This is the time of year when those New Year’s resolutions start to slip a little. All the diets, the dry January, the exercise plan, the organising, de-cluttering, revolutionary cook, cleaner, crafty, novel writing, poetry submitting, open mic attending creative person of the year plans start to drip, drip drip down into a bottle of Sauv blanc in a haze of self loathing, guilt and defeat.
You set out to sit down and write. I mean, really write, make writing your priority, an hour a day, every day, no fail. You work out how long it will take you to write enough poems for a collection, or a novel or how you’re going to write that play, one scene at a time. This is going to be the year of accomplishments.
But then, the New Year’s shine starts to dull, you go back to work and it sucks at your time, your plan to get up an hour early starts well, but you start thinking about all the housework you could get done in an early hour which, yes, would make it so you have an hour at the end of the day instead and, oh, well it would be better if you had a full day of writing, you’d get more done. So you aim to get all your housework done, and work out of the way, tea cooked and then you’re ready to settle down for a proper few hours without any interruption at the weekend. But then, the housework is never really completely done, is it. The kids are never really completely dealt with, even after they are in bed there’s still stuff to sort for school on Monday, laundry to do, projects, homework, more cleaning and by nine you just want to sit down and watch TV, you’re knackered.
And then January is gone and nothing has changed. The New Year is the same as the old year, and each month starts out with brilliant intentions, but no matter how hard you try to get everything done, to get the decks cleared so that you can have some actual, serious, writing time, you never seem to manage it. Something always comes up. There is no novel, you have not produced a collection, you have barely written at all.
How does any working person find the time to write? I don’t have a family, so I am lucky in the respect that I don’t have any extra time sucks in my life. But I am that crazy person that sets up their own business and then decides to do not one but two post graduate degrees at the same time. I run a weekly work shop and do a bit of mentoring too. Time is a very precious commodity to me. I feel that in my years of working, studying and writing, I may have built some skills in time management. Don’t get me wrong, I am invariably late with everything, and I forget to email people, ring people, weeks go by before I remember that thing I was supposed to do, but on the whole I don’t do too bad. I have learned a few skills over the years in getting that precious writing time fitted in, and I have realised that making the time is more about psychologically allowing yourself the time, than it is about any timetable. Mostly we put the things we enjoy lower down the priority list than the things we don’t. We think chores need to come first. We fail to see ourselves as writers from the off and so it’s not a priority, worse, we fear having the time in the first place in case we don’t cut it as writers, in case we’re actually crap at it. I’m no time management guru, but I have learned how to give myself a bit of a break. So here are ten top tips on finding time to write:
- The biggie: be flexible. It’s great to have goals, but be realistic, life is not going to always work around your set time for writing, you will sometimes not make your target, you will sometimes have to change your plans. And guess what, that’s OK. You’re the boss, and this is something you are doing for pleasure, this is not about punishment, it is about pride, so learn to go with the flow and don’t beat yourself up.
- Set Targets realistically: Again, it’s great to have goals, but setting a word count you must reach, or a certain amount of poems a week will mess with your head and make you feel crap if you don’t make them. Half the battle is psychology, so don’t set yourself up to fail. My target is always: ‘write every day’. So if I even manage one line of writing, one sentence, one idea for a poem, I have made my target.
- Make it a priority. Be aware of when you are genuinely struggling to fit writing in and when you are finding things to get in your way so that you don’t have to face the fear of putting pen to paper. It’s scary, the thought that you may have found time to write, but then have nothing to write. And it does happen, but again, if your target is not to write an entire poem, but (if you’re struggling) to do a free writing exercise or a haiku or just writing an idea down, then you are facing the fear and breaking it down into wee pieces.
- Accept that not every writing session will be productive. And guess what, again, that is ok. This isn’t like whittling a spoon where you know exactly what you are trying to produce when you sit down to whittle, this is a process in which you pull words out of no where to create something beautiful. It’s more like magic that woodwork, and that means that not every session will produce anything. If you don’t produce anything that session, it doesn’t mean that you never will, it just means that you didn’t produce anything on that particular session.
- Learn the value of ten minute writing. You can get a LOT done in ten minutes. So after you put the washing on, but before you dry the pots, stand at the kitchen counter, set your timer and write for ten minutes. You do not need to set a table up with a view f a meadow, clear your schedule and sit, poised, with pen, writing reams of poetry to write. Those little blocks add up to hours of productivety.
- Accept the rule of three. I have theory that, out of three pieces of writing I produce, only one will go on to be good. One usually ends up being chopped and salvaged into other poems, the other is usually just bloody awful. Accept that not every poem is going to be a winner, if you can do that and see it as practice for the third good poem, you will feel like writing and not fear being a failure.
- Make it a priority! I know I have already said that one, but it’s important. If you are going to write, write. My mantra has always been: if you don’t submit you won’t ever be published, if you don’t write you will never be able to submit. It takes out the fear of ‘should I submit/am I good enough’ and leaves only the absolute truth of if you don’t write you will never be good enough, if you don’t ever submit, you will never know if you were. Good writing, great writing does not just happen. The old adage of 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration is a true enough one. And creative writing takes practice.
- Pats on backs. Remember to praise yourself when you make targets, avoid beating yourself up when you don’t. Sounds simple enough, but we don’t half focus on the bad bits of ourselves, which doesn’t make us want to have another go at it. If you constantly tell yourself how rubbish you are because you can’t make your target, if you punish yourself for not being good enough, you will never give yourself the chance to be good enough.
- Plan your hours. I used to make timetables, I used to beat myself up over timetables that weren’t adhered to. Now I make hour plans. I write down exactly how many hours I want to allocate to certain tasks, and then I see how many hours there are. For example: I need at least 38 hours to run my business, if it’s busy, I also need at least twenty hours a week for uni, four hours for teaching, five hours for mentoring, and I allocate two hours at least for my own writing. That’s a bloody busy week. I don’t have much of a weekend left. Some of those hours are pre allocated – I have to walk client dogs at the time I am expected – but I can do the uni work at any time of the day, as long as I do it. I can do my uni work in ten minute chunks if I want to. So perhaps instead of sitting down to do four hours uni work, I sit down to do three and a half hours uni work, and half an hour of writing. Then I do my other half an hour of uni work just before bed or just after tea, it’s only half an hour. It’s exactly the same amount of time, but psychologically I have arranged it differently. i also shave chunks off where I can: I know that I perhaps don’t need a full hour for lunch, or perhaps I can write while I have my lunch. I could knock fifteen minutes off lunch and then, over seven days I have at least made an hour and a half for my own writing. And did I miss those fifteen minutes? Not really. And then when I find that, actually, I only needed thirty hours this week for the business, I have a whole eight hours to do more writing, bonus. (remember the flexibility rule, it’s an important one in this scenario. If you have extreme business issues, the flexibility rule will save you from beating yourself up)
- Enjoy it. Don’t make it a chore. It’s supposed to be the thing you want to do more than anything, so don’t slog your way through short story that you stopped enjoying writing on page three, just because it says in your planner that that is what you are doing that day. Stop. Write something silly, funny, something with a shed load of description, something magical, something with big, fat, blatant end rhymes. Break the negativity and free your mind a bit. Then reevaluate and see what it is that you don’t like about the story/poem. Put it away, do something else. You’ll get there. Believe that, believe that you will get there. And believe that you deserve to do something enjoyable, as a priority. You’re worth that.