Writers already have busy lives without having to worry about how to make time to write. Jobs, family, bills, errands, holiday cards, meals–the list of endless responsibilities goes on. Welcome to the world of adulthood. Some cheerful soul once said we are here on this earth to work and die. Very nice.
Passion is the engine that drives a life beyond routine, to a place where something such as writing can take place. Passion without the time to execute, however, accomplishes little except the development of a disturbed personality. And so we must make time to write.
I use the verb “make” time rather than “find” time since “find” would presume time is there to be found, that you just have to discover it with a flashlight, whereas “make” begins with the premise that one has a demanding schedule and something must be sacrificed so that we may do what we love.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell points to the 10,000-hour rule, which is to say, that to become really great at something requires an investment of 10,000 hours of time. While the actual number of hours needed to achieve mastery of a craft is impacted by a number of factors, it is true that serious writers must remain persistent and committed in the long term. Many bemoan the fact that, in addition to the challenges of making time to write with busy schedules, in our digital age, becoming a writer concurrently means becoming a marketer, so that we might find ways of bringing our writing to the attention of readers. So congratulations, now that you’re a writer, you now carry even one more responsibility: learning to maneuver the world of blogging, websites, email marketing, social media and other marketing tactics.
I, personally, don’t mind marketing. In fact, my day job is marketing for an accounting firm, and I enjoy it immensely. Nevertheless, on the writing side of my life, marketing does present additional time constraints.
So with all this madness facing writers, how in the world can anyone make time to write? And in the traditional publishing landscape, which has become increasingly competitive and less willing to take risks on writers who don’t offer some tried-and-true cookie-cutter path to success, how can we master our crafts by dedicating 10,000 hours and increasing the likelihood of success?
Below are the first three of six overall strategies for how you can make more time to write, and details about how I have or have not applied each to my life. I will publish part two of this series, with strategies four through six, in a few days.
1. Make Time to Write: Do as Little as You Can at Work
Don’t take on responsibilities you don’t have to during your day job; don’t strive to achieve. Don’t become a thought leader. Don’t advance. Go home at 5 pm.
This doesn’t work for me, though I know it may for others. I happen to enjoy my job marketing for an accounting firm in Bethesda, MD, and I happily participate on the board of directors of the association that serves as a steward for the accounting marketing industry. The job requires creativity, strategy, an ongoing exploration of the digital landscape and relationship-building talents, all of which work well with my personality. I also happen to have great colleagues at my firm and throughout the industry.
However, some people’s choices about employment include pursuing opportunities that let them support themselves and their families, while providing free time to pursue activities such as writing. This is and can be a great strategy to make time to write, as long as you don’t let the writing side of your life interfere with your work time. Not only is this dangerous for job security. It’s not fair to your employer, either.
Some professions require extraordinary commitments of time, so writers should be careful to find a balance between the professional side of their lives with the “scribbling” side.
2. Make Time to Write: Give Up Television
If you’re a writer, I shouldn’t have to explain this one. If you write or want to write, it means you’re thinking about something other than television. We don’t have a television at home, and I’ve started hearing about more households that are using Amazon Prime , Netflix or Hulu to meet their programming needs, rather than shelling out dollars for cable.
I don’t watch a lot of television. My wife and I are hooked on Mad Men , as we were hooked on The Wire, The Sopranos and House. But we are both readers, which is how we spend much of our free time. We spend no more than one or two evenings during the week watching television.
In some ways, today’s era of television is superior to most of what has come before. Bruce Springsteen once wrote a song called “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)“, which has turned out to be mostly true, but not entirely. Some stations, network and cable, have begun to really step up their games by investing in real, powerful storytelling. They need to, of course, due to the increased competition. The result has been some amazing programming. One episode of Mad Men had Don Draper and Peggy Olson doing an all-nighter at their office and at the local bars. It was riveting from the first second to the last: film-quality programming, in my opinion.
One might think by my decision to praise today’s era of television storytelling, that I really am hooked, but I’m not. I say this all because, DESPITE the fact that there are a lot of worthwhile programs, I still do not watch much television.
It’s hard enough to make time to write with busy schedules; you likely don’t want to challenge yourself even further by engaging in other non-writing activities.
3. Make Time to Write: Give Up Sleep
This, it’s sad to say, is where I have made the greatest investment. Since 1999, when I first moved to DC and started writing, I began getting up early in the morning, around 4:30 am, to write. It began in the group house where I lived in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, DC. I set my alarm and–trying hard not to wake the residents–headed downstairs in the cold dark to the dining room, with its creaky hardwood floors, simple green table and nondescript credenza. I had no computer yet; I had just moved from New York. So I wrote in a notebook for several weeks (maybe months) until I finally bought a computer and could write in my room.
What’s that? Why didn’t I write in my notebook in my room during those first few months? Well, I didn’t own much then. I had no table, no desk and no bed. I slept on a futon on the floor. When I finally bought the computer, I also bought my first desk. And paid dearly for it too. I didn’t have much money then; I was nearly broke. But I needed to write.
Years later, in late 2013, I’m still rising at 4:30 in the morning. It’s now 5:52 am, my wife and son are still asleep and I’m cranking Iggy Pop through my headphones. It’s true, I also spend some evenings dedicated to my writing life. Largely, this includes learning more about WordPress, reading Jeff Bullas and Jeff Goins blog posts and developing new marketing strategies. But I also spend time every evening with my family and catching up on emails from work.
One of these days, I’m going to visit the website of the National Sleep Foundation or some such organization to study the long-term effects of sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction on my health. But then again, maybe I won’t. Why ruin the party? At 41 years old, it’s hard to be much of a bad ass anymore, so I might as well defy convention simply by getting up early in the morning and doing what I damn well please.
So this point has become largely about me, because giving up sleep is the largest sacrifice I personally have chosen to make time to write. It’s not for everyone, but it is an option. Giving up sleep can also mean staying up late, rather than getting up early in the morning. It’s a personal preference.
And if you do happen to find statistics about the ill effects of sleep deprivation, please keep them to yourself. Really, I don’t want to hear it.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, which I will publish in a few days, with three additional strategies to help you make time to write.