Writing Techniques: Time

I think most folks can agree that there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all the tasks that need to be done. But – and I’ll admit, I’m biased – I think this is especially true for folks with creative careers/ambitions.

Like many aspiring writers, I have to work a day job. I do full-time shift work in a field that is totally unrelated to writing, so my schedule varies from week to week and shifts from day to day. For example, this week my start times are 7AM, 5AM, 5AM, 3PM, 4PM. Sometimes I have to work overnights, then flip it around to dayside right after. There are occasional bouts of consistency, but it’s hard to develop a routine when just about every day I have to adjust what time I wake up, go to the gym, prepare meals, do chores, etc, in addition to a work schedule that frequently changes.

So, the struggle becomes finding time to write. My schedule is obviously not as demanding as some, but it can still be difficult to find the appropriate work/life/other work balance. I’ll admit, it isn’t often, but there are days where I’m on the go from 5AM-6PM and by the time I get home, eat dinner, and take a shower, exhaustion takes over and the last thing I have energy for is cracking open a Word document and trying to put competent thoughts down into writing.

Weirdly enough, it was easier for me to schedule writing time when I was in college and writing I’m With You, even though I worked 2 jobs for the majority of that time along with a full course load every semester, and a partial course load in the summers and winters. Fortunately, my schedule, while busy, was consistent from week-to-week, so for the entirety of my senior year I didn’t have to scramble my plans and obligations around to find a solid chunk of writing time. For a while, Fridays were also dedicated to writing from about mid-afternoon on; my most productive writing sessions occurred during that window. Friday nights were also dedicated to being in my pajamas by 5PM, having cereal for dinner, and watching at least 2 episodes of Hoarders, but that’s irrelevant…

I can imagine that it is hard for a lot of people to schedule time for writing; but it’s important to do so, especially if your days are hectic. “Oh, I’ll do it later” all too easily turns into hours passing by unnoticed, and suddenly, it’s 11 at night, your alarm is set to go off at 5AM, and you haven’t written so much as a word all day, and that is the worst kind of feeling.

My personal strategy to combat this is simple; set aside a designated time (15 minutes at minimum) depending on the day. A white-board weekly calendar hanging above my desk assists with this. It’s such a basic plan, but writing down my schedule for the day makes it much easier to visualize the breakdown of the time I do have, so I’m able to set aside a specific block for “writing time.” This doesn’t work 100% of the time, due to unforeseen circumstances popping up or last-minute plan/work schedule changes, but that’s the great thing about white boards! You can erase and start over, good as new!

Ideally, I try and fit at least a couple of hours of writing into each day, be it a blog post like this one, character development, free writes, actual drafting, or just dabbling with an outline or some new ideas. On my days off from work, I can sometimes spend an entire day at a Word document, pounding out potential content or shifting between a couple of different projects. Some days are more productive than others, and that’s fine. I might (and by might, I mean, I definitely do) look back on previous writing and cringe at how poor it is, even if I only jotted it down the day before. It’s all fine; it’s all part of the process. As long as I get something of substance down on paper or in a Word document each day, I chalk it up as a victory. Journaling also helps with this, because it ensures that I do at least a bit each day, even if it’s just a sentence or two.

And when those “unproductive” days happen – where my schedule allows for no writing at all – I try and do better the next day instead of calling myself a failure and wallowing in despair. I mean, I never shut my brain off, so when I can’t fend off a sudden brainstorm or have a stroke of creativity, I whip out my phone and text the idea to myself. On my phone, I have a massive text chain to myself that is just random snippets of dialogue, scenarios, or descriptions, and it’s actually been very helpful when I’m on the go and only have a few seconds to jot down an idea. This tactic really helps when I conjure up bits of dialogue and want to remember it exactly, because lord knows if I don’t make note of it immediately, I will forget when I sit down to formally type it out later. You can’t control when inspiration strikes; I find that I have to write it down quickly, in a text or scribbled on a sticky-note, unless I want to lose it.

So, the gist is, even when there’s no time, never stop trying to make time for writing. I know that when I don’t write for any notable length of time, I feel unfulfilled, and it makes it so difficult to build or maintain momentum. There are never two non-writing days in a row, ever. Life does get in the way; but it can’t be a permanent obstacle.

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