Yesterday a lovely woman in an equally lovely Facebook group I frequent posted about her creative block. She's desperate to find the time to write, but as a mother of two children under five, she has no idea how to fit it in.
Sound familiar? Yep, to me too. About two years ago I went on something of an epic quest to find the time to write. I read books, blogs, features and articles all devoted to helping writers carve out the time to dedicate to their craft. All the advice was helpful, but none of it actually helped me achieve what I was looking for. As the mother of two children under five at the time, both at home full-time, I literally could not find the time to write.
I think this is a really common problem. You don't have to be a mother to struggle to find the time - you could have a busy job, or ageing parents in need of constant care. I don't think many of us are sitting on great swathes of free time, ready and waiting for us to devote ourselves to our creative work.
Last year, something changed. I did find the time to write - or more accurately I made the time to write. Nothing in my circumstances changed, however. My children got a bit older, but they were still at home full-time, Noel was still at work from 7.30am to 7.30pm five days a week.
What changed was this one little tip I'm going to share with you now, and I promise you if you follow it through fully, it will change your situation too.
I took my writing seriously.
Truly all that needs to change is how you view your writing. Once you stop seeing it as something you'd like to do one day when you have time, and start viewing it as an important part of your day to day life NOW, the rest will follow.
I learned this the hard way. If you're thinking now that I sat down and made a schedule and set myself a word-count a day and allocated the time accordingly, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I did take my writing seriously but not in a positive, thought-through, structured way.
What actually happened was I became so compelled by the reflection I'd been doing, and the story that was forming in my head (you can read more about that process here) that I turned my writing into a kind of guilty secret. An addiction, almost. I wrote frantically and furtively whenever I could and I felt racked with guilt the entire time. I write for a living, but I was at the time a full-time home educating mother of two children five and under. Any time outside the children 'should' have been devoted to housework, family time, my marriage, and any paid work I could round up to help keep the coffers at a reasonable level.
I didn't have a book deal to justify the output of time and energy. I wrote because at the time I felt I had to, this story was literally pouring out of me, pressing physically against the sides of my skull, and if I didn't get it out my head would explode. I told myself I had no choice. I had to follow this compulsion, and so I did. But I did it whilst filled with shame and guilt and a nagging feeling that I was being selfish, unfair on my family, and neglecting my duties.
Nonetheless, it worked. I took my writing seriously. I prioritised it. I made it essential, and in doing so I found the time, and the belief, to see it through.
What I learned from this was mind-altering. I learned that:
I need to write. This is a fact and it's irrefutable. I can't bury my creative urges any longer.
Writing is a priority. It's important, it's part of who I am and it demands to be respected. If I don't respect it thoughtfully and positively, I will do so negatively and through crippling shame and self-doubt. But I will do it anyway.
If I view my writing as essential, as a part of the whole that makes up who I am, I can view it differently. I can make the time, set aside the time and find the time. I can justify the odd CBeebies marathon when I absolutely have to nail a scene and the children are at a loose end. I can negotiate with Noel time at the weekends to write in a more thoughtful and respectful way, making allowances for everybody's needs. I can sacrifice Netflix, get up early, stay up late as and when I need to, because the writing takes priority. It doesn't feel like a sacrifice, or a chore. It feels essential.
If I view my need to write as shameful, selfish, indulgent or 'not important', I will write anyway, but I will do so through a cloud of negativity. I will not feel proud of what I achieve. I will not have the faith in it to see it through to the end. I will sabotage and disappoint myself to prove my worldview that writing is NOT a priority, it's a nice-to-have.
I should not need to justify my writing, but as I do, here's how I see it. It's important for my children to see me doing my creative work and understand it's important to me. It helps them view me as a rounded human being, not just Mummy, and it helps them understand their own creative callings are important, positive and to be respected.
I can - and do - make money from writing. But this is not the goal. I didn't write my novel to get published and make heaps of cash. Now it is being published, heaps of cash would be lovely, thanks. But that's not what I had in mind when I wrote. I wrote it purely and solely because I wanted to. The process was the reward. Finishing it was the goal. Everything else comes afterwards, in its rightful place.
And so now I do prioritise my writing. I make the time. I take it seriously. I do it positively. I haven't quite got to the stage of planning daily word-counts yet - I don't think I'll ever work this way. But I do make time in my days, and in my weeks, to write. I treat it as important and allow it the time and space it deserves.
To prioritise your own writing, try the following:
Think about why you write. Do you want to make money? If so, that's fine, but if that's the only goal then you will struggle to prioritise your writing until you have a book deal, and you won't get one of those until you write. There's an obvious cycle of self-defeat in there. So think why else you want to write. What do you want to say? How do you want to feel? What creative expression of yourself do you want to put out in the world? How would the process feel? How would a creative outlet improve other aspects of your life, and how you feel about yourself? Those are your initial motivators. The rest will come later.
Think about why you don't write. I know, you don't have time. The bills need to be paid, the kids need to be looked after, the house won't keep itself tidy, dinner won't cook itself, and your boss emails you at 4.30am on a Sunday morning expecting an instant response. What's actually happening here is you are prioritising everything else in your life, namely your servitude to others, over your creative calling. How can you take back some of that time for yourself? Do you need to cook from scratch every night? Do you have to entertain and play with your children 24/7 or could they be persuaded or assisted to entertain themselves from time to time? Would your partner, a friend, a family member, help out? Can the hoovering wait another night?
Look for your snatches of time. The ten minutes you spend waiting for the kids to be ready to head out. The time you spend scrolling while you wait for dinner to be ready, or for the kids to wake up. If your laptop (or notebook) is set up, within reach and turned on, you can reach for it the second you have a second. Just don't forget to save as you go.
Look for your chunks of time. Could you swap the sofa with your partner and Netflix for the laptop once or twice a week? Can you cancel any social engagements you aren't massively looking forward to, stay home and write instead? Could you set an alarm half an hour earlier and get up and try writing in the mornings? You might have to try a few things before you find what works for you. But if you don't try at all, you'll never know.
Think about how you'd do it if you were being paid. If you had a book deal, or an hourly rate, or a brand interested in working with you, you'd find the time. How?
Then go find that time anyway.
I'd love to know how you get on, and how you find the time to write.