I work full time at a hi-tech job, which means that I also put in some overtime, although I carefully selected a workplace that has an 8 hour standard work day, in which work starts relatively early. I also run 2-3 times a week, and spend one afternoon a week drawing. Finding time to write when I was working on my thesis was gruelling, and this was the major reason why I eventually had to give up on it. When I decided that it was time to work on my own (fiction) writing, I knew that I had to do something about my schedule and my habits if I wanted to succeed.
I now write 500 words a day, with 200-400 word blog posts several times a week, and I haven’t quit my day job, or stopped running or drawing. I also haven’t given up on sleep, my family, turned into a social recluse, or completely cut off my leisure time. What I have done is made some small changes to my daily routine, replacing old unproductive habits with new, more productive ones.
1. Unwinding Time
I used to come home from work, and flick on the TV, and just veg out in front of it for an hour, and hour and a half. I was decompressing from work and transitioning into “home mode,” but I certainly didn’t need a full hour or more in front of the TV to do it.
TV has this affect on me, where I can zap around between channels, moving from one to another as soon as a show ends or a commercial break starts. I lose track of time quickly this way, and it is very difficult to tear myself away from it once I have turned it on.
I now don’t allow myself to come home from work and turn on the TV to decompress. I can do other things for the same effect — put a load of laundry in the washing machine, play with my cats, read the newspaper, read a few pages from a book.
The result is that I have now vastly downsized TV from my life, without actually “banning” TV.
2. Get Down to Writing as Soon as You Can
As soon as I’ve cleared my head a little, I sit down to write. No “I’ll just browse this website first,” or “let me just spend an hour or two on twitter”.
3. Eliminate friction
Have Scrivener open on your project at all times, and have it the main window on your computer. It should be the first thing that you see when you open your computer. Have all your notes out and next to your computer. If you write by hand, have your notebook open and a pen or pencil ready next to it.
Eliminating all this little points of friction have stopped me from finding silly excuses to not writing, such as “well I can’t be bothered to find all my notes now,” and from procrastinating on my way to do actual writing (“Oh Tweetbot is open. Let me just have a glimpse at my twitter feed before I open Scrivener. It won’t take more than a minute”. It never takes only a minute).
4. All dead time is writing time
If I have 15 minutes spare, then I can write at least 100-200 words in them, or even an entire blog post. 10 minutes spare is a great time to think about my next scene. If I’m doing housework, then I’m either thinking about my next scene, figuring out what to do with X or Y character, or listening to podcasts. 30 minutes is more than enough to get close to finishing my daily quota, or quick draft my next scene.
If you are waiting for a chunk of a few hours during your “peak productive” time of day, then you have a long wait ahead of you. By the time the stars align and you sit down and write, I have written thousands of words, and more importantly, built up my writing habit muscles.
5. Put a daily word quota on yourself
I started small, with 200 words a day for about two weeks, and then moved to 500 words a day. Use a word log to motivate yourself to persist, keep yourself accountable, and show progress over time. Habits build over weeks, so it is more important to set a goal that you know that you can handle every day, then be overly ambitious and then fall into an anxiety spiral.
6. Sit down and write. Don’t get up until you are done.
No browsing. No texting. No tweeting or catching up on Facebook. I just sit down and plough through my quota until I am done. If I’m in the zone, I keep on going. But until I am finished writing I stop for nobody. Starting back again after you paused for a break is just so much effort that I oftentimes fail to do it. Better to get it done in one go than to stop and start, stop and start. That way you can build momentum.
7. Make it easy to pick up where you left off
Don’t stop mid-sentence, but do stop in a logical place in your writing, and leave yourself a note (or better yet, quick draft) as to where you plan to go to next. Again, this is all about eliminating friction.
I have cut down my TV time to about 3-4 hours a week, and I have been consistently writing 500 words a day for over a month. Neither my work, family, friends nor my other hobbies have suffered for it. All I did was eliminate friction, remove dead time from my schedule, and teach myself that even 15 minutes of spare time is enough time to write in.
This post took 20 minutes to write, and is almost 1000 words long. What could you have written during that time?