No one becomes a poet for the money, but money-making - and everything else we have on our schedule - often gets in the way of poetry. In today's post, Angela Voras-Hills offers concrete tips about finding time to write.
Angela Voras-Hills earned her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and has been awarded the Martha Collins Prize in Poetry and a fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston. Her work has appeared in various journals, including most recently Barnstorm, Cimarron Review, and Kenyon Review Online. She currently lives in Madison, WI, and tries to be one person at www.angelavorashills.com.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job: How Busy People Make Time to Write
There are so many excuses not to write, but the most popular is “I don’t have time.” Most of us like to believe that great writers are independently wealthy and sit at their desks with sunlight streaming onto their pages from 9-5, but this is rarely the case. Most prolific writers are people with jobs and families. The trick? They treat it like a part-time job and commit to showing up for it regularly. This involves prioritizing, turning writing into a habit, developing a schedule, and setting goals.
How important is writing to you? What are you doing instead of writing? Watching American Idol? Doing the dishes? We all need to do a little something to unwind occasionally. We all like a clean house. But can you watch American Idol while you’re doing the dishes? Can you record the show and skip through commercials to free up an extra 10 or so minutes for writing? Can you get your kids to do the dishes? Maybe you can give up watching American Idol until you’ve figured out how to sneak writing into your schedule? Evaluate how you’re spending your time, and if writing is important to you, make time for it.
Turn Writing into a Habit
If you want to write more and more often, turn it into a habit. It’s easiest to develop the habit by writing at the same time and/or in the same space each day. Many famous, prolific writers have a special place they write—an office, their car, a coffee shop, etc.—and as soon as they step into that space, words come to them. That’s a habit. But even if you can’t commit to the same time and space each day, think each week about the time you can dedicate to writing. Pencil it into your schedule and show up for each meeting. This will prepare your brain to write at a certain time each day.
If you’re developing a writing habit, it’s also easier if you start by developing your writer’s mind. By this, I mean pay attention. Pick a place or time when you can be attentive to the things around you. Maybe during your commute you have time to be hyper-aware of your environment and think about things you’ve heard and seen throughout the day. Perhaps you’re a runner or a walker—use that time to write in your head. As writers, we need to be observers of the world, so make observation and learning a habit, and the writing should follow if you make time for it.
Work with Your Schedule
We all have busy schedules. If you have a family and need to get everyone ready to go in the morning, wake up a bit earlier to write. Maybe your schedule is more unpredictable? Before going to bed, look at the next day’s schedule and pencil in some time to write, even if it’s during your lunch break or while you’re on an exercise bike at the gym. Another great option is to carry a notebook with you each day. Take notes, then pick a weekend day when you can dedicate a few solid hours to writing. Many prolific writers with families and day jobs do this. (Poet Sarah Lindsay talks about it here.)
Setting Realistic Goals
Maybe you want to finish a first draft of your novel in the next 6 months. How many hours a day will you need to work to accomplish this goal? Is it a realistic goal? Once you’ve established a specific long-term goal, set short-term goals for yourself. Will writing for a certain number of hours, pages, or poems per day or week help you achieve your long-term goal? Again, is this realistic? Write your goals down and put them where you will see them often. If you don’t reach your goals, hold yourself accountable—ask yourself why you didn’t hit your word or page count and find a way to overcome the problem in the future. However, don’t let it make you feel so guilty that it makes you stop writing altogether. Check in with yourself, then get back to writing.
Say you’ve woken up an hour early, you’re at your desk, the kids are asleep, and you start writing... and the cat wakes up and meows at you to feed him. Go ahead and feed him, but then KEEP WRITING! It’s easy to get frustrated when the stars don’t seem to be lining up in your favor. The biggest secret of prolific writers is that they keep writing anyway. You’re a busy person, and conditions will rarely be perfect, but if it matters to you, you must keep writing.