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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How Do YOU Find Time For Writing and Critiquing?

Author Topic: How Do YOU Find Time For Writing and Critiquing?
M.D. Nelson
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I find that one of my biggest challenges as a writer is just finding the time to write. And then I also want to find time to help other writers too, which is difficult when you have very little free time in the first place!

I am always interested in knowing how other people carve out this magical span of hours. Hoping perhaps I might be able to learn something!

As for me, I've sort of set up a schedule for myself, which I started in February. I got some advice from seanwes.com's podcast about being productive, and it's been incredibly helpful to me.

Weekdays are broken into "rest days" and "work days." I commute 2 hours a day for work, and I can work from home for 2 days, so I usually write in the mornings before I leave or start. I want to get up at 5am but that hasn't been going well, haha!

I've been working some overtime lately to save money for various reasons. but I'm hoping to go back to normal work hours after July. Time to exist sounds so nice!

But here is how my schedule breaks down:

Mon (Rest Day): Wake at 6am. Write until 7am, then leave for work. Get to work at 8am. Work until 5:30/6. Get home around 7pm. Make/eat dinner with my roommate while watching a movie. Bed by 10:30.

Tues (Work day): Wake at 6am. Write until 8am, then sign online and work from home. Work until 5:30/6pm. Take a shower. Work on art/animation. When roommate gets home, make/eat dinner, then go back to work. Be in bed by 10:30 (hopefully).

Wednesday (Rest Day): Same as Monday.

Thursday (Work Day:) Same as Tuesday.

Friday (Work/rest day): Rest a little, and then work later (because it's the weekend.) I try to be in bed by midnight.

Sat and Sunday: Usually wake at 8am, then write until noon. Lunch break, 1 to 2 hours. Then work on art/animation until bedtime and/or or I get really burnt out.

I take breaks at work to check online communities like Hatrack. A lot of the time on rest days I'll check in while watching movies. When giving feedback I try to read before bed, or I'll snatch time from when I'm taking a bath. My job doesn't really let me have a definitive break (we can take one, but if we're in the office we have to come when needed) which is nice, because I get paid for my lunch hour, but also not nice, because I get the stink eye if I open my sketchbook for a minute.

It gets very taxing when I'm working overtime like I have been this year, because you get to choose: write, draw, or take a shower... and sometimes I choose the shower, haha! I'm trying right now to work out a better way to provide feedback, but I'm thinking I'll have to just decide to not write while I'm giving feedback. Or perhaps I can take a few minutes a day at work to do so?

Also considering a less time intensive job that still lets me eat. Which is scary but exciting to think about at times.

But anyway, this is how I've managed to carve out time to write! I am a total and complete introvert with a handful of friends and a very quiet family, with no significant other or children. Not that I don't want more of those either... maybe one day. Hopefully! Being alone forever with just my writing for company is not really ideal either, haha.

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I use mental composition techniques when spare moments arise. I take a sentence and mentally rewrite it several, a dozen, or up to a hundred ways, look for the most artful way to express the sentence's basic idea.

I write, mentally, in the car, the shower, waiting rooms and waiting lines, the few minutes before I fall asleep exhausted, the few minutes from asleep to fully awake, when I dream, when I'm alone in the dark because the power's off, in front of the TV, all the time. Those mental composition results I try out on the page, many don't hold up, the several that do are rough gems. They require more context and texture, though the segment they are part of has a firm foundation upon which to build.

I strongly advise against mental composition distracted driving, though. I telecommute to work from the office Barca Lounger, no commute time at all. I travel by car at most ten miles total trip per errand daily activity. I fill the car's gas tank four or five times a year, or less, about 1200 miles a year. Half that travel is to visit family. Somewhat short, serene drives on country back roads most of the way, and undistracted driving and mental composition.

I have strong memory skills too, which, without, mental composition would be less productive. If a thought persists, great, I try it out later on the page. If the thought evaporates, if it's worth pursuit, it will come around again.

Other mental composition methods are like what Richard Harris's Hannibal Lecter called his memory palace. Visualize settings, set up their sensory perceptions; lighting conditions, orientation of objects, ambience, emotional textures, smells and aromas, sounds, touches, tastes, flora, fauna, people, furniture, floor treatments, decorations, surface textures, etc., etc., etc., and render them into words. Try to pick out details that most capture the dramatic essence of a setting, person, event, or all three at once.

Those are "telling detail" exercises, what stands out most and personally and emotionally to a perceiver and concisely captures the whole in an economy of words. In the real world, many are the possible telling details, admirable or condemnable and both. Using them for prose, that takes imagination, inspiration, and perspiration, taken from real world experiences.

Visualize and sensationalize -- other senses -- an antagonal, causal, tensional event, in a place and time and dramatic situation, and populate it with a minimum number of dramatic characters in contention, maybe a backdrop crowd with a mob personality or two. Mental composition that next could be tried out on the page begins a loosely planned draft that, of course, then needs more content, perhaps different organization, possibly stronger and clearer expression.

This above is how I make time to write -- mental composition that leads to productive typing sessions and revisions, always revisions. Posting to writer workshop discussions, a few moments here and there stolen as a break from work, life, reading, and writing.

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I feel your pain.

Your commute is your biggest enemy. Could you not live closer to work? You would save so many hours!

Here is my workday during the school year. Summer is a little more relaxed (thank goodness):

6 am - Wake and get ready for work.
7 - 7:30 am - Finish getting kids ready (husband wakes them and makes them breakfast). Drop kids off at bus stop.
8 am - 5 pm - At work. It's demanding and stressful. I usually exercise at the gym at work over lunch. If my workplace didn't have a gym, then I would only be able to exercise on the weekends.
5:30 - 7:30 pm - Get kids home. Cook dinner, clean, prepare lunches for the next day, help kids with homework.
7:30 - 8:30 pm - Get kids ready for bed and get them in bed.
8:30 - 10:30 pm - Write.

On Friday and Saturday nights I stay up very late to write. Friday and Saturday *day* I am cleaning, grocery shopping, and driving kids around to swimming, martial arts, and whatever sports game happens to be on the calendar.

On Sunday night I watch Game of Thrones.

That's all I've got. It's tremendously frustrating. This is why I think think think all day long whenever I can to plan what I want to write that night. I house all of my ideas in OneNote as they pop into my head during the workday. I use MS Visio for my family trees and MS Excel for my timelines. I carry my notes and chapters around on a thumb drive so they are accessible when I am at work and have a few rare moments.

Right now, it is way past my bedtime. Monday mornings are always hard for me.

I don't think there is a magic formula. Most people have busy lives and jobs...finding the time to sit and write without interruption has always been my biggest challenge.

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Grumpy old guy
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And if I were to say that royalty payments mean I don't have to work in the usual sense, would that make you jealous?

I do work a few hours a day just so I don't spend most of my mornings in my underpants and dressing gown.


[ June 13, 2016, 03:03 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Robert Nowall
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It's getting harder and harder---and writing tends to be last on the list of "things to do." I'm involved in a couple of time-eating activities. Lately I seem to find more time to write song parodies than straightforward writing.

Or is it all just an excuse for lack of inspiration?

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Grumpy old guy
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Oh, and being a misanthropist cuts down on social entanglements.


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Disgruntled Peony
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Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
Or is it all just an excuse for lack of inspiration?

I was dealing with these sorts of problems recently myself. I had about six straight months with no fresh ideas, which left me trying to resurrect old half-finished projects. The problem there is that my life and writing style have changed enough that I don't connect to most of those old stories like I used to. (I used to want to write sci-fi, but didn't have a good enough education to do it well. I've found I do better at contemporary and historical fantasy. I'm not so good at science, but am far better at history and psychology.) What finally pulled me out of the mire was a combination of factors:

  • I bought a pair of headphones so my time at the computer could suffer fewer interruptions. It was the easiest way to claim my writing space/time as my own.
  • My daily routine changed a bit, giving me less time to write but more time to think about writing while doing other things. It made the time I did have at the computer seem more precious.
  • I've started making more time to critique again. I learn as much about my own style as I do about others', when I'm paying attention.
  • Someone on WotF posted a Story in a Day challenge, complete with writing prompt. I decided to do it just for the hell of it, and the prompt connected beautiful visualizations to a story idea I'd had years before and had never followed through on.

Obviously, everyone is different, so those kinds of things might not work for you. Then again, they might, or they could give you ideas for how to go about doing things your way. The human brain is funny like that.

Back to the topic at hand:

I'm still working on setting a proper routine, but I've started picking up on some patterns that work for me (and might not work for ANYONE else, but then again you never know).

I like to get my first draft out quickly. Something in my brain has equated first drafts to binge writing. (I do best when I outline first, because then it's easier to refocus after my brain tangents.) While I can do this sort of writing after I've worked a morning shift, I prefer to use my days off. I do have to be sure not to neglect spending time with my husband on binge-writing days, because he is sweet and supportive but sometimes he misses me.

Once the first draft is finished, I have a framework I can edit. Editing is where I tend to really get a story where I want it to be. I can do that for an hour or two a night, which means I can edit comfortably even on a day I'm working an evening shift.

There are times where I'm not actively sitting down to write every day, usually when I'm giving a story a breather between drafts (it's hard for me to work on multiple stories at once in more than an outlining capacity). During those phases I usually focus on preplanning for future projects.

[ June 13, 2016, 10:01 AM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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I'm at the opposite end of this. I have no job at the moment. (I budgeted for a month or two of freedom before looking for something better.) I'm fighting a mental lethargy that comes from not having to do anything. I did the mental composition thing too in my old job that didn't require my mind. I've found I relied on it. I have only had a few good writing days in the time I've had off. I did however renegotiate my room and built a corner for writing, that has helped.
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M.D. Nelson
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@ extrensic - Interesting... for me, it starts with images, more similar to Hannibal Lector as you described! I play the scenes of the book in my mind, and I imagine the characters actions and dialogue before I even begin composing sentences. I find that I tend to throw down what I see in my mind, so what comes out on the desktop isn't the greatest bit of writing the world's ever seen. I tend to connect and fill in when I revise. I wonder what would happen if I started to visualize the writing as you do? I think my wiriting would certainly get better! I envy how little you use the car. I bought my car at 32,000 miles and it now has 74,000 on it in a little over a year. I do technical writing at my job, and so far it's the only employment I've been able to find that deals with writing and will pay a living wage. Or rather, I'm recovering from a 5 year battle for my Bachelors degree, and I don't have the strength to find something closer. Next year perhaps.

@ dmsimone - Haha, you get me! I totally feel you, 100%. It's a hard balance, and so, so frustrating. For the commute, I wish I could do less, but the town where I live is incredibly small, and the opportunities are split between retail/restauraunt and engineering/nursing/medical stuff. The former doesn't pay a living wage, and the latter well... unfortunately I'm not very bright when it comes to the sciences! Though I do love them. You seem to have a thought-process similar to mine, compartmentalizing and organizing everything to a moment, haha. I'm finding it a bit harder than I used to to find time to write, since I moved in with a roommate. I think I'm getting closer to a balance tho--so long as the overtime I'm working slows down! That should happen soon, though.

@ Grumpy old guy/Phil - Hnggg, you're living the dream you are! I can only hope the work I'm doing now will prove fruitful. If not, I can always become a Whoofer.

@ Robert Nowall - Lacks of inspiration are the hardest to deal with. I always find a change helps me; from rearranging my room, to going on a trip, or to just starting to volunteer. Ideas come to me from my own experience, even more so than reading or watching things. I can tell you that visiting a mental health hospital, or volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center, if that's your thing, gave me all sorts of ideas. Also, talking to people, reading biographies, or generally taking stock of things helps. At least for me! I don't know if it would work for you, but ideas I can give. </ Yoda voice>

@ Disgruntled Peony - Awesome tips on breaking up the routine and finding the writing spirit! I agree with you; changing something always makes my juices flow. I find that I write in the same fashion you do, with quick first drafts, and tighter revisions later. I can throw out 25,000 words in a few weeks if I need to, but I always try to have an outline. And my outlines are kinda freaky; they're a bit more like bullets full of causes and effects than anything else. Half the time I don't stick to them, and after I write them I never look back, but they help me get the backbone and the end of the story in a quick, managable way.

@ Pyre Dynasty - Ahh, the endless hours... I've had those, and I do miss them sometimes. I have a distant future plan (More like an idea, really) of doing the same thing, though I'm hoping to save enough to take an entire year and 6 months off. The 1 year is for the hard core making of the projects, the other 6 months is for finding a job in case the projects crash and burn. But I'm afraid that's going to take a big too long, unless I get a better job, haha. I also always carry a notebook with me, just in case... I've collected them all in a leather journal. Most of the ideas in the journal are terrible, but some are okay.

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Grumpy old guy
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Originally posted by M.D. Nelson:
Grumpy old guy/Phil - Hnggg, you're living the dream you are!
Be careful what you wish for. In order to become a writer I gave up a successful career and a comfortable, affluent lifestyle in exchange for the time to write, a dingy bed-sit, and the spectre of homelessness knocking on the door daily. I made it--just. I am not well known, I'm not a best selling author (not even a moderately successful selling author), but I make do from my writing by having simple wants and a frugal lifestyle.

What would you give up to get published?

I am hounded by a demon; either write or perish. What follows are the opinions of a driven man with an obsessive/compulsive need to write. That doesn't make my observations any less true; for they are based on my observations and experiences of and with other writers.

BTW: The 'you' referred to in the following is a generic you; an every-person if you will.

Take it from someone who literally has all the time in the world to write; time is NOT your problem. Do you really think that writing a story depends on you cribbing a few moments here and there in your busy life, or that setting yourself a performance goal of so many words or pages in a day will get your story told? One page of drivel and dross is worse than nothing at all.

Time is never an issue when creating a story. If you want and need to tell a tale you'll find the time wherever you can. And no matter how short that time is, it will always be enough. Finding the time to write isn't the issue; rekindling the spark that has died and relighting the fire in your belly that has gone out is your real problem. I could almost wager a weeks income that you all have piles of unfinished stories languishing in a heap somewhere, perhaps the back of the wardrobe or tucked away in some hidy-hole in the root cellar. Why did you abandon them? I'd wager another weeks wages you lost your passion for them; you lost interest in tales you knew were going nowhere and were saying nothing. It probably wasn't a conscious decision; but that's the real reason you chose to walk away from them--despite what you told yourself.

Perhaps it's just me; perhaps I'm a little odd, and perhaps some of my oddness will resonate as I tell my short tale. Whenever I get the first seed idea for a story I get a catch in my throat, my heart quickens, my fingers and the back of my scalp begin to tingle, and I want desperately to scrunch my toes in something soft, warm, and hairy. The excitement of creation is on me.

Then comes the hard work: Story, plot, character development, theme and premise, rising action and plot points, climax, denouement and resolution, milieu, setting, environment, scents and feelings, language and laws. Every waking moment of every day all that I can think about is story construction: How does this impact that, what will he be like, what does she really want, does 'A' really cause 'B' and does that result in 'C'? Hard work indeed, yet the excitement still remains--always.

While I may be thinking about my story every moment of the day I still have other things that need doing: Work, cook, clean, eat, wash, and so-on. But even as I do all those things, behind my eyes and passing surface thoughts the story is still the only thing that's really important to me; it bubbles to the surface at odd moments and I scribble a line or two or I see a whole scene in a single instant of recognition--later, in some stolen piece of time or some inconvenient place, I write it down, worry out the details, and fit it into its assigned place. Nothing can stop me, nothing and no one matters but the story. The fires of passion and inspiration for my story are burning hot and long.

Until they go out: What then?

Is that what's happened to you, isn't that the real reason you can't find the time; because the fires have gone out? You've lost your passion for the story and now you have to force yourself to write it, to finish what began as a labour of love and is now a millstone around your neck. So, instead of seizing the moment, any moment, you now need to force yourself to set aside time and space in order to work up your nerve, get your head back into the 'zone', and try and rekindle some small spark of enthusiasm that's died and gone cold long ago.

Harsh words? They surely are; but they are meant as a kindly jolt and not as admonition or rebuke. Rarely do I ply one of my 'trades' on the people I associate with, either at work or play, but I thought in this instance one simple insight into the psychology behind an aspect of human behaviour may be useful.

The lament, I just can't seem to find the time! is code for, I don't want to do this! Isn't that the real reason you can't 'seem' to find the time to finish a story? If you really wanted to write it, you'd make the time--somehow, somewhere.


[ June 16, 2016, 08:04 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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M.D. Nelson
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@ Grumpy old guy - You write what I wanted to know. I wasn't sure how to respond to your words previously, but as a totally awkward, introverted, and confused human I don't know how to respond to much, so my default is humor and immaturity (the former to avoid confrontation, the latter because I know nothing). If anything I said was flippant of the sacrifices and work you've done to get to where you are, I apologize. I know what it's like when people take hard work for granted and brush it off with something like "Must be nice!" As if they believe through sheer magical force of luck that somehow you were born The Chosen One.

Not long ago I went a stretch of 2 or 3 months nearly living out of my car. I could whittle my life to a suitcase, if needed; I know what essentials I'd take with me. I carry them with me everywhere, as if my mind is saying "just in case..." It was only thanks to a good friend and sucking up some mild abuse that I didn't spend a few nights sleeping in truck rest stations. I got curiously attached to my car in those times. The one steady thing, the car. I nearly cried when I traded it in. I felt like I was betraying it somehow.

But anyway.

I do have things I don't want to give up, like my parents. And they need me right now, or rather, the support I can offer them when I can. I'm generally strong of body and mind, where they are failing. I feel it would be selfish of me to spend all my time in my own head. My desire to write comes second to my love for my family and friends, who are all I have.

You mention the demon. I know him. He's being pummeled by a different demon at the moment though, one that asks "How can you help them to suffer less?" But they are getting better. Better than they were. Not normal yet, but they are better. Just hope that the worst doesn't happen, and the little control over time I have will be swallowed by doctors and hospitals.

But even then, the writing wouldn't stop. I write no matter what; the only things that stop my writing are utter exhaustion, mental and physical, and lack of hours. Learning to balance those things is something I've practiced for the last 6 months, and I think I'm getting better at it.

The fires haven't gone out. They're there, and I feel them every time I look at the folder on the desktop where everything lives. The story I want to tell is finished, and what it has to say is more relevant to me than I can say. It just needs the polishing of recent experience. But the balancing game is new to me too; shifting from the laser-like focus of college to stumbling blind in a world with no handhold. Who can I ask when I have questions about day-to-day life, when the default can't answer? I've discovered that strangers on the internet are the ones who answer most truthfully. Everyone else answers with the green monster, the vendetta, the past hurts, the idealistic lack of experience.

I had a feeling this topic was one that has come up hundreds of times on this forum, and I wonder how many times people have had to have the paw pressed to their heads, telling them "no child, stop. Shush now. You know nothing." I suppose I was asking for it! [Smile] I appreciate you describing your process, as I always love knowing how other people do their work.

I really don't know what I'm doing, but I think I'm learning something at every step. I appreciate learning how others go about their work, because my experience is very limited, and I very much enjoy insight into this world I've only just glimpsed.

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Grumpy old guy
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M.D. Nelson, I was not upset by your comment; I simply wished to point out that everything isn't always as it seems, even getting your dreams. I wouldn't give up my family either but I willingly made a choice to give up everything else to pursue a dream. That it worked is a blessing, if it hadn't I don't know what I would have done.

Second, my little rant isn't focused on anyone in particular. It's purpose was simply to get people to think about their complaint they can't seem to find the time to write. No doubt sometimes that is literally true. But I would hazard the guess that most of the time it's simply an excuse.


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