One of the reasons a lot of people have never written a novel, or completed any other writing project for that matter, comes down simply to the fact that they can’t find the time to write. But there are various different attitudes strung along that continuum. Some say that they can’t find the time because their social calendar is full. In this case, each social event is weighed up against the desire to write and, after the briefest of punch-ups, writing takes a dive in the first round and is once again put on the back burner. Others say that whenever they sit down to write they are too easily distracted by other things: TV, the Internet, finishing a crossword, reading a book, staring out the window. This is a common complaint that is easily remedied by a bit of objective examination of the circumstances. But there are people on the other end of the spectrum, who believe that everything should be sacrificed in order for you to achieve your writing goals. I have even heard more than one well-known writer maintain that he chooses writing over his wife and children and has no trouble abandoning them to concentrate on his writing…
One aspect of writing that makes a difference in whether or not you ever achieve anything at all, is whether you take a professional attitude to your writing projects. If you view them merely as pastimes or hobbies, then there is little to stop everything else impinging on your writing time (although you could argue that there are many people who take their hobbies more seriously than they do their day-time jobs!). If you say to yourself, “Self, you must be serious about finishing writing projects and take steps to guard the time allocated to them,” then you are well on the way to writing success. It’s a good start at least. Never just dabble, never merely “dip your toe” in the waters of the writing life. If you ever want to achieve something as a writer you have to have a decent amount of commitment to see it through.
If you happen to be married, then it helps enormously if you can obtain the agreement of your spouse. All it takes is sitting down together and discussing what is reasonable in terms of time commitment and effort. This is often a two way street and you may have to make some reasonable concessions of your own before an agreement can be reached. There is no use insisting upon your writing time if there is nothing in it for your partner. The mistake that the aforementioned guy who put his writing before his family made was in setting his priorities wrongly. It is the same with any career choice. The time you spend with your spouse and kids is crucially important. If you skimp on that, you do not get the time back, and you cannot make up for the kids’ lost time by choosing to spend time with them when they are adults and you have several bestselling novels under your belt. No, without doubt, when compared to almost everything else in your life, family should come first. On the other hand, if you examine your schedule you will probably find that you can cut some slack here and there from other less important activities and still find time to write, without stealing time from your family.
Taking time out of your downtime is often a good place to carve out a writing life. That is not to say that you should lock yourself away and never communicate with another human ever again. All it means is that, if you are serious about wanting to achieve something as a writer, then often you have to make sacrifices elsewhere. There is all sorts of time that is easy to spend on watching sports activities and TV shows, that, with some shrewd management and a modicum of discipline, could add several hours of writing time to your average week.
So, say you hack away at your schedule and miraculously chisel out an hour a day. What do you do then? Well, first of all you need to find a place to write that is not prone to distractions. This is preferably in a room on your own. Some people can write better while listening to music. I’m not one of those people. I’m easily distracted. Similarly, if you find yourself peering through the slatted blinds at the traffic passing outside your home for hours on end, maybe you should turn your chair/desk/writing surface so that you can’t be distracted by that.
You may even find that when you sit down to write, you are too drowsy and no amount of coffee will shift that. Everyone has his or her own circadian rhythm and each person is more drowsy at certain times of the day and more alert at others. It’s worth experimenting with this to find out when a good time for you is. I know that I begin to slump some time between 3.30 and 5 p.m.; for others it may be different. Then again, if you find you are drowsy no matter what time you choose, then you may not be getting enough sleep. There’s no point is waking up after half an hour slumped over the desk and drooling into the keyboard of your laptop. For some, lack of sleep can be accounted for by the fact that they are getting up several times a night to tend to a newborn infant. In that case, there is nothing you can do about it and you either have to stumble on and make the best of it, or regretfully wait for a few months until you’re back on your game.
Whatever time or place you choose, what matters is whether you are serious about wanting to achieve something in your writing. So to sum up:
- Be professional
- Get the complicity of your family
- Prioritize your social activities
- Choose a conducive place in which to write
- Eliminate distractions
- Get enough sleep
- Choose a time to write that works for you
After that, all that is required is for you to come up with a few interesting projects to work on. You will find, if you can sustain a regular work ethic in writing that, in time, you will be able to complete even the most complex of projects. Before you know it you will be sending off manuscripts and book proposals to publishers and eagerly awaiting the sudden appearance of your new novel on the New York Times bestsellers’ list. (Or wallpapering your bedroom with rejection letters, depending on how good you are – but that’s another topic.)