Find the time to write: On the hour

Writing a novel may be as simple as skipping a TV show.
By Libby Cudmore | Published: November 2, 2015


televisionWe all fantasize about the writing life – the seemingly limitless hours to spend in carefully curated creative space, punctuated only by a trip to the coffee shop to languidly write for another few hours amid the roiling hubbub of modern life.

But ask most writers, and you may hear a resounding: “I don’t have enough time to write my novel or poem.” Most writers have other jobs, families, homes. How can they find the hours to devote to craft?

What if I told you that all you need is one hour a day?

I work as a newspaper reporter at a small weekly where, on average, I cover six stories a week, sometimes putting in 15-hour days at my office, with an hour commute each way if I’m not crisscrossing the county chasing down my next story. While I was working on my novel, I wasn’t left with much time to write. Every morning, I got up, made a cup of coffee and sat down to work. If I really got on a tear, I took my notebook on the bus and sketched out the next scene. Within eight months, I had a polished draft of my novel, sent it to agents and signed with one, who helped me get a five-figure deal with William Morrow.

Not bad for an hour a day.

An hour is an easy amount of time to reclaim. According to a Nielsen report, the average person spends an average of five hours a day watching TV. Five hours. And look, I like TV as much as anyone, but surely you can turn off one of those shows and focus that time on your craft.

A single hour may also be an easier amount of time to negotiate from spouses and children. The idea of losing a member of the household for a seemingly endless amount of time is stressful, but short of a medical emergency, even dinner can wait an hour.

From that perspective, an hour doesn’t seem like much. And when that hour is set, the pressure is on to make that time as productive as possible. At first, you’ll probably feel itchy, anxious to check Facebook or fall into the Wikipedia wormhole under the guise of “research.” (We all do it.) But if you sit there long enough, you’ll write something, even if just to alleviate the boredom.

Here are a handful of tips to help make that hour even stronger.

1. Guard your writing time like a dragon’s gold. My husband and I live in a one-bedroom apartment, and my studio doubles as our kitchen table. I made a tag that reads “Stay away from me, and stay away from my desk” (a quote from my favorite show, The Shield) to hang over the back of the chair so that my husband knows not to start a conversation. When that hour is done, I take off my headphones and give him a hug so he knows I’m back in the “real world.”

2. Develop a ritual to help trigger your writing self. A prayer, a fresh cup of coffee, a certain song that invokes the muse. My brain knew it was time to get serious with my writing when I put on Steely Dan’s “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me).” No matter what happened during the day, no matter how much stress I was under, hearing that song reminded me that this time, this creative space, was my own.

3. Seriously: no Internet. Turn off your cell phone, too.

4. Figure out your best time to write. Some writers work better after everyone has gone to bed, others before anyone else is awake.

Some days you’ll write six pages before the timer goes off. Other days, you’ll feel lucky if you get a paragraph done. But stick with it, at the same time of day if possible, and soon, whenever your friends ask “Where do you find the time to write?” you’ll be able to smile and say, “I make the time.”

Libby Cudmore is a reporter for the Hometown Oneonta and The Freeman’s Journal in Cooperstown, New York. Her novel The Big Rewind will be published in February 2016.

  • Geckomayhem

    Many writers purport the same thing, but everyone is in a different situation. It’s easy to say you can put aside an entire hour when you have no children. But I like the idea of switching into dedicated writing mode for a specific, continuous block of time. It just can’t happen every day for most people who have work and family responsibilities.

    One thing I do to try and find time to read, write and research, is to use my phone a lot whenever I have a few minutes to spare (like right now). I think the next step would be to negotiate maybe half an hour a day, provided you are not too exhausted to concentrate by the time the kids are in bed.

    I agree that everyone can find time. I don’t watch TV, I’ve completely given up gaming, and I still struggle to find my creative spark and the time to write something useful. A whole hour is a luxury I really want to negotiate for, because otherwise I don’t think I’ll finish anything.

    Internet is a must for researching facts and increasing your knowledge; but I think you have to pick and choose when to do so, and to have the self control to not run off after the white rabbit all the time.