard the time allocated to them,” then you are well on the way to writing success. It’s a good start at least. Never just dabble, never merely “dip your toe” in the waters of the writing life. If you ever want to achieve something as a writer you have to have a decent amount of commitment to see it through.
If you happen to be married, then it helps enormously if you can obtain the agreement of your spouse. All it takes is sitting down together and discussing what is reasonable in terms of time commitment and effort. This is often a two way street and you may have to make some reasonable concessions of your own before an agreement can be reached. There is no use insisting upon your writing time if there is nothing in it for your partner. The mistake that the aforementioned guy who put his writing before his family made was in setting his priorities wrongly. It is the same with any career choice. The time you spend with your spouse and kids is crucially important. If you skimp on that, you do not get the time back, and you cannot make up for the kids’ lost time by choosing to spend time with them when they are adults and you have several bestselling novels under your belt. No, without doubt, when compared to almost everything else in your life, family should come first. On the other hand, if you examine your schedule you will probably find that you can cut some slack here and there from other less important activities and still find time to write, without stealing time from your family.
Taking time out of your downtime is often a good place to carve out a writing life. That is not to say that you should lock yourself away and never communicate with another human ever again. All it means is that, if you are serious about wanting to achieve something as a writer, then often you have to make sacrifices elsewhere. There is all sorts of time that is easy to spend on watching sports activities and TV shows, that, with some shrewd management and a modicum of discipline, could add several hours of writing time to your average week.
So, say you hack away at your schedule and miraculously chisel out an hour a day. What do you do then? Well, first of all you need to find a place to write that is not prone to distractions. This is preferably in a room on your own. Some people can write better while listening to music. I’m not one of those people. I’m easily distracted. Similarly, if you find yourself peering through the slatted blinds at the traffic passing outside your home for hours on end, maybe you should turn your chair/desk/writing surface so that you can’t be distracted by that.
You may even find that when you sit down to write, you are too drowsy and no amount of coffee will shift that. Everyone has his or her own circadian rhythm and each person is more drowsy at certain times of the day and more alert at others. It’s worth experimenting with this to find out when a good time for you is. I know that I begin to slump some time between 3.30 and 5 p.m.; for others it may be different. Then again, if you find you are drowsy no matter what time you choose, then you may not be getting enough sleep. There’s no point is waking up after half an hour slumped over the desk and drooling into the keyboard of your laptop. For some, lack of sleep can be accounted for by the fact that they are getting up several times a night to tend to a newborn infant. In that case, there is nothing you can do about it and you either have to stumble on and make the best of it, or regretfully wait for a few months until you’re back on your game.
Whatever time or place you choose, what matters is whether you are serious about wanting to achieve something in your writing. So to sum up:
  • Be professional
  • Get the complicity of your family
  • Prioritize your social activities
  • Choose a conducive place in which to write
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Get enough sleep
  • Choose a time to write that works for you


After that, all that is required is for you to come up with a few interesting projects to work on. You will find, if you can sustain a regular work ethic in writing that, in time, you will be able to complete even the most complex of projects. Before you know it you will be sending off manuscripts and book proposals to publishers and eagerly awaiting the sudden appearance of your new novel on the New York Times bestsellers’ list. (Or wallpapering your bedroom with rejection letters, depending on how good you are – but that’s another topic.)


Happy Hanukkah, Christmas or Whatever!

Christmas, Hanukkah, Holidays, memoir, nonfiction, novella, novels, poetry, publishing, Uncategorized, Yuletide
Compliments of the festive season – Hanukkah, Christmas, the Holidays or whatever other euphemism you choose to describe that most sensitive of festivals! This is the time of year, generally, when all of us slow down, abdicate from the rat-race, and begin to take stock of where our lives are going. It is a time when people begin to think about their job situations, their family circumstances, what they have achieved over the preceding months and years. For some of us – and, if statistics are to be believed, many of us – it is a time for assessing whether we are doing justice to our writing projects. Whatever happened to that novel you started writing? Where is your plan to write your memoirs? How many poems have you written over the past year? What about your plan to pursue a career as a freelance journalist in your spare time?
It’s time to take down your over-thumbed manuscript from the top shelf of the closet, dust it off, and re-evaluate whether it is a goer, or whether you need to try something different. Do you have a sliver of an idea for a new novel based on your experiences as a debt-collector for a loan shark company, or as a waste management technician, or as a teacher in an elementary school? After all, isn’t the perennial advice to novelists: “write about what you know”? Or should you do some research for your novel. How about studying the habits and lifestyles of pygmies in equatorial Borneo? Or reading up on the lot of coal miners in Wales during the nineteenth century? Or exploring the possibility of sentient life on another planet and its endeavors to find sentient life on ours?
But perhaps novel-writing is not your thing. Sure, you would love to see your story in print, but the novel is such a huge undertaking that you’re not sure you have the stamina to reach the end before old-age and decrepitude catch up with you. What about writing a short story? There are still many magazines and journals that publish short stories of up to 5,000 words. There are also short-story competitions with real prize money attached to them (some of them quite substantial). The short story is an art form that can be difficult to tackle effectively. (Nowadays, the best short stories begin in media res, right in the thick of the action where the protagonist is already keyed up for some destiny-changing task or is just about to carry out a deed that will have ripple effects through out the rest of his or her life.) On the other hand, you might start writing a short story and suddenly the narrative takes off and becomes a 30k word novella, or even longer. That’s still a viable publishing possibility.
But maybe you don’t think you have time to write stories and prefer, instead, to concentrate on poetry. One of the surefire ways in which you can inspire yourself is by reading other poets. You may have a favorite poet whose work you admire, or even just a favorite set of poems. How did the poet achieve the effects he has expressed in his or her poetry? Of course, poetry is an art form and is only partially open to analysis. But if you can break down some of the techniques used in various different poems and then try to imitate them, you are well on your way to expanding your skill as a poet and writing meaningful poetry that can touch people’s hearts and minds, or share something profound using the economy of words that only poetry is capable of.
Then again, you may have got to a point in your life where you realize that you have had enough experience to write a memoir or autobiography (although inexperience doesn’t seem to be an obstacle in many cases!). This can be a fun project to pursue: gathering illustrative photographs from the early years, researching times and dates, interviewing those who know you and are familiar with your life. However, beware. Even the most interesting people can produce unreadable drivel if their writing style is found wanting. It is not enough to have wrestled alligators, climbed Mount Everest – twice, or even at one time have been a jobbing astronaut; if you can’t write prose that captures readers’ imaginations, then the book is doomed to failure. (To that extent, one possible solution is to employ a ghostwriter to produce the manuscript.) Conversely, even if you have not led a life that scintillates with riveting detail and unusual events, you can still produce a book that will sell in the thousands if you can write well. Humorous memoirs come under this category. In this case, one of the things that attracts readers is what I call the “texture” of the writing. If you can write work that is a pleasure to read, then people will buy it.
If you have any ambition as a writer at all, Yuletide is the perfect time to re-energize your resolve and do something about it. How will you set aside time every day or week for writing? How will you make sure that you contribute some lasting legacy to humanity’s store of literature? You’ve got a few days off without the pressure of work. Go for it! You know you have it in you…