The *Best* Time to Write

If you’re like me, you’ve read way too many articles on how to find time to write. And none of the advice seems to work.

This is one of my favorite passages from my Ph.D. dissertation:

Much of the advice on how to finding the time to write still mirrors a patriarchal mindset. Advice offered by men has a different tone from that given by women. Atchity (2018) said, “We all have the exact same amount at our disposal: 60 minutes each hour, 24 hours each day, 168 hours each week, 8,736 hours each year. If you put one hour into a project each day for a year, you’d have worked on it for 365 hours—more than enough time to write a book, and a screenplay, and a treatment or two” (para. 6).

Aside from claiming out that this is plenty of time “to write a book, and a screenplay, and a treatment or two,” his approach is similar to many other male writers who recommend a take-no-prisoners time-management approach.

Conversely, women writers are more apt to offer advice that recognizes that women writers live in a world of jobs and children and cooking, and offer suggestions like write on your lunch break at work, after you drop the kids off at school, or while dinner’s in the oven.

McGriff (2017) is typical of many women when she says, “I have three good hours to write Monday through Thursday. That includes my lunch hour at work and two hours in the evening after my daughter goes to bed” (Tip section, para. 3).

Also, in contrast to Atchity, is female television producer and author Storey (2016) who tells women, “Think about your story while you chop vegetables, then while waiting for pots to simmer, write down those thoughts” (Tip section, para. 5).

This difference in advice on how to find time to write further illustrates the social-cultural divide between men and women. This clearly shows that the writing advice offered by men may be bad advice for women writers to follow, because it may set a standard that many women are unable to reach.

***

It doesn’t matter what men writers tell you, there is no best practice for women writers.

Your writing life has to work with you: your life circumstances, who you are, where you are in life, even what kind of writing you do. (Are you writing novels or poems? The time commitment from idea to finished product is vastly different in those genres.)

A woman’s life is messy/multi-faceted/busy/overwhelming and you have to go with the flow.

Need a boost? Go back to basics.

Block out time. Schedule it as if it were a job you had to show up for every week. Tell yourself, for X amount of time, I’m going to sit at this spot, doing this work.

If you’re not currently blocking out writing time, look at your day and where you can write instead of doing something else.

Then, let the world fade, focus on your writing in that moment, and get the words on the page.

Finding Secret Undiscovered-for-Writing Pockets of Time to Write

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For a woman, every day is about making choices. Some of those choices we have no control over. We have to be at work at a certain time, pick up the kids from daycare, or take the cat to the vet. But there are other things that we do have control over: like whether or not we write.

When we own up to the fact that we really do choose whether or not to spend a piece of our day or week writing, then it’s coming from a place of empowerment. We’re in charge. We’re saying yes or no to writing at that time. That replaces victimhood.

So, let’s acknowledge there are things we must do. These things are not choices.

If your days are busy and chaotic, like mine. Then, look for those quieter moments where you can settle in and write for a little while. Do you commute to work? Can you write to and from your job? Or can you bring a sack lunch, stay at your desk and write a few days a week? How about if you treat yourself to a coffee and sandwich at a nearby coffee shop and spend that hour alone writing?

Here’s my point: If you’re truly invested in your writing, you may need to look for those secret, hidden, undiscovered-for-writing pockets of the day that don’t take away from family and home responsibilities, and do your writing at those times.

The Work-Home-Writing Juggling Act

Those days when you say, “I didn’t get very far on (fill in the blank) today,” and even though it’s driving you crazy, it doesn’t mean you’re not a writer anymore.

Work-life balance is a juggling act, and life balance is an ongoing challenge for women writers. There is so much you can’t control. You can’t control when your kids or spouse gets sick, when work gets super busy, when a family responsibility superseded your desire to write.

Most of us have to balance jobs, family and writing. And it’s a fallacy that “real” writers work full time at their writing, and that’s the only thing they do. Most working writers have another job, or two, or three.

Those days when you cannot get your butt in a chair, when you can’t get words on the page, you need take a deep breath and realize that you will have time in the future, if writing is something you truly value.

When life is wild, here are three things I do:
1. I tell myself, you can do it. I write what I can. I encourage myself. I make it a point to be generous with myself.

2. I find the pockets of the day when I’m not doing anything and use that for writing.

3. Sometimes I can’t fit writing in. On those days, I take a deep breath and relax. I write down the ideas as they’re coming and I know that I’m going to get back it as some point.

Find Your Work-Life Balance

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This tightrope walk is how I feel most days. I’m trying to keep my career, my home life, my family life, my writing life in balance.

Are you envious of that sort of fluid life-writing experience that selling writers talk about? Do you wonder how you can weave writing or more writing into the moments of your day?

But for the most part, the thing of it is, you just have to do it. And that’s way easier to say than do.

First, figure out which days and for how long you can write. If it’s going to be one hour a day, if it’s going to be only two hours a week you can write.

Then, whatever time you can take to write, you do it religiously.

It doesn’t matter what time of day you write, as long as you mean it, and you stick to it. Make your routine rigorous – not hard – just rigorous. What I mean by this is that you train yourself to lock in and do it. If you miss your writing session, get right back on the horse at the next writing session time.

Here’s why: You must sit down and write. You can fix a page that has words on it. You can’t edit ideas.

Everyone’s life is busy. So, because of how life is, there will times when you just have to do things and you don’t have time to write. One on hand, it’s incredibly important than you be loyal to yourself and make your writing time happen. But on the other hand, don’t beat yourself if something interferes. Things are going to happen that you can’t foresee. As soon as you can, just get back to your writing.

Do. Not. Beat. Yourself. Up.

Be disciplined about your writing, because writing is what you want to do; but when life gets in the way be forgiving to because that’s what you need to do.

A Writerly Life: Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Clarissa Pinkola Estés encourages us to keep our psychic environ uncluttered.

She says, “For many women, this task requires that they clear a time each day for contemplation, for a space to live in that is clearly their own with paper, pens, paints, tools, conversations, time, freedoms that are for this work only.” (p. 92, Women Who Run With the Wolves).

Living in a Parallel Universe

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Some days I feel like a time traveler, traveling between two universes.

If I want to be a writer, I need to write regularly. This is true: nothing can teach me more about writing than the act of writing itself. The more I write, the better writer I’ll be.

So I have to give myself the chance, the time, the opportunity to write regularly. Some days, I set my sights small, and I write a little bit, only 15 or 30 minutes. Other days, I crawl out of bed at 5 a.m. and write for two hours.

Here’s another truth: my writing life, like my real life, is always slipping away from me. There is never enough time for writing; it is a parallel universe where every moment spent in my real life is a moment missed in my very, interesting and entertaining writing life, and vice versa. Some days, like today, when I’ve got professorly duties, plus family and life obligations, I’d like to be locked in windowed room, with food anonymously lelt for me.

But that’s not life, is it?

The best I can do is tell myself: Don’t. Forget. To. Write.