Finding Time to Write: Making Hard Choices

Fair warning: today’s post is a butt-kicking post. But it’s loving butt-kicking.

Today I want to talk about writing, and what it takes to get it done. I have a very full time job, an awesome husband, a (sporadically) active social life, and I’m up to date on How I Met Your Mother. I’m teaching myself French in my spare time, I get to gym, I blog and believe it or not, my house is mostly clean.

And here’s the thing: it’s hard.

If you’re waiting to find a magical formula, or a way to Do It All that’s easy, then it’ll never happen. You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon,1 cook a seven course meal, or become a prima ballerina without all kinds of practice. Getting writing done takes commitment and discipline. It requires sacrifice.

And here is my most important message of all: it requires writing. Because talking about writing is not the same thing as writing.

You have a choice about how you spend your time.

Reading blog posts, tweeting, posting to Facebook, catching up for coffee with writer friends to talk about craft? All good fun. None of them need to be abandoned. But if you’re doing those things before you get your writing done, then you’re doing it wrong.

I talked about some of my time-stealing secrets in this post. Here are some of the other things I do to make sure I get my writing in:

  •  I tackle my social media on my morning commute. I have lists on twitter to make sure I don’t miss anything I need, and I read and tweet then. It saves me getting sucked into social networking when I get home and should be writing.
  • I have a rule: the time I spend on writing on any given day must exceed the time I spend on social media. So if I want to spend an hour clicking links on Facebook, that’s fine. I need to spend an hour and five minutes solidly writing.
  • If I’m slammed, I take my netbook on the train, and write 25 minutes each way. I turn it on while I wait on the platform so I don’t waste any time. That’s 50 minutes of writing, and I can usually churn out 1,000 words. Sure, I’d rather watch a brainless comedy on my iPhone, but I make a different choice.
  • I turn off the router, and put it somewhere that Husband will see me if I sneak out to turn it on. It’s disturbing how many times my fingers twitch to alt+tab to a browser window that isn’t there.
  • I say no to invitations. I’d love to get out more, but when I’m in an intensive revision, I can’t. So I don’t. Simple as that. It’s a choice.
  • I find extra time. I get up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning to catch up with some writing friends for a chat, which means it doesn’t eat into my writing time.
  • I set targets: I tell Meagan Spooner, my co-author, what I’ll get done that day. And then I do it.
  • I get my butt in the chair—after I’ve stopped for dinner I’d love to sit around watching TV with Husband. He’s handsome and witty, and super comfortable to lean on when I’m sprawled on the couch. Instead, I get back to my desk. I have friends who write while waiting by the side of the pool for their kids’ swimming lessons, or at 5am before the family wakes up. It’s about making a decision to get the writing done.

What do all of these have in common? They’re choices.

Ultimately, there’s no formula, and there’s no right way or wrong way. You know what you need to do. You need to get your writing done.

 What do you give up to make it work? How do you find the time? There may be no formula, but feel free to share your tips here! Or if you like, make a commitment out in public, and then get to work!

  1. Unless you are my husband, and that’s a whole other story.

37 Responses to Finding Time to Write: Making Hard Choices

  1. Jennifleura May 22 2012 at 5:06 am #

    You’re a wonderwoman! I am brimful of admiration. I’m terrible at multitasking but I’m determined to do ALL THE THINGS, too. Do you find it helpful to carve out your day at all, and give yourself a semi-structured timetable for everything? Thank you for showing us how it’s done. 😉

    • Amie Kaufman May 22 2012 at 6:10 am #

      Trust me, I am SO not a wonderwoman! But I am a big believer in the idea that if something is important to you, then you’ll make choices that prioritise it. I definitely make lists — in fact, I’m lost without them — and if I have a huge day, I’ll assign a block of time to each task and make sure I get it done in that time. But with that kind of structure, you also need flexibility — if something’s just not happening, then sometimes the smartest thing to do is stop and go to the next thing on the list, rather than sit there at a road block for hours.

  2. Julie May 22 2012 at 6:14 am #

    Amie, great post! Thanks for talking about the “hard choices” that many people aren’t aware of when they start out writing. And congrats on all you are able to get done! I generally get (a lot) less sleep than my non-writing friends, and I don’t get to watch the shows everyone’s talking about. To me, it’s worth it. Thanks for the inspiration today! 🙂

    • Amie Kaufman May 22 2012 at 6:17 am #

      Oh, TV. I miss TV! But I’m even tactical about what I watch. I tend to only pick one show at a time, because I can squeeze in an episode a week, but I can’t manage something every night. Or I’ll hit a friend’s house and marathon a few episodes of something brainless that I love (hi, Project Runway) and write blog posts and catch up on social media while I’m at it. I’d love to say I’m better off with less TV in my life, and perhaps I am, but I totally miss watching it more!

  3. Tim May 22 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I was procrastinating while reading this. It’s officialy fate:D

  4. Sigal May 22 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Great post Amie, and so true. It is all about the choices we make. I am also a mother, and so my choices are often influenced by my time with the children, which I hold sacred above all else. I often get frustrated, because I want to write, but then again the opposite is also true. If I write I get frustrated about having missed time with the kids. It’s tough, and I haven’t quite found the balance yet between children and writing, the urge to write and the mothering instinct (also known as guilt…).

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:44 am #

      It’s so hard, especially because often the things we have to try and juggle are far from insignificant! It’s not like you’re just tossing a bad habit you shouldn’t be pursuing anyway — obviously your kids are more important than anything. I’m not sure there ever is a “right” balance, so much as a highwire act you manage to maintain!

      • katina May 31 2012 at 12:03 pm #

        Amie, this was a great and specific to points post! Like Sigal above, I too have many responsibilities…a 92-year mother to care for, a wonderful husband who although often leaves me alone and helps with shopping craves my attention and often needs my help, 4 children and 6 wonderful grandchildren who “depend” on me for food, sitting, driving and attending games and shows, friends and extended family who are sick, worried, disable or losing people they love, a garden that needs me constantly if I don’t want it to be a jungle. Yet I did find time to finish my manuscript in one year, by writing every morning around 5:30, when my soul had just returned from her nightly journey. Dawn, before the day’s worries and responsibilities became overwhelming, was the time my ego had not surfaced yet, and “guides” were able to guide my pen. Now my manuscript is in the editor’s hands, so I am in a kind of stand-still. Venturing into social media, I am learning a lot but spending long hours because this stuff does not come as easy for me as writing did. Thank God for people like you who share and help in many ways!

  5. Liz Johnson May 22 2012 at 11:24 am #

    Amie, all of that, AND you’re caught up on How I Met Your Mother? Are you an undercover superhero? It’s okay, you can tell us. 🙂 Great tips! I love your rule that you must write more than you’re on social media every day. That’s such a good tip. I need to implement that.

    Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂 You’re right. It’s hard to juggle life and writing, but I heard recently that writers don’t get to have social lives. And it’s true. I’ve learned to say no to SO many things. Parties and movie nights and such. But I do get to say yes to new book contracts. And that just never gets old. 🙂

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:51 am #

      Liz, you’ve summed up the perfect motivation — would you rather say yes to a movie night, or a book contract? Because one night might not matter, but on a larger scale, it’s an either/or proposition.

  6. Kay Elam May 22 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Great post and time management skills. I particularly like your rule that writing time must exceed time spent on social media. Excellent!

    Question. Exactly how do you manage your Twitter? You say you have lists. How do you do this? Thanks.

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:53 am #

      Thanks Kay! I know a lot of people use Tweetdeck or similar, but because I’m using Twitter from my phone, I use privately curated lists. So I have one for my besties, one for tweeps who reliably have great links I won’t want to miss, a longer one for when I have time to catch up on a broader group’s doing, and then of course there are lists available for the Pub Crawl gang and the Lucky 13s, etc. It’s a combination of interacting with people and keeping up with their news.

  7. Rowenna May 22 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    So true! And after you decide to write–you create methods that work for you. For me–if I don’t make lists, nothing gets done. With lists? I get my “chores” done and clear the way for writing–or get the “chores” written down so that I don’t forget them while writing (depending on the day :)). I’m definitely not great at it yet, but time management skills have to be fostered just like any other skills!

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:54 am #

      SO TRUE, Rowenna. I admit I get a tiny bit impatient with people who just flail and say they have no time management skills. Skills are learned! I used to be hopeless (and I still am some days), but if you work at it, the muscle gets stronger!

  8. Eva Rieder May 22 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Great post, Amie! It is amazing how we fit all this in (I was just emailing with an author peep about this topic, this very morning!). I have a few sneaky tricks myself, though I’m still working on finding more time. I lock my office door for the first 10-15 minutes of lunch to write before I go eat with my colleagues. I have mastered reading on an elliptical machine, even if I’m going fast (warning: this can be extremely dangerous if you’re uncoordinated) and so once or twice a week I use that at the gym instead of going for a run. I’ve also opted to let my tivo operate on maximum capacity so that I can try to put in 1-2 hours of writing a day. I watch during dinner and stretching after workouts, only. Sometimes, I do my networking while I watch as well. It’s definitely challenging to find that balance, but it’s important. You nailed it: “talking about writing is not the same thing as writing.” Nicely done, Amie!

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:55 am #

      Man, if I tried doing anything on an elliptical machine — including just exercising, some days — there would be a flailing of limbs and then I would land on a bystander, killing us both. I am all about networking in front of the TV, though! That I can do!

      • Eva Rieder May 23 2012 at 1:14 pm #

        That was funny. 🙂 It’s definitely a death-defying balancing act, but I’ve mastered it. As for the networking during television, it works as long as you’re not into the show. Otherwise you’ll write something completely non-related and bizarre…It’s all about finding the places you can, though, for sure.

  9. JoSVolpe May 22 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Great tips, Amie!

    It’s easy to procrastinate writing, even if you love it (sometimes even more so *because* you love it). So, so important that writers keep at it consistently.

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:56 am #

      Amen, lady. My love for writing does not even remotely stop me from wanting to do all manner of things other than write. Some days I just want to have written, rather than to write…

  10. Katherine S May 22 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Amie, I definitely needed this post. One of your rules: “I have a rule: the time I spend on writing on any given day must exceed the time I spend on social media. So if I want to spend an hour clicking links on Facebook, that’s fine. I need to spend an hour and five minutes solidly writing.” I must learn/follow to do this…ASAP! I have become a pinterest addict.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:57 am #

      I’m so glad it’s helpful! Good luck! (And when it comes to Pinterest, we Pub Crawl girls hear you loud and clear…)

  11. Emmy May 22 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    LOL I procrastinate by making really, really (reallyreallyreally) intensive outlines on what I want to write! And then all the motivation’s gone *dramatic sigh* I just need to STOP after I set a word goal, but I never know how many I should aim for!

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:58 am #

      The sneakiest type of procrastination is the sort where you can sort of pretend you’re actually working. Perhaps just try setting word goals that sound roughly right, and see where you end up? After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

  12. Elizabeth Briggs May 22 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    This is a great post. And now I’m getting off the internet to write! After I tweet this, of course.

  13. Laura Kolar May 22 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    I often set a kitchen timer for myself so that I don’t spend too much time on the internet. I like the idea of always spending more time writing than on social media.

    • Amie Kaufman May 23 2012 at 5:59 am #

      Yes, absolutely — timers and countdowns are golden. When I’m really stuck, I hit

  14. Claire M. Caterer May 27 2012 at 8:58 am #

    I often find it’s not time we lack, but energy. Energy can be sapped in many ways, and for me, social media does it. Not true for everyone, I know, but my motivation to write is absolutely drained by spending time online. Monkey mind is fueled by that sort of activity, but creative mind just checks out. I write first thing–before email, Facebook, blog reading, etc.–when my brain is still half asleep in its dream state. I get a lot more done that way.

  15. Julie May 28 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    I would like to get up earlier. I’m not a morning person so it’s super hard! It’s rough to get up for work. On the weekends I sleep in…which is bad. I’ve wasted so much time! This morning, I made an effort to get up earlier than my usual weekend sleep in. I got up, read a little bit and then went straight to working on my revision. I was proud of myself. I didn’t go on Twitter, I didn’t go on my blog, and I only wandered on here because I checked my e-mail. I’ve heard of writers rewarding themselves with reading time or TV time if they get a certain amount of writing done in a day. I like that idea! I love goals and deadlines. I can’t write without deadlines. I think my biggest problem is that I’m a procrastinator. I put stuff off and then the day is gone. Research also gets in the way….procrastination! lol

    Great post and tips!

  16. Stephanie Jun 10 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Aaaah, motivation … 😉 xx

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