But I don’t have the time…

This is a post in search of answers.

Let’s be clear on one thing: most of we writers don’t have the option of writing full-time early in our writing careers. Most of us have many other things competing for our time and energy: family, relationships, work (the original of the paycheck which feeds us and our families), school, and so on. Which is why the most common excuse for those who say they’d love to write is “I don’t have the time.” The problem with this excuse is that almost every author who has “made it” did so while juggling a full-time job and other responsibilities while also somehow finding time to write. In essence, such writers got their start by making their writing a part-time job they took seriously.

But- – say you–I have a wife, kids, a job, and perhaps even school (high school, college, or grad school), to juggle and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. I hear that. Truth is, I’m wrestling with the same issue as you are.

I have a wonderful woman for my wife, and we have an adorable six-month old daughter. I have a full-time job, and grad school will be starting in a mere three weeks. I’m sure there are many others out there who crave the writing life but have even more going on than I do. This isn’t an excuse fest, or a pity party, what I’m trying to do is think about the issue pragmatically and determine what solutions exist.

My particular situation involves a job which runs 1-9 pm, five days a week. I leave a 12:30 and get home (most nights) at 9:30. After arriving home I have several appealing options: connect/talk to my wife (which I immensely enjoy), shower, go to bed (difficult because it takes a while for me to wind down after work), write, or do some preparatory programming for the grad program in Computer Science.

Most nights, upon my return home, I connect with my wife. We talk for an hour or two, until 11ish. Then I brush my teeth, shower, and do my best to avoid being sucked into reading pointless fascinating news articles on my smartphone, or hopping on the computer to wander around the Internet. There were a couple of nights that I stayed up and wrote until after 1 am, but I hated missing out on going to bed with my wife (call me sentimental).

There is another way I could do nights after work: as soon as I arrive home I could brush my teeth and hop in the shower. Then I could go directly to bed, connect with my wife,  and fall asleep. This would help me avoid being unproductive until late in the AM (last night I was up till 2 AM doing absolutely nothing which matters to me, grrr). Reliably being in bed and asleep by 11 pm could help me get earlier.

But mornings aren’t without their own set of tradeoffs. If I wake any earlier than 8 am, I’m likely to wake up both my wife and our daughter at the same time. This is bad because being awoken early makes them, and therefore me, cranky. But we all sleep in the same bed so it’s unavoidable. Option 2: realize that waking before 8 am is simply unworkable and work around it.

I’m hesitant to call mornings a viable writing time because it’s difficult to concentrate when our daughter is awake and therefore making noise. Also, while my wife assures me that I can have some protected writing time in the mornings where she’ll watch the baby, I feel that it is reasonable to assume that there will be days when she’s having a rough day and I’ll want to help out. I don’t think she’d impose on my protected writing time, but if I observed her having a rough day, I would impose on my own protected time. Additionally, the morning after 8 am is widely recognized among Americans as a legitimate time to conduct most forms of business: deliveries, phone calls, training, etc. In other words, it may be difficult to cordone off a two hour time block, when the morning air is buzzing with life.

Ideally, I think the best time to write would be waaaay early in the morning, assuming one had enough sleep and a effective gentle way of awaking which wouldn’t upset the baby. But then there’s the damn work schedule.

So my choices seem to be these:
(1) stay at work after getting off shift and writing for an hour or two on my laptop
(2) change my work schedule to accommodate my writing needs (difficult to do: probably take a couple months to implement)
(3) throw hands up in despair and admit defeat
(4) after work,  shower and go to bed right away and wake up at 8 am to do a couple hours of writing. After writing (at, say, 10:30 am) go with wife to see the horses. Bounce baby during her morning nap while brainstorming in notebook as wife plays with horses. Do this until 12:10 at which point we return home so I can pack a lunch and go to work. Unresolved: when do I do an hour or two of programming?

Upon elaboration, #4 seems like it could work. It would regularly provide my wife with over an hour of horse time every day (probably not as much as she would like, but a lot more than she’s been getting), and it’d provide me with almost two hours of writing time a day. I would just have to be a Nazi about protecting that time and absolutely refusing to do anything else during it other than writing: no web surfing, no fixing of electronics or reinstalling of applications or operating systems, absolutely no baby (which would be hard cause she’s awesome). Just writing, outlining, research, and editing. And, as research involves web surfing, it would be wise to relegate that to an at-work task which I could do on my smartphone. Although, a smartphone isn’t an ideal research platform for one reason: no Evernote built into the Chrome Android browser (which I use for “clipping” web pages which contain relevant information). I need to look into this more and see if there’s a way around this obstacle. In the meantime, #4 it is. It’s worth a shot.

I guess that’s the bottom-line: methodically try different scenarios to find what works for you. It is immensely frustrating to do, but it’s probably the only way for those of us still launching our writing careers. After we get to the point that we can afford to write full-time then the issue is finding where and when we are most productive. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, the first step to becoming a professional writer is to develop the writing habit by finding a time that you write consistently and doing it rain or shine, preferably every single day: 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

See? All of us writers, or at least those of us still in the early phases, face similar difficulties. I feel for you as you try to figure out what works best for you.

If you’ve found a way to juggle your myriad responsibilities and still write, I’d love to hear it! Please comment!

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