“I try to write every single day, but some days life gets in the way and I can’t do it. Then I feel really guilty. How do I find time to write every single day and how can I stop feeling guilty when I’m not writing?” – Guilty in Galveston
There’s this thing called life. And the first mistake is thinking that it’s something separate from your craft. That somehow your time must be divided evenly between workkidsgroceriesbillscoffiewithfriendssoccerpracticerehearsalscookinglaundrycleaning and writing.
Your life is happening right now. Your life is happening when you’re writing. You still have to breathe. You still have to take pee breaks. You still have to make it look like you’re working in your cubicle when your boss passes by (kidding, kidding. Kind of). You still have to cook and sustain yourself somehow. You still have to keep the kids occupied.
Your writing is happening while you’re living life. You’re gathering material, hearing snippets of dialogue, seeing the way your kid kicks that perfect goal and noting, in words, how it makes you feel inside.
“Write every day.” I’ve heard it a lot in the past few years. I’ve even said it sometimes. I say it because it works for me—I usually have a few hours of downtime after my roommates are asleep, and I write like a demon in those wee hours. But—let me stress this—it’s not for everybody. Seriously. I used to get angry at people for asking me to do wildly outrageous things—like the jobs I was being paid to do, or giving Gramma dinner. All because it bit out of my precious writing time. (And if you’re imagining that I was a terrible person to live with, yes. Fact.)
If you find that you can’t write every day, the last thing you should do is feel guilty about it. You are not Writing’s bitch. Calliope (the Muse of Writing) is not frowning at you from on high, checking off some list that says “Amber didn’t do her writing today. She must not be a real writer.” I’ll just say it—
You don’t have to write every day.
There. I gave you permission not to write. Do what you can, when you can. Writing is a tough gig. Emotionally taxing. By all means, write when you can, but you must be gentle with yourself. It is essential not only to your psyche, but to the quality of your writing. Instead, here are some tips that I’ve used to squeeze in some writing time:
Sometimes, in a thirty-minute lull between Life and Sleep, you might be inclined to think, “Well I’m just not inspired, and I don’t have that much time anyway.” No. Become your own Minute-Man/Woman/Non-Gendered so you can write at a moment’s notice: on your lunch break, waiting in a (parked!) car for the kids to rush out from school, or even five minutes before bed.
Everything you look at is potential fodder for your next story. To that end…
3) Keep a notebook with you
You can make that word count in just a few minutes by writing ideas/snippets of lines for your story. You won’t offend your boss if you writedown how round and gleaming her nose looks in the fluorescents. Promise.
4) Cook & Write
Keep a notebook/laptop beside you while you’re waiting for something to burn roast. It sounds ridiculous (and potentially delicious), but the act of standing up, coupled with the fact that you have a literal timer beside you, can force you to squeeze out some words.
5) Tell everyone
Okay, not everyone (the barrista making your coffee will probably get your name wrong on purpose if he has to sit through a novel pitch), but let your family know that you’re a writer, and you need writing time. If you get the spouse/partner/kids/roommates in on it (I’m thinking a well-placed “I could really use your help, so go away now child” would work), they’ll know to leave you alone when you’re working, especially if you give them a specific hour time slot. They might not be easy to train. Be persistent.
6) Set goals
Just not writing-every-day goals. If you’re more a numbers person, you could set a 1,000 or 2,000 word-a-week goal. That way, you’ll know that by the end of the week you have to have that many words, so you’ll work on it when you have the time. I use even less-specific goals than that: I’ll write on my monthly to-do list “Work on Dragon-Riding-Cowboys story.” Working on it can mean anything—brainstorming, drafting, revising, whatever. And if you miss a day? Who cares! No harm done.
7) Find your writing trigger
It might be whenever “Be a Man” from Mulan plays in the background. It might be the Harry-Potter-esque cupboard under the stairs. It might be the scent of tofu and kale wafting from the skillet. Whatever helps you write, make sure you play that song, or go to that place, or smell that smell while you’re writing. Pavlov’s-doggie style, this will send signals to your brain that say, “Okay! Time to write now!”
8) Write every day
Because, despite everything I’ve said to the contrary, it’s possible, and I personally believe in it. It takes over 55 days to build a habit, so give yourself time. Be gentle with yourself when you skip a day. Even if you write down ten words in your notebook, that counts as writing. Even if you wrote nothing, you thought about what to write in your brain, and by gods, that counts for something.
Got a question? Tweet me @beccaquibbles with the hashtag #askbecca, email me at becca [at] DIYMFA [dot] com, or just leave a comment below! You could see your question answered right here at Ask Becca!
Rebecca Ann Jordan is a speculative fiction author and artist. She recently won Reader’s Choice Best of 2013 for her short story “Promised Land” at Fiction Vortex and has published poetry and fiction in Flapperhouse, Swamp Biscuits & Tea, Yemassee Journal and more. Becca is pursuing a master’s degree in Creative Writing from California Institute of the Arts. See more from her at rebeccaannjordan.com.