One of the challenges of being a writer is integrating writing into day-to-day life. The vast majority of writers – aspiring and published alike – have a day job, a family, hobbies, and chores.
And, sadly, they still need to sleep. I think that is a great oversight on someone’s part.
I have no idea how people manage to have a day job, children, and a writing career. In my case, it’s a somewhat simpler question of balancing a job, writing, and the rest of life.
Even so, it isn’t easy.
No Time to Write!
I think the most important realization is that it isn’t a question of time.
It is a question of priorities.
I think I first heard that observation on Writing Excuses. I find it valuable because it re-frames the question. Instead of asking “however can I get more than the standard 24 hours per day that everyone is allotted,” it urges the would-be writer to take a look at their priorities, and consider where writing fits in the stack.
It is a useful exercise to consider both your real priorities and your wished-for priorities.
For example, maybe you want your priorities to be:
But looking at your use of time, your priorities are actually:
This is not a happy thing, but until you recognize it, you won’t do anything about it. You’re most likely to just keep thinking wistfully that it would be really nice to write, if only you had time.
You do! You just have to give up TV (or games or gardening or books or whatever-hobby) in order to get it.
Are you willing to do that?
It is ok to say no.
It is your life, and if you want to place a hobby above writing, that’s fine.
If you want to place your family above writing, that’s probably healthy from many standpoints.
If you want to place your day job above writing, that’s good for your financial well-being.
But don’t say you don’t have time.
Acknowledge your priorities. Own them. And if you don’t like them – well, change them!
That easy, right? Um. Yeah.
The Writing Habit
There exist binge writers, who spill out a book in a month or two, and then don’t write again for a year. Recognize NaNoWriMo?
Don’t get me wrong, I think NaNo is great – it gets people to really try writing out – but after my first NaNoWriMo in 2007, I didn’t write again for months.
There are a few rare writers who can actually operate this way, but if you’re playing the odds, it is much better to build writing into your daily life as a habit.
My first successful run at the writing habit was to do half an hour a day, every day. If I missed a day, I had to make it up. It actually worked pretty well; it got me a full, edited novel. A trunk novel, yes, but a novel nonetheless.
The big benefit of that kind of system is there isn’t any question of whether you’ll write.
There is no, “Hmm, do I feel like writing today? Nah.”
It’s “Dang, I don’t really feel like writing, but I’ll put in my half hour.”
And the amazing thing? Even if you don’t much feel like writing, you can still wind up with quite a good session. For me, about 90% of the time when I don’t feel like writing, if I just sit down and do it, it will go fine.
The big disadvantage of that particular system is that it’s easy to watch the clock. There were times when it was going pretty well, but I would hit time and stop because there were books to read and gardening to do and dinner to cook and . . . !
I wish I could give a variant of this that worked for everyone (or even for me all the time). My best suggestion is to try different approaches.
I have been doing editing for the last few months, so I barely remember what my last successful approach was, but it boils down to something like this:
- Write or edit every day.
- Put in a minimum (minimum, or great shame!) of 15 minutes. Target forty-five minutes to an hour, more if on a roll.
- If it’s a poor session, try to make it up the next day.
- If it’s a really good session, sock up the extra time. Note that I don’t usually “use” the saved up time, unless I’m purposefully “saving up” because of a known lull in writing (a work trip, vacation, holidays). But I can feel all virtuous and happy about all that extra time.
There are all sorts of ways to play with this.
- Minimum word count instead of minimum time (although that risks the writing of crap).
- Minimum time for the week, allowing fewer but longer blocks of time (although that’s harder to establish as a habit).
The big thing is to observe how you’re doing with the goals, and whether they’re working.
- Do you question your writing time?
- Do you feel guilty if you don’t write?
- Do you write before you settle in to <perform random unwinding hobby>?
- Are you getting your writing time in?
- Are you happy with how your empirical priorities are stacking up?
These last two are the most important. For me, the first three are good, because those regulate whether I’m actually doing my writing – but everyone is different. Plenty of crazy night owls wait and do their writing after the family is in bed.
They’re nuts, but whatever works.
The other important thing with a well-maintained writing habit is to acknowledge that life happens.
You will get sick. Work will go crazy. There will be a family emergency. You will go on vacation.
There is a threshold where your priorities will change, and you may not get your writing in.
The important thing is to recognize what’s going on, and try to manage it.
For me, it’s important to not slide into it. A crazy week at work? Fine, I’ll still do my writing.
A crazy month at work, plus sick? Well, maybe it’s time for a break – with a date to resume.
What I don’t want to do is skip writing once or twice a week . . . and then two or three times a week . . . and then most days . . . and then wake up to realize I haven’t worked on a story in six months.
If I skip a couple days, I take a hard look at what’s going on in my life, and either buckle down and get back to writing anyway, or allow myself to take a break.
This last summer, for example, I bought a house with my fiancé, cleared out my house in Seattle, got renters, and moved out to our new home in Port Angeles.
Did I write during the nuttiness?
I took a 3 month break.
But it was conscious, and when the dust cleared it was lovely to get back to writing. It felt like I was getting back to my “normal” life.
There is risk to stopping, but I think that if it is deliberate and controlled, the chances of starting again are much greater.
The thing that has worked well for me, and many of the writers I know, is to find a writing schedule that can integrate into day-to-day life. You’re in this for the long haul, and it’s best to keep that in mind.
When reviewing your priorities, try to keep in mind that it’s not an all-or-nothing thing.
Writing is important to me.
I have cut into my reading time in order to pursue it.
I could write more if I didn’t read at all.
I could write more if I never watched movies.
I could write more if I quit gardening.
I could write more if I made Rob do all the chores.
I could write more if I reduced my day job hours.
I am not going to do any of that, though, because in the long term it would shake my balance, and I might get knocked out of my writing habit in the resulting correction.
Better slow and steady and consistent.
These thoughts on writing/life balance are drawn from my own experience.
It is something that I think all writers struggle with. Have thoughts or opinions? Please share!