One of the most common excuses every writer gives for not writing is that they do not have time to write.
Perhaps you have a full-time job, children to look after, a home to run and a million other demands on your time.
I used to be one of those people.
Now I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I have quit the day job and write full-time (more about that in another post).
But whilst I had a day job I started to write ‘at the edges of the day’. This means I was snatching 20 minutes before I left home to go to work to write.
On most days these were just words being scribbled down into my notebook. Sometimes the words didn’t make sense, other times I was blown away with the sentences I was producing.
But just getting to the point of writing everyday in the spare minutes you have is enough to get you started.
I always thought I needed to have a full hour cleared from my diary before I could write. But these are just mental blocks we place in our heads.
The truth is, if you cannot write in that spare 10 minutes whilst queuing at the post office then you will certainly not be able to write in that hour you have cleared out of your diary no matter how hard you try.
The point I’m trying to make is that if you are a writer, then you have the ability to write anywhere and anyhow. This was something I never believed in before. I thought I could only write when I was at my desk at home, with no interruptions, with the side lamp on and a cup of tea by my side.
But I found that I could never recreate these exact circumstances daily and most of the time when I sat down at my desk after work, I would find myself surfing the net…or just drinking tea.
So then I started a little experiment. I decided to carry a notebook with me wherever I went and committed to write whenever I had a 10 or 15 minute gap somewhere in my day.
I did this for a week and here is the result from Day 1:
- After breakfast: I wrote for 20 mins (1 page)
- Morning tube commute: I got a seat and wrote for 20 mins (1 page)
- Lunch break: Wrote for 30 minutes (3 pages) after eating (instead of pointless window shopping
- Evening commute home: No seat to sit down so jotted notes and ideas into my phone for 10 minutes as I was also feeling mentally exhausted from a long day at work.
- After dinner: Wrote for 20 mins (1 page) instead of watching mindless TV.
- Total writing spent today: 1 hour 40 mins!
I continued this process for an entire week and here is what I learnt:
(1). HABIT CREATION: I found I was creating a habit of writing. By the fifth day I was rushing to eat my breakfast faster so that I could cram in some extra writing time. There is only one thing more honourable than writing and that is creating the habit of writing.
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” – W. Somerset Maugham
(2). EXCITEMENT: I started to look forward to my lunch breaks to write, simply because it meant I could steal myself away to a quiet coffee shop, away from the corporate madness, and enter my own fantasy world of creative writing. I felt like I came alive in those 30 minutes.
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
(3). Bringing joy to my day: The daily 4 hour commutes to the day job became a little more bearable and interesting. I would tap into my phone and write about the people I came across on my commute. Whether it be the guy with purple hair or the lady who looked tired and was gripping a bouquet of lilies. Writers are observers. Use this time to observe the seemingly everyday mundane and turn it into a scene or character in your book.
“Writers are first and foremost observers. We lose ourselves in the watching and then the telling of the world we find. Often we feel on the fringes, in the margins of life. And that’s where we belong. What you are a part of, you cannot observe.” Lisa Unger
(4). Consciously aware of my time: I started to actively become aware of how I was spending my time and started to be on the look out for pockets of downtime where I could write. Sometimes this was as less as 10 minutes, at other times I found 30 minutes to write.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work. – Stephen King
Having done this mini experiment I can say with certainty that if you can write anywhere, anytime, then well done you!
Writing is not a talent but a skill anyone can develop. And like any skill, it only gets better with practice and persistence. No great writers wrote brilliant books on the first draft (contrary to what we usually think).
Sometimes the fear of starting is there because we are afraid of writing rubbish, but its the rubbish that needs to come out first that gives way to the diamonds.
You have to write through the crap whether you like it or not.
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Did I actually use or publish any of the words I created in that week?
No. About 90% of it was rubbish. But that’s ok, because within that rubbish I was able to mine about 10% of good ideas and quality work. I identified some great topics to blog about and write other articles.
Writing is like a muscle. It needs to get warmed up and exercised properly. And you do that daily by taking daily consistent action. You would not expect to run a marathon the very next day you decided you want to run a marathon would you?
No, because you would need to set up a training plan over a number of weeks / months, have a nutrition plan, get a personal trainer perhaps, purchase a good pair of running shoes. Or in other words you would prepare yourself.
The same goes for writing. You cannot wake up one morning and start writing the next great american novel especially if you have not been writing at all. Ease into it. Commit to writing daily.
Choose a word count or time limit you want to reach. And reach this consistently on a daily basis. The more you do, the more you will do.
There will be days where you find that you just cannot write, that no words will come out, but this is precisely the moment you need to persevere. Worst case scenario, just sit at your desk with fingertips at the keyboard and just move your fingers across the keyboard (yes really). I guarantee you that something will come out.
At this point it’s not your job to decided if those words are good or not. Your job is to just turn up and write. Or as Seth Godin says, SUSDAT:
Show Up, Sit Down And Type!
I have always wanted to write and looking back probably had plenty of opportunities to write but just as many excuses to not write.
The only thing standing in your way of not writing is not ‘not having enough time’, but having enough excuses to justify why you don’t have enough time to write.
- If you have a day job – take a lunch break god damn it and spend half of that time jotting down notes / words into your notebook.
- If you commute on public transport:
- And are lucky enough to get a seat – then pull out your notebook and write for just 10 mins.
- Have to stand the whole journey – then I pity you, but pull out your phone and open a blank email. Start tapping away for 10 mins. Perhaps write about that person who nabbed the last seat. Could you base your next villain on them?!
- Watch TV after dinner? Switch it off 30 mins earlier and sit down and write. Ideally don’t consume mindless TV. It constipates the brain.
So there you have it, No excuses to NOT be writing everyday.
I struggled with this for years until one day I decided to just write no matter what my circumstance or situation. I figured I had been ‘waiting’ for over a decade for the right conditions to appear, but a bit like London every summer, it was a washout and I decided to just go out and play whatever the weather.
And I found that the more I wrote, the more I started to write. I started to actively find more pockets of time in my day where I could write.
And you can do the same too.
Just start now.
That’s all you need to do.
Make a committed decision today that you will find a pocket of time and just write. It really is as simple as that. Once you make a committed decision, every cell in your body will conspire to making it happen. Make that decision now.
Don’t care about what you write. It can be a blog post, an article or your book. All that matters is that you write.
Start exercising that writing muscle and get it warmed up, so that by the time you do start to write full-time, you are rearing to go. A good writer is someone who has cultivated the habit of writing consistently and you can start to do this today.
“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ― Ray Bradbury
Will you take the first step today to find a pocket of time and write? Perhaps do the same mini-experiment I did. How much writing time or words did you manage to fit in? Please share in the comments below.