The other night I sat at my desk with a new idea for a short story. The kids were conked out and my husband was in the other room, so I finally had some much-coveted quiet time. But having worked all day before coming home to a baby and an active toddler, I was tired. As is not uncommon for me lately, I did the inevitable: closed my laptop, put on my fuzzy slippers, and sunk into the couch beside my husband. We turned on the TV and…well, there went my writing time.
While finding time to write is not a new concept for aspiring writers, it continues to be a real challenge. I turned to some Writers’ Program instructors for their expert advice.
How do you balance writing with full-time commitments?
If you believe that your writing is as important as anything else you do, you’ll want to put it first. Try to accomplish whatever non-writing tasks you may have as efficiently as possible so that you have more time to write. If you can, work to schedule blocks of time where you do nothing but write—a week, a weekend, a day; whatever you can manage. I believe in regular practice, but periods of deep immersion are important, too.
I have a number of commitments, as a parent, as an editor, as a screenwriter for hire, and I’m pretty good at offering these things an almost dangerous degree of neglect when I have to. (Note to my bosses, ex-wife and producers: I said ‘almost.’) I simply shove everything else to the side, and write. Selfish of me, but you have to be.
What’s the best way to stick to your writing goals?
You just do it. There’s no magic bullet. I think being stubborn is as important as talent.
The need to make a living is a great motivator! My suggestion is to make a plan and stay with it. But don’t set unrealistic goals. Begin with targets that are easy to meet and gradually make them a little harder.
Do you write every day, or only when you feel inspired?
I write every day or the day doesn’t feel complete. If I waited for inspiration, I would never write. I have to put myself in a place (i.e. at my desk) where inspiration can find me, in case it’s looking.
I write every day. This is my life. I can’t wait for inspiration to appear. I have to be my own muse.
What’s your best advice for those of us struggling to make writing a regular part of our lives?
Schedule writing time as if it were a gym routine. Choose a certain time every day and stick to the program.
Try setting aside fifteen minutes a day to write–and then begin to increase the time when you are ready. It’s all about forming a habit. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find it hard not to write.
Every Sunday evening, go through your calendar for the next seven days and find those blocks of time that can be devoted to uninterrupted writing. View each of these sessions as sacred time that can’t be replaced by other activities. Don’t feel pressured to get a certain number of pages completed. Even if you’re staring at a blank screen, you’re still devoting focused time to your work–and that’s what counts.
Schedule a time that is writing time, even for a half hour a day, and show up and write. And don’t judge yourself. You’re a success if you show up.
Take a course about developing writing habits or the writing life. Many of my students in such courses are inspired when they encounter other students with EXACTLY the same issues. When we realize we’re not alone in our love/fear relationship with writing, some of the fear drifts naturally away.
Mae Respicio is the Program Representative in Creative Writing (Onsite).