The problem is a simple one:
How do we increase our output when it comes to writing? With life being what it is, and the internet being the delightful monster that it is, finding time to write is a real challenge for a lot of writers, this one included.
This article won’t deal with the psychology of being a writer, there are plenty of brilliant books on the subject such as this one. So we won’t go into writer’s block and feelings of inadequacy, though they certainly are things that hamper productivity.
Rather, I will share some of my thoughts and practical tips for finding the time to write.
I had a bit of an epiphany a few years ago, a sudden realisation that what set the successful apart from the unsuccessful was often simply just getting things done. Perhaps a statement from the land of the bleeding obvious, but I think in this modern age we can scratch around at various tasks, while fooling ourselves into thinking we are being productive.
Increasing writing time, means putting more words to paper, producing more work.
This means we bring to life more assets with which to forge a career and most importantly, make us better writers.
So having come to this conclusion, if it wasn’t self-evident already, how do we find the time to write?
Finding this elusive time is of course really a product of two distinct parts:
Finding time to write and,
Making that writing time as productive as possible.
Dealing with the first of these, here are the twelve tips for finding the time to write:
1. The right writing time:
Other than the fact that it’s a tongue-twister, the right writing time refers to the fact that not all hours are created (or wasted) equally. It’s a fact that our brain gets more and more exhausted as the day grows long, so you might want to factor this into your planning for a perfect time to write. Find what works for you and try to stick to it consistently.
2. Deep work:
The ability to concentrate is fast becoming a thing of the ancient past. Deep work refers to the ability to do concentrated work in bigger blocks of time, without interruption and without losing this concentration. For a writer, this means that as you lose yourself in your created world (if it’s fiction) or in anything else you write, you are allowed to stay there, and gain optimum results from your time spent on the task.
Some take this concept much further, where authors might spend specific days on specific tasks and ignore everything else on that day e.g. Finance Friday’s or Story Sundays. ( I totally made that last one up.)
The point is, consider allocating time with Deep Work in mind.
3. Be realistic:
I write while running a business from home and with three kids of a young age in the house.
I type this fearlessly, but most days I want to curl up into a fetus position and cry my heart out.
Ok, I’m being a bit dramatic, but the fact of the matter is that my output will never compare to, for instance, someone with no kids and a partner who makes the dough.
You have to be realistic about how much you can write and when you can write it.
4. Make sacrifices:
Given the above, I know I can’t watch sport on a weekend the way I did before. I can’t be as social as I would like. I might have to sleep less to achieve certain milestones.
You can’t run away from this fact.
5. Stay motivated:
The extent to which you will make sacrifices will largely depend on your motivation. How much do you love writing? Why do you write? Sometimes, the fact that you’re unwilling to put time aside can point to the fact that you’re simply not passionate enough.
Passion and consistency will always win over talent.
6. Get support:
If, like me, you find yourself in a household with other actual human beings, your time writing will have an impact on those around you. Writing is an individual pursuit but your success can often end up being a team effort.
Enlist the help of your spouse or other family members, as they will have to support the idea of you typing furiously while they take up the slack. Did I mention I have three kids? THREE. We are outnumbered.
7. It’s NOT about what kind of person you are:
Moving on swiftly, it’s been said to me, when I stupidly suggest waking up early to write, that it only works if you are a “morning person”. Nonsense I say.
Nonsense I say.
Apart from the fact that I abhor the idea that we put ourselves in these boxes from which we evidently struggle to climb out of, (It’s cardboard, use your teeth), I am firmly of the belief that you can train yourself into being any kind of person you want to be if you want to be that person badly enough.
So if the morning hours are where the words hide, become a morning person. Or a “dawn-of-dreams” person. (You are a writer after all.)
8. Stay healthy:
I’m not advocating you don’t sleep, though certainly, shave off an hour if that means 500-1000 words a day you otherwise wouldn’t write. I have done the occasional month with around five hours sleep at night, but it will catch up with you. You can’t write well if you’re buggered, and since writers are famously prolific right into old-age, make sure you’re alive for that long.
Now we come to the second horse pulling the chariot, namely making the time we set aside as productive as possible.
If you don’t suffer from Social Media Psychosis, you’re lucky. The rest of us hit Facebook on our internet browser the moment we hit a paragraph that seems like hard work, or tap our phones out of pure habit while we’re thinking, then finding ourselves ten minutes later scrolling idly through random pics on Instagram.
We have to learn a new skill, that of being able to stop anything from stealing our attention. I use four main tools for this purpose:
9. Feedly: Feedly aggregates blog feeds from those you choose and brings into one place or app. You can then read when it suits you instead of clicking on things you see online and being distracted.
Feedly aggregates blog feeds from those you choose and brings it into one place or app. You can then read when it suits you instead of clicking on things you see online and being distracted.
A simple save-for-later tool that sits on your browser, again allowing you to read any article at a better time. My “better time” is on the loo!
11. Self Control:
This thing is my love and my curse. I give it a list of sites I know I’ll be tempted by the moment I hit a hill in my writing, enter a password, and it will stop me from accessing these sites during a set time. And I mean really stop me. Even a computer restart won’t affect it working.
I’ve of course never tried to restart my computer. Never.
If you still need access to Facebook, but want to read with purpose and dip and out of groups etc., this nifty tool with its fearsome name sits in your Chrome browser and kills the FB newsfeed, replacing it with an inspirational quote. The FB Feed Eradicator alone has increased my word count tremendously.
For some of you, these tips are just small steps towards streamlining your writing time. For others, there are suggestions here that amount to an entire re-wiring of the brain!
Re-wire the brain I say, it’s a bit painful at first, but then the synapses start firing again and you’re a different Frankenstein to the Frankenstein you were before.
Practice starting with smaller goals of word count and gradually increase them as time allows, and as your ability to concentrate improves.
Lastly and most importantly, decide if you want to be that person and become that person.
Climb out of your damn cardboard box.