What to Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

stop-watch-timeDo you frequently lament how busy you are?

Do you fret over how little you can accomplish each day?

I’ve been there, and I’m going to walk you through the way I’ve been processing these questions.

If you don’t have enough time to accomplish all of the writing projects on your list, there are really only two options available. However, before I spell them out, I’d like to suggest what ISN’T an option:

Feeling Guilty

A few months ago I reviewed where I was emotionally, and I realized that I felt guilty and miserable at the end of every single work day. This led to some hard questions: “If I love to write, why do I always feel terrible at the end of the day?”

The answer had a lot to do with my expectations and how I spent my time. Writing wasn’t the problem. The act of writing felt like my ideal calling. My problems came when I looked back at my day.

If I was going to write for the long term, I needed to find a way around this guilt that had been tainting my career.

Improving Your Efficiency

While you can probably quit social media and improve your efficiency or use a tool like Freedom to stay offline in order to make your writing time more productive, there’s a chance that you’ll burn yourself out trying to work faster.

While improving your productivity can give you a boost to finish a project, much like finishing a race with a sprint, you can’t sprint every day for every week. That’s how you burn out. Quite simply, if you can’t find time to work on a book project in the first place, you won’t make things better by becoming “more efficient.”

Sacrificing Family and Personal Time

I’ve read books by successful writers and business leaders, and they often talk about putting in the extra hours to make a project happen. Once again, that works for a short burst of time, but you and your family will suffer over time. This is not sustainable for the long term.

What You Can Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

Still feeling stuck? Maybe a little desperate? OK, here are your two options if you don’t have enough time to write:

Turn Unnecessary Leisure Time Into Writing Time

While we all need some time to exercise, relax, and hang out with friends and family, I’ll bet that we all have unnecessary leisure time that we don’t need. In order to turn that leisure time into writing time, we may have to make some radical sacrifices—or at least, these sacrifices will seem radical at first but I honestly believe they won’t feel like sacrifices in retrospect.

In my own case, I generally only watch hockey when doing the dishes or folding laundry. I rarely sit down and watch a hockey game. If I’ve spent time with my wife, set up my work schedule for the following day, and caught up on my house work, I go to bed as early as possible so that I can wake up at 5 am to write. That means I watch a lot less TV than in the past, I never play games on my computer or tablet, and I never listen to the news.

Where you make cuts will depend on your own priorities, however, if writing really is important and you feel like there’s an unfulfilled longing in your life, look over all of the different television shows you watch or the games you play and ask what function they provide in your life. While you can hang on to some of them, I’ll bet that writing for an hour or two each day instead will make you feel a lot better.

Cut Your List of Writing Projects

There are no easy solutions here if you don’t have enough time to write. While we live on a tight budget and I’m stingy with my time, I’m aware that sometimes I simply can’t find enough time to accomplish everything that I want to do.

There are seasons in life when it’s completely appropriate to make some cuts. If the alternative is feeling guilty and unfulfilled every day, I think you’ll agree that resetting our personal expectations will feel much better as an alternative!

Before we had a baby, I used to spend about half of my time working on book projects and the other half on paying client work, but I also had some fiction side projects that I really enjoyed. I even attended writing groups where they knew very little about my nonfiction work. To them I was more of an aspiring novelist!

When the baby arrived, the fiction had to go onto the back burner, and I had to cut back my work for books and clients. I can usually accomplish 5 things in a given day when I’m juggling a baby, provided I can wake up early, my wife gives me a two hour break, and my son takes a decent nap. Without any of those conditions, my to-do list goes down in flames.

I’ve been learning the hard way that it’s OK to fall short each day. I can’t always knock everything off my to do list. If I can accomplish 70-90% of my projects, that’s still a passing average, and it’s something I can celebrate.

In Conclusion: Be Kind to Yourself

I’ll bet that most writers need to mix some cuts in their leisure time with more realistic to do lists. Each day is a little different than the one before it, so standards can be tough to set, especially when you’re freelancing from home.

Wherever you find yourself, the best advice I can give you as a full or part time writer is to be kind to yourself. Celebrate each small victory, and don’t be afraid to end your day with a cup of tea on the couch or a beer on the porch.

No matter how much you accomplish, there will always be more to do. That’s both what keeps us going each day and what can burn us out. Work hard today and celebrate. No one else will celebrate for you.

Want to Dig Into This Topic Further?

If this post speaks to where you’re at, this topic and many others will be part of what myself and long time freelancer Kristin Tennant will cover at the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers on May 24-26 in Watervliet, MI.

Learn more or register today at www.renewandrefine.com.

One thought on “What to Do When You Don’t Have Time to Write

  1. The idea to turn unnecessary leisure time into writing time has been the single most helpful bit of advice for me. When I read your e-book “Creating Space” the part about distractions made me realize what was wrong with my (non)writing. I kept wanting to write more and wondering when I would get around to it. Since taking a look at my leisure time activities I realized there were many opportunities to write that I was squandering doing who knows what. Now that I have been writing more, I don’t even miss what I was doing.


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