Finding Time to Write (When You Have a Day Job)

I know there are some people out there in the world who are able to write full time.  These accomplished folks get up in the morning, drink their coffee, and begin cranking out pages all day long, stopping around 11:30 for a quick lunch, and then pick up again until afternoon tea at 3:00. After tea, they walk the dog and cook dinner and begin sipping a glass of red wine, fulfilled and ready to begin again in the morning.

At least that’s how I idealize them as I live my own chaotic existence of waking up, herding kids around, waking up the late sleepers, dashing out the door in a skirt that needs ironing, spilling coffee on myself, and realizing I need to buy gas.  I get to work and stamp out fires all day long and then arrive home at 6:00, exhausted, just in time to maybe go for a walk if I’m able to talk myself into it. Writing, for me, is out of the question without a ton of scheduling and effort, which is what I have ultimately learned to do.

At the end of the day, I have come to believe, we manage to do what is important to us, whatever that is. If we want to write, we will write. It’s as simple as that. Still, no one says it’s easy or that it doesn’t come with some sacrifices.

We all have our own unique work situation, so what may work for me may not work for you. Still, I have a few ideas for anyone who wants to make writing a priority on your daily list of accomplishments.

To begin with, I had to analyze my current use of time.  This was a tricky one for me because I really didn’t see how I would add even one more thing into my already-full days.  Here is how my typical day used to go:

5:30-6:45    Wake up and have “domestic hour” (this is an hour in which I would do some light housework, drink coffee, pack school lunches)

6:45-7:15     Drive one kid to school (long story why one kid takes the bus, the other drives, and I drive one, all to the same school)

7:15-7:45    Dress and race out the door

8:00-5:00     Arrive at work and work. Sometimes I work later than this and sometimes I need to leave earlier to take a kid somewhere or address some domestic concern, but generally, these are the hours I work.

5:00-5:30    Drive home, stop at store if necessary

6:00-7:30    Cook dinner and spend time going on a walk with husband or spend time with kids

7:30-9:00    Family time and reading (again, I am married with five kids. We have to be present for the kids)

9:30/10:00     Bed (I get tired since we get up so early day after day)

So, on the outset, I could see a lot of time for writing in that schedule. I mean, I could get up earlier in the morning and write. Or, what about that large slab of time in the evening, which I often used for reading? Couldn’t I write then?

Sure. I could. And if I were single or didn’t have so many kids, the evening after dinner would be a great time to write. However, my current situation didn’t seem to allow for writing because when 7:30 rolled around, my husband would want to talk to me and I can’t advocate ignoring my life partner and love. I love writing, but not more than my family. My son would ask to play a game of chess and generally, when a teenager asks you to play chess with him, you ought to say yes. Plus, while I used to be able to stay up to all hours in my twenties, as I’ve gotten older, I get tired by the evening. I am supremely unmotivated to do anything other than read or hang.  What about getting up earlier, then?  That seemed unlikely. I was already very tired and I realize I needed my sleep.

Weeks passed and I felt myself in a quandary. What to do? I approached the internet and researched to see what wisdom it offered. Some people suggested writing at work. That would be a good idea if I didn’t have a career that was already very demanding in terms of my energy and time. I have no down-time in my office—I don’t even have a lunch break, but rather eat at my desk while working. That said, finding another, less-demanding job wasn’t a good option either because I had invested a lot of energy into my career and I love what I do. I also want to give my job my all and while some people feel ethical about writing a short story disguised as an email (I read that online), I just can’t feel good about doing that. At work, I do what I’m being paid to do. So, writing at work wasn’t going to happen.

Logically, I decided that even a small space of time carved out would help.  After all, if I made a commitment to write for an hour a day, or maybe something like 500 words, all of that would add up over time, right?  A little writing is better than no writing, right?

So, I looked again at my writing schedule options.  I decided to focus on finding time in the morning, before my day began, would be the best bet.  I looked again at that “domestic hour” between 5:30-6:45. What was I really accomplishing during that time frame anyway?  Washing some dishes, maybe, or doing a light household chore. If I died next week, would I be less happy about not mopping the kitchen floor this week or not writing? Where did my loyalties lie? I think we know the answer to that. It’s not as if I’m going to win any housekeeping awards as it is, so I decided a) while I couldn’t fathom waking up at 4:00 on a regular basis, I could wake up thirty minutes earlier than I had been waking up and get up at 5:00 and b) forget the domestic hour.

I also wanted a writing goal. Stephen King, in On Writing, recommends a thousand words a day, but with no disrespect to The King, I doubted he ever had to juggle his old day job (when he was a teacher) running kids around to the doctor and orthodontist while also keeping up with the vacuuming. I determined that it would be far better for me to lower my goal to 500 words per day (which I can accomplish in less than thirty minutes if I’m inspired) and feel accomplished than to beat myself up over my lack of 1000 words per day. I know me and I’m one of those people who is motivated by success—if I can accomplish my daily goal, I am more likely to try again the next day. I can write MORE than 500 words per day, after all, but 500 is the goal.

So, just by barely tweaking my schedule, here is what I came up with:

5:00-5:15    Wake up and push button on coffee maker (set it up the night before)

5:15-6:45    Write

6:45-7:20    Take other kid to school

7:20-7:45    Get dressed and ready for work

8:00-5:00     Work

6:00-7:30    Dinner and walk with husband

7:00-9:30    Read and family time (and often, more writing, which was optional)

9:30/10:00    Bed

These are very minor changes to my schedule, but they had a profound impact on my writing output.  For the most part, I was easily able to get in the 500 words in the early morning (before 6:15) and this somehow relaxed me and encouraged me to write in the evening as well at least three days per week, even though this was “optional.” Although it wasn’t part of the goal, I usually did write about 1000 words a day or more, just by creating this schedule and this space to write. I still didn’t write at work, but with the help of my iPad, I was able to write at an orthodontist appointment and while waiting for a car repair, so that is another element as well.

I guess the main idea here is that most of us have to work to pay the bills (and also because many of us truly enjoy our day jobs as well), but if we truly want something, we can find a plan to get there.

Some other ideas I thought I might mention are:

  • Limit TV. As a family, we do not have cable and rarely watch any TV at all. TV is a huge time-waster, so if you find that you spend time watching TV, that might be the first thing you consider letting go.
  • Use technology. As I mentioned, I was able to get quite a bit of writing done using my iPad and even my iPhone. If you use Scrivener, you’ll be happy to know that they now have an iPhone and iPad app that synchs through Dropbox. I use it nearly every day across three different devices. You can also use apps such as Evernote for jotting ideas, writing drafts, or keeping notes for the future.
  • Treat your writing like a part time job. Prior to this decision, I used to think of my writing as a “hobby,” because I made very little money doing it.  The word “hobby,” however, implies that it’s something insubstantial and a mere diversion, rather than the truly serious endeavor it is. If we think of our writing as a part time job, though, it becomes more serious in our minds and we are less likely to give something like mopping the kitchen floor priority over it.
  • Something else has to go. There are only 24 hours in the day and we have to make wise decisions about what to add into those hours.  Use those hours carefully and don’t waste them on things that are not important to you.
  • Be positive and kind with yourself.  If you don’t make your goal one day, don’t stress. Just try again tomorrow. After all, isn’t it better to write most of the time rather than never?

Focus your life on your loved ones and the things you love, which probably includes writing, if you are reading this post. We all have to do what we need to do to pay the bills and live, but that doesn’t need to include ignoring our dreams and making time for something that is important to us. So, go forth and carve out some time to write! Even if it is only for an hour.

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