Whether a writer is a seasoned pro, totally new to writing, or somewhere in between, finding the time to write is always an issue. Some writers give up entirely on their dream and desire to write because even the idea of trying to find the time feels impossible and crushes them.
When I first started writing, I worked two jobs, went to school on top of having a lively social life, and had no car, which meant commuting took two to three hours a day. Essentially, I had the exact opposite of time; I had negative time. There was no finding time to write. I was often overbooked, exhausted, and demoralized when it came to writing because all the writers I knew had the privilege of time, encouragement, and space.
It took me years to finally come up with a way of making a schedule that I return to throughout my career. When I finally realized a writing practice didn’t have to consist of writing X number of words a day, it became so much easier to use other authors’ methods as jumping-off points for building my own schedule and practice.
Finding The Time To Write
Before I could carve out my schedule, I needed to figure some things out, like my best time to create, areas in my life I needed to reimagine, and, more importantly, what projects would fuel me instead of draining me.
Your best time
One of the first things you’ll need to figure out is your creative flow. For me, my best time to create fiction is first thing in the morning while my dream cobwebs are still fresh. Nonfiction happens better during the afternoon after I’ve woken up and done some other tasks. Poetry late at night. If I tried to write fiction at night, it would be slow work, with a lot of stops and pauses. Nonfiction early in the morning is OK, but I always save my afternoon brain for reworking it. And daytime poetry puts me in my head too much. Those creative times have changed over the years and always will for the rest of my career as I progress.
Everyone has their own patterns based on their daily lives, obligations, abilities, and routines. Creativity is a part of what makes you a writer or want to write. But it doesn’t just call you down to participate. You must pay attention to when your mind starts to play. My mind wanders and jumps a lot, but in the morning, my focus is stronger and can steer the wandering to be creative. While on a run, I can turn that stray thought about birds into a story idea that flies out of me.
Finding the perfect time to write takes, well, time and patience. Patience with yourself, mostly. To find your best times for creativity throughout the day, you’ll need to pay attention to how your brain reacts and behaves while you go through your day. Maybe creativity happens for you whenever you’re folding laundry, exercising, or on walks to school. Keep a little pocket notebook or a notecard with you and open yourself to curiously observing your thoughts and creativity throughout the day.
It took me a very long time to learn how to interpret and pay attention to my creative thinking. As I mentioned, it doesn’t just happen once, but you should check in on yourself and your space as you move through life and change.
To find time to write, make time to write
But if your creative time happens when you’re doing something else, how are you supposed to write or get any work done? At that point, you have the option of stacking or cutting time.
There are probably things you do throughout your daily life that are less necessary than you think. For me, it was hanging out in bars, surfing the web, and watching television. I would spend many nights and afternoons hanging out, drinking, shooting pool, or watching hours of TV, zoning out the whole time. And my mornings were spent sleeping in and recovering before starting my jobs.
Find which aspects of your routines you don’t really need to do and aren’t positively serving you and cut them out of your life. And for people who may be reading too deeply into this, I’m not talking about cutting responsibilities or obligations but time wasters that you don’t even like doing. Some people who want to write spend time watching TV, playing video games, or doomscrolling. It can also be simple things like spending an hour each morning going to get coffee when you could make it in your house.
But cutting time isn’t for everyone, which is where stacking comes in. Stacking time refers to stacking tasks together, so you’re doing multiple things simultaneously. Like a lot of the advice in this article, stacking may not be for you. When I worked two jobs and went to school, I rode the bus often. About two hours each day were spent sitting on a bus. It wasn’t something I could simply cut from my life. So, instead of staring out the window, I used the time to listen to writing podcasts and audiobooks to expose myself to craft. While I wasn’t actively writing, those recordings gave me insight into how to make a story actually work.
Examine your daily and weekly routines for the activities you can cut or stack. For people constantly on the move, dictation and craft audiobooks or podcasts are excellent stacking activities. For cutting, ask yourself how specific actions affect you and your creativity. A helpful way of finding time to cut and stack is to look at your current schedule or how you spend your time. Then ask yourself if you can do something else while performing it or if you really need to be performing it. Don’t forget cutting can also mean asking for support or delegating a task to someone else.
Let your passion guide you
Have you ever fallen into the hole where you think your project needs to be finished even if you’re not that into it anymore? It happens to all writers at some point in their careers but more so at the beginning because you’re searching for your voice and your stories. When I first started writing, I wrote a bunch of novels because I thought that was what people wanted. At the time, however, it wasn’t what I wanted or even knew how to write, so it made me feel terrible about my skills and exhausted me.
As soon as I stopped trying to write the form I thought I should, I started paying attention to the fact that I loved writing short stories and flash fiction. By giving myself over to what I wanted, I gained all this energy and passion for writing. The more I wrote what I wanted and experimented with craft in the short form, the more I grew comfortable stepping out and trying longer fiction.
But I didn’t just write any fiction; some of it was weird because it was what I wanted to write. Writing isn’t always fun, so choosing projects that give you life and energy instead of draining you helps so much. Learn to listen to your body and notice the signs when you start to lose energy or a project is draining you. If you can’t listen to your body, have someone else help by being your accountability partner.
While picking projects that energize you is important, remember that sometimes even the most exciting projects still feel like work. During those times, make sure you have go-to energy boosters. For me, it’s going for a walk, running outside, or meditating for a few minutes. Stepping away from the keyboard always helps me refill my creativity well and sometimes even works out story knots. Maybe you already know what things give you energy, like stopping to make a cup of matcha. If you don’t know what activities provide you with energy, do some self-exploration again and try different things.
Finding Time to Write & Scheduling
The word “schedule” is misleading. Not everyone works well with a schedule or can even create one. So, think of “schedule” in this usage as a reminder, whether it’s written down, an alert on your phone, or someone else reminding you. One of the most easily corrected mistakes writers who want to make a writing schedule make is not actually creating a schedule.
Even if it takes a whole day to do a writing schedule, it is more beneficial to have one than not. Start slowly if you’re new to writing and following a writing schedule. Just scatter a few minutes or hours throughout your week when you know you’ll have creative energy, space to stack tasks, and free time.
In finding time to write, not every day needs to be about writing or putting words down on a page. Don’t overload your schedule with simply writing but remember to include time for creative play, research, community building, practice, editing, submitting/querying, or learning. When I started making my writing schedule, I carved out three hours in two of my weekdays for writing while I stacked my other time with practice and play.
For writers used to schedules, revamping or reenergizing them can be as simple as using a new format to make your schedule or going through the steps above to find new time and tap into new energy. I tried out new planners every year until the last two years, when I used the same planner because I noticed it works well with how I view my life and career.
Never get down or punish yourself for missing a scheduled writing time. Instead, examine why you missed it. Look at the factors surrounding you and consider if maybe the time wasn’t right or if the circumstance wasn’t under your control. Try something different the next week and keep adapting your schedule until you find something that works for you and your life.
Making time to write is less about finding ways to write 2,000 words an hour or complete a novel in a week. It’s more about discovering what works for you, your life, and your creativity. Instead of trying to be a writer who does things the way someone else does, focus on your abilities and responsibilities. Someone working a full-time job with children will have a different writing schedule than an MFA student working on their thesis. Both of these writers are valid, and their schedules have to match their lives. The only way to do that is by examining your life, creativity, and energy.
Aigner Loren Wilson is a literary speculative fiction writer and editor. She is a senior fiction editor for Strange Horizons and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Interzone Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Writer’s Digest, and many more publications. To check out her other writing visit her website aignerlwilson.com.