How to Make Time to Write — Abby Off the Record

How to Make Time to Write

by Abby on September 28, 2011

Woman jugglingSometimes I hesitate to write these “how I do it” posts because I think, “Who really cares when I write and when I do laundry?” But then I always get students in my personal essay class who want to know how exactly I find time to write, teach, and raise my kids. They want specifics, timetables, tips. I get that; I’m the same way.

First, however, I correct them – I don’t FIND time, I MAKE time by making certain choices. For instance, I choose not to waste time showering in the morning and I never dust. Aren’t you glad you don’t know me in real life?

I read a good post somewhere once by a woman who runs an online business, has a bunch of kids, and maybe even homeschools them. (If this rings any bells, send me the link.) She had a wacky schedule where she would get up in the middle of the night to work and then nap in the afternoon with her kids. I value my sleep too much for that.

I know some people who get up before dawn to write, but I have never, ever been a morning person. Except for that brief stint in my 20’s when I was going to the gym before work at 6am. That led to embarrassing incidents like the time a fellow exerciser inquired about why I was wearing 2 different sneakers. I thought about trying to convince her it was a celebrity cross-training trick, but I fessed up: I’d packed my gym bag half-asleep in the dark and was too lazy to go home and get matching shoes.

Anyway, one tip that night-owl lady gave that I agree with is:

Never do housework while your kids are asleep. Or, I’d add, at school or a playdate. That time is too precious to waste on unloading the dishwasher. Put the baby down for his nap, then run to the computer and start writing until you hear him wake up. And even then you can probably squeeze out another 5-10min by calling, “I’ll be right there, sweetie. I’m coming!” Kids have no concept of time.

Here are some other tips:

Prioritize chores. Decide what is must-do and what is can-wait. For me, the kitchen and bathrooms are high priority. (Remember, I have 2 BOYS. The loo starts to smell like a bus terminal after a few days.) Folding laundry comes in dead last. I once spent a Sat. morning folding and putting away 4 baskets of clean laundry. Know how long it took me? 2 HOURS. I’m simply not willing to give up that much potential writing time on a regular basis. Clean is good enough; a few wrinkles never killed anyone.

Stay local. Pretty much everything we do is located within a 5-mile radius. I’m not kidding. I chose a gym, preschool, and sitter largely based on their proximity to our house. Sure, there are nicer grocery stores, fancier gyms, and an amazing music class across town, but if I have a couple hours to write, I don’t want to waste half that time in the car.

Remember that writing is more than just writing. Sometimes people forget how much THINKING is involved in writing. Before you sit down at the computer and start pounding out prose, you have to have some idea what you’re going to write about. And it helps to let plot twists and essay conclusions rattle around in your brain for a while before revising. So don’t fret that time away from your desk is wasted. I regularly find that after a workout or sitting in carpool I have a much more productive writing session because I’ve gone over things in my head and am ready to write them down.

What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks for squeezing writing into your busy life?

READ O’ THE DAY: Kim actually asked several writer-moms this very question, including me. Here’s her post on the subject.

NEWS O’ THE DAY: Speaking of my class, Personal Essays that Get Published, the next session of the Level 1 and Level 2 class kicks off Oct. 12! The 6-week online class is geared towards writers of all levels who want to publish and get paid for writing about their life. Level 1 is a prerequisite for Level 2. Past students have gotten published in regional and national parenting magazines, alumni magazines, even the New York Times! Find out more and register here.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Basi September 28, 2011 at 8:33 am

I have to second the thing about writing having a lot of “thinking” before you get to actually writing. Thinking can be done anywhere, and involves not only brainstorming but also figuring out exactly where to start on any given day.

Lately I’ve been having a harder time with that than I was a few months ago. :/ Maybe I can blame it on pregnancy brain?

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Abby September 29, 2011 at 11:32 am

Yes, blame that. :) Pregnancy brain is real, you know. They’ve done studies on it.

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Alissa September 28, 2011 at 9:03 am

I write better during the afternoon, which usually means my daughter is awake at the best times for me to write. Well, I talked to my husband and asked him to watch her for about an hour a day so I can write. I’m one that needs no distractions and nobody around if it at possible, so knowing that I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and go into the other room really helps my concentration.

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Abby September 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

I’m the same way, Alissa. I write best in an empty house. Which only happens rarely!

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Angie September 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Ha! I’m about to make lots of time for writing and if I figure out how I do it, I’ll let you know. I think it’s going to itnvolve *not* doing a lot of other things. But I can do it, because it’s a short term solution. That’s probably why working under deadlines best. Crunch, cram, crack co… just kidding.

Here’s the link http://powerofafamily.blogspot.com/2011/05/when-i-sleep.html

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Abby September 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

That’s it! Thanks, Angie. Good luck w/ your writing — you’ll get ‘r’ done, I have no doubt. :)

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Serri September 29, 2011 at 10:13 am

Thanks for a great post! I’m an artist, and my sister – a writer – sent this to me. Your tips are 100% on-target for creative workers! I have one more to offer: I double-book my on-duty time. When my preschooler is in the bathtub or watching TV, I use the laptop to sit nearby and do non-creative work like finding exhibit/competition opportunities, answering email, or maintaining the website.

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Abby September 29, 2011 at 11:36 am

Thanks for your comment, Serri! That’s a good point about stuff that takes less brain power while the kids are around. As long as you accept that you may get interrupted 10 times while you’re trying to write a single email. ;)

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Malia Jacobson September 29, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Great post, Abby. I’m right there with you on many of these. I’m not a morning writer either, so I try and get things done during the day so I can write at night. I clean in 5-10 minute bursts throughout the day, ONLY when my kids are awake. I also take 20 minutes to clean up after dinner so that it’s done and I’m free to write after the kids are asleep. We definitely “stay local,” but I’m amazed at how many of my friends drive 45 mins to an hour for a pediatrician visit or a playdate. I don’t have time for that!

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jetts31 October 1, 2011 at 9:23 am

I’m like the dracula of writing. I save my writing for night time. I usually end up finishing things at 2am but it works for me. I do the planning and thinking during the day. Most times when the kids are off playing or content with something else besides me.

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Mindy October 7, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Abby! I just found your site and I’m in love! I’m a fellow freelancing mama and I too skip showers because really, who has time? I also save time by subsisting on my kids’ leftovers–you know, hovering over the sink and polishing off the last fourth of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of actually making myself lunch. And, since I don’t get enough sleep ever, I drink a lot of 5-Hour Energy.

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Abby October 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Thanks so much, Mindy! Glad you’re enjoying my blog. Always nice to meet another freelancing mama! :)

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It's Not Like a Cat October 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm

This is such a great post, with great tips and reminders–thank you!

I’m having a really hard time lately due to what feels like NO time to myself–so that precious little time that I DO have, I spend trying to figure out what I was thinking about or wanting to write about. I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon. But thanks for reminding me to make the most of the time I do have!

I’m also training for a marathon right now. As soon as that ‘s done (next week), I will supposedly have lots more free time to write. Because if I can get up at 5 a.m. to run, I should be able to do that to write, right?

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Abby October 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Wow, good luck w/ the marathon! It’s definitely a challenging finding enough me-time. I often feel like I have to choose: yoga or writing, sleep or reading. There’s just not enough time for everything.

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