“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
What better way to begin a post than with a quote from Gandalf? Time is precious—once we’ve spent it, we can’t ever get it back. Time is also short, and there never seems to be enough of it to do all the things we want to do. So we must use it wisely, and strive to achieve that work-life balance we all dream of.
One of the questions I’m often asked is where, in my increasingly busy life, do I find the time to write?
To be honest, it’s a question I usually pay off. I’ll say something like “I make the time”, or I’ll just give a noncommittal shrug and change the subject. I’m not entirely sure why that is. It’s not as if my methods are supposed to be this massive secret. Maybe I just haven’t given the idea any serious thought before. Maybe there’s no easy answer.
Fitting writing into the work-life balance isn’t easy. Anyone who has ever written anything could tell you that. I won’t pretend to be the busiest person in the world, but I have two part-time jobs and am studying an intensive course at university, so time is not something I have in abundant supply.
The last few weeks were no exception. It has been a mad scramble to finish my honours thesis, which I finally submitted on Friday. I was sleep-deprived, and brain-dead, and irritable—and still working, I might add—yet I also managed to get a bit of writing done. Now, I have the opportunity to relax, and reflect on the craziness this year has been.
So how do I fit in time for writing? Well, I’ve finally gotten around to considering this question, and the following points are what I’ve come up with:
1. I write at night
The truth is, I’m a real introvert. I don’t get out much, and I like it that way. Attending regular parties and social gatherings is not my thing, so I find I have time most evenings that I can dedicate to writing—if I’m not working, that is. It also helps that I’m a night owl, and can maintain concentration until the early hours of the morning. I’ve read that a lot of writers actually do the opposite, and wake up early to write. I’m not opposed to the idea, but I do like to sleep in!
2. When I sit down to write, I force myself to write—no matter what
Motivation is not a constant, and there any many things that cause it to wane: fatigue, preoccupation, boredom. Sometimes, when I sit myself down to write, the motivation just isn’t there. I’ll stare blankly at the cursor and will it to move, or knot my fingers together in frustration as I struggle to sort jumbled thoughts into coherent words. But I force myself to start regardless. Just one sentence. Then another. And another. Even if it’s painful, even if it’s awful. I power through the hard parts and move on to something else. It all adds up in the end, and progress is made.
3. I make maximum use of breaks and holidays
One of the advantages of being a university student is the existence of semester breaks, mid-year and summer holidays. I use that time to cram in as much writing as possible! On many occasions I’ve spent days or even weeks on end writing from dawn until dark before going to bed and rising in the morning to do it all again. While tiring, it really helps getting into a rhythm like that, and consequently large proportions of my WIPs are usually written during breaks and holidays.
4. I take advantage of the ‘highs’
When I’m on a writing high—on a roll—I take advantage of it. I’ll study from home for a few days in order to maximise the time that I can spend writing. I always feel a bit guilty doing so, but sometimes the allure of my stories is so strong that I simply can’t focus on my schoolwork. So I write. This is how I managed to write 50,000 words of Old Blood in the first three weeks!
5. Whenever I can, I plan
I’ve already made mention of my Little Green Notebook in previous posts. It has a special spot in my car, so when I’m thinking through story ideas as I drive, I can quickly jot them down if and when I’m stationary. I also have notepad apps on my phone and tablet so I can plan while waiting for appointments or during particularly boring lectures. That way, when it comes time to write, I know exactly what to do and where I’m going.
6. I accept that there are times I cannot write
There are times in every writer’s life when writing just isn’t possible. I’ve come to recognise these, and to accept them. There’s no point getting stressed or upset over things you cannot change. For example, it had been in the back of my mind to participate in NaNoWrMo this year, however I will be in the middle of nowhere with no technology or opportunity to write for 17/30 days in November. So it’s not going to happen the way I originally intended. I’ll write what I can, but I also accept it’s going to be a challenging month.
So that’s how I manage to fit writing into my work-life balance. I write at night, when I sit down to write then writing is what I do, I make maximum use of my uni breaks and writing highs, I plan all the time, and I also accept that sometimes I simply can’t write. For those of you who’ve asked the question of—I hope I’ve now answered it to your satisfaction.
How do you fit writing into your work-life balance? What methods have you found effective to maximise your writing output despite your no-doubt busy schedule?