How To Write When You Don’t Have Time (Two Effective Approaches)
One of the single most barriers to writing is a lack of time.
Life is busy with kids, jobs, shopping, laundry, car repairs, errands, your second evening job as a cabbie for your teens in the evenings… it’s just a lot.
And let’s not forget the emotional demands that can wipe out energy faster than you can say ‘counsellor’. Or physical demands — a cold, allergy, or flare up of an ailment — all of which can leave you lying on the couch wondering when your life will finally have room for such a lofty goal as writing.
Can we just stop and acknowledge that these are real challenges?
Too many articles about the time challenge say something to the effect of, “Well, if it was a priority, you’d damn well find time for it” or “Just get off your duff and write, dummy.” (Anyone else ready to scream if they hear one more of these articles?)
There are times and seasons where we just can’t get to all the things we want to. It’s okay to validate that. And it’s okay to allow for those seasons. Let’s just put that out there as a starting point.
Can We Still Write Though?
While there may be seasons where writing just has to be put on hold, it’s also true that even in seasons of busyness writing is possible.
Nancy Booth, spiritual advisor in The Unstoppable Writers Collective offers an interesting perspective: “Time is not the problem, focus is the dilemma”.
I’ve discovered this to be true every time I’ve had a day off or a weekend away and thought, “Aha! NOW I’ll Definitely get to writing!!” only to discover at the end of all that free time that I spent little — or maybe zero! — of it actually writing.
Maybe you’ve had this experience too, amidst all the Covid restrictions and shut downs, where you had the benefit of extra time, yet discovered that it mysteriously did not result in copious amounts of writing getting done.
Time, it seems, is actually not the problem.
… so what is?
Two Approaches to Getting Writing Done
The challenge is more about what Nancy said — it’s a matter of focus more than a matter of time. Deanne Welsh, founder of The Unstoppable Writers Collective, says it’s about cultivating HABITS in the midst of a busy life.
I suggest two approaches to overcome our busyness and get writing done.
These are the strategies, methods, and specific ations we can take to maximize our writing momentum.
These are the underlying thoughts and emotions that keep us from writing.
Deanne shared with her followers two practices she cultivates to bust through the barriers that block writing.
- Morning pages (each morning, she kicks off the day with a dedicated writing time — this is a playful time in which she lets her fingers run with thoughts, painting the blank page with anything at all. It’s a free-flowing time to wake up creativity — even if, when it wakes up, it has bad breath and bed head. The writing is not meant to be a masterpiece, the goal is to wake it up and allow it to exist, whatever its state.)
- Time Blocking
This practice of blocking off a piece of time for writing is core to continued practice. This can look like a weekly appointment with yourself (as I do in my weekly Writing Workshop), or it can look like a quarterly all-day session, as Deanne offers in her Writing Retreat. (Next one’s in January!)
When you find yourself saying “I don’t have time”, it may be helpful to look deep beneath that thought to the feelings and beliefs underneath. If you’re procrastinating with a story or project, ask yourself WHY are you doing that?
This is my primary exploration tool to break through barriers.
Often times I find underneath behaviors like avoidance, procrastination, prioritizing other things (organizing closets instead of finishing that article you mean to write) are uncomfortable feelings.
As I’ve worked with writers for over 15 years, and as I have done these explorations within myself, I have discovered that the most common underlying belief or uncomfortable feeling is fear. Fear of rejection (what will people think when they read this?), fear of discovering we don’t know what we’re talking about, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of discovering we do not, in fact, know how to be a human (imposter syndrome).
Here’s the thing. Tactics and methods may work. But if changing those habits and trying new methods is not quite getting you over the hump, it’s time to look deeper. What is that fear that has you doing everything else but the writing you want to do? Look that fear right in the face. Name it. Admit it to yourself.
How to Address that Fear:
a. Admit that it’s there. Name it.
b. What does that indicate about your beliefs? (about yourself, others, the world, your story)
c. Is that belief real? Accurate? True?
d. What positive belief can you replace it with that is true and will give you courage?
e. Grab onto that positive belief and then turn back to the habits. (See A)
All this is fine, but not really helpful unless it’s practiced. So here’s how you can gain some real life benefit and apply this stuff.
Is it behaviors that need to change to make room for writing? Beliefs?
Explore that this week, and then decide to change ONE thing. One belief, one habit. Just start with one, and let your momentum grow from there.