Finding the Time to Write: schedules, boredom, and binge-writing

I’ve been writing for forever.  I’m pretty sure that when I was but a bare fetus, the ultrasound showed a pencil in my tiny formed fingers.

This is a sentiment that a lot of writers give.

Here’s something more embarrassing that is probably also true:

I’ve been struggling forever, too.

Even though I like to tell people that my hobby is writing, that my passion and my craft involves furiously sketching out characters and plots and poetry, I sometimes feel like I am misrepresenting myself just a bit.  In truth, I don’t support myself economically with my writing.  I’m just whittling away my time, typing hundreds of thousands of words into my computer with the aspiration that I can condense my hopes and dreams into a small, concrete, published book.  Until I sign a contract though, I’m still just a dreaming writer.

The biggest difficulties I face (on a daily basis and in a more existential manner), are finding the time to write, wondering whether what I am writing is any good, and swinging back and forth between self-doubt and egomania.

I’m going to address the first of those problems: finding time to write.

Since, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t make a living off of my writing, I have to do what I call “Real People Things.”  As of today, I graduated from undergraduate school yesterday with (wait for ittttt), a BA in Chemistry and English – Creative Writing.  I know what you’re thinking: “Ewwww, chemsitry!”  Or: “Those are two very different fields!”

Well, I went to college with the explicit goal of majoring in something I love and something that will provide some shred of stable career.  So, I’m applying to Chemical companies in the hopes of a part time job or internship to bolster my life experience before I apply to Graduate School for Creative Writing.  You don’t need to go to graduate school to be an author (at least that’s what I’ll tell myself over and over again if I don’t get accepted into any).  I just want to go for the pure sake of learning more about something I’m passionate about.

So, from the two-paragraph summation of my life seen above, you can see my life is pretty jam-packed with plans.  I went through four years of undergrad and came out having written two books, and two unfinished books.  See the whole list here.  How did I find the time to do that?  I’ll tell you.

I did a lot of different things.

1.) I made a schedule.  Fueled by the productivity of NaNoWriMo my Freshman year (I wrote 50k words in a month, and finished the next 20k in December, emerging with a finished albeit raw first draft in my clutches), I had found a system that worked for me.  I used excel to track word counts (see my advice for tracking word count here).  I didn’t write in the same place or at the same time everyday, but I found some way to squeeze in a few moments of productivity.

This is what my calendar typically looks like.

This is what my calendar typically looks like.

This method may have involved late nights, coffee brewed at midnight (it tastes better late at night anyway), frenzied typos, and stress.  But for the most part it was fun.  Which leads me into the next point…

2.) I forced myself to write, because writing is not always fun.  Writing can be rewarding.  It can be inspired, inspirational, beautiful, satisfying, gratifying, and fun.  The less popular truth of writing is that it isn’t always fun and exciting.  Sometimes I stare at a paragraph for days, glaring at the lines of text as if I could force them to do my will.  Do I sacrifice poetry for clarity?  How can I make this bit make sense?  I’ve never met a person who hasn’t succumbed to the stress monster involved with writing (not to mention the Revision Monsters).  It’s just not possible.  Every rollercoast has upswings and downswings.  The key to finishing a long body of work is perseverance.  You must write even when everything in you tells you to stop.  That’s the secret of being a writer.  You write and write and write some more, you write when you hate it and you write when you love it, because the alternative is just impossible.

The roller coaster is also secretly a circle.

The roller coaster is also secretly a circle.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go on for five pages about the color of the autumn leaves just to reach a word count goal.  If you get stuck, that’s a different matter.   You can skip forward and write that awesome battle scene you’ve been thinking of.  You can write a couple pages of back story that don’t even make it into the book.  You have to find a way to tap into the inspiration and creativity and imagination that made you want to write in the first place.

3.) I engaged in the famous practice of binge-writing.  Schedules don’t always work.  For weeks at a time during my undergrad career, I would get so involved in reading three books at once for three different Lit classes or doing lab reports for two different Chem Labs at once.  I wouldn’t have time to write.  When I wasn’t working and doing homework, I was recovering from working and doing homework.  As a student, I was lucky to have the blessed god-gift of weekends.  If I didn’t have time to write during the week, I would wake up on Saturday and Sunday and write until my roommates woke up.  I would do my homework and then write until I fell asleep.  I binge-wrote pages upon pages, making up for the time I didn’t have during the week.

When you start stuttering and twitching, that's how you know it's working.

When you start stuttering and twitching, that’s how you know it’s working.

This is a bit of a risky practice, because it can involve burn-out.  That’s why another option is to…



4.) Multitask.  Going out to lunch with a friend?  Take your laptop and write while you wait for your friend to show up.  Walking your dog?  Use your phone as a voice-recorder to talk out character traits and plot devices (extra hint: if you use your phone, you can hold it up to your ear so people don’t think you’re talking to yourself like a crazy person).  Eating dinner?  I bet your table is big enough for a laptop or–if you’re messy–a simple notebook.  Do you have a long commute to work?  Again, use your phone or iPod or computer or other device as a voice recorder.  Just be sure that you are operating hands-free for a safe driving experience!

What this situation needs is a Jenga tower.

What this situation needs is a Jenga tower.


Whatever your life looks like, there’s always time to write.  You just have to make it work in the best way you can.  You have to find a system that works for you.

Whenever you’re in doubt, just search for inspiration.


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