How I Beat the Not-Enough-Time Excuse

In last month’s newsletter, I mentioned that I have three open story submissions at the moment. This is unprecedented for me.

And it surprised me, too.

I often lament at how little time I seem to have to dedicate to writing. Sure, when the opportunities arise, I wring every last second I can from them. But they’re always so hard fought.

So how have I arrived at a point where, having apparently done so little work, I have three stories vying for publication in professional markets?

In short, working in small, dedicated increments.

Many successful authors spruik the benefits of finding those tiny slivers of time throughout the day to build your art and repertoire.

And I feel I am getting to a point in my career where I can attest to that.

If you, dear reader, are a writer — or a would-be writer — struggling to find the time to make good art, I hear you.

I know if frustrates you. I know it enrages you. And I know it depresses you.

I have been there. I still am there some days and weeks.

But you have to remember, this is a long game.

Yes, there are overnight successes in this industry, but they are the outliers. The vast majority of authors will only make name for themselves after years of hard slog.

And that means finding time to write.

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit”

— Richard Bach

There is a plethora of advice, from artists more eloquent than I, on how to carve out time to create. So I shan’t attempt to reinvent that wheel.

But distilled down, this is what works for me…

Stealing Time

I have a young family and a day job.

They all make demands of my time, which by and large are unavoidable. (Not that I would avoid time with my wife and kids!)

But the thing about a 40 hour-a-week job, is that it doesn’t consume precisely 8 hours every day. And although the kids need me to run them around to a seemingly endless litany of extra-curricular activities, there are small segments of in-between time that are mine.

Much of my story processing, for instance, occurs when I’m either driving the kids from A to B, or simply walking to the next meeting or the coffee machine.

Likewise, when I’m not so mobile — waiting for a batch of jobs to complete or for kids to get changed — I can crack open my latest work-in-progress and pick up where I left off.

The one place I’ve found surprisingly productive is at the kids’ swimming lessons — the background clamour and echoes at an indoor public pool make for almost perfect white noise.

I know, some day jobs are tougher than others to find time and some families (or similar commitments) are far more taxing than a couple of young kids.

But if you work on the premise that by developing these habits while your time is at a premium, you’ll be in good stead when you finally have hours to burn.

Sacrificing Time

I am by no means a social butterfly — though, to be honest, I’m not sure if writing made me so, or if I was always thus, and writing filled an existing gap.

Certainly, before I took up writing with any intent, I filled that time with reading and watching the work of others.

Now, reading is a major component of being a writer and something I enjoy far too much to give up.

Television and movies, however…

Don’t get me wrong, I love being immersed in someone else’s world on the big screen, and I do wait with bated breath on the next season of The Expanse or The Handmaid’s Tale.

I just love writing more.

It comes down to determining which was more important for you — consuming content or creating it.

For me, I want to write so much more than I want to watch every latest cinematic release or Netflix series.

Guarding Time

Having given up certain pleasures to write, and weaseled minutes out of other parts of my day, I have to hold those snippets of time tight.

That means writing with the door closed, with the headphones in, and the phone set to silent.

It is the only way I can ensure that time remains dedicated to writing.

Having recently completed a writing bootcamp, with the Australian Writers Centre, I have become a convert of apportioning time beforehand.

I know roughly what my week ahead will look like by the end of Sunday — what projects are going to be tackled at work, what activities the kids will have, what evenings my wife will most likely take a break from the studies.

And so I blot out time in my calendar, setting up reminders to harass me in the lead up to those times.

I don’t always make the appointments — distractions and emergencies will do what they do best — but I certainly try my damnedest to do so.

You don’t have to be that hardcore, but being aware of likely free slots ahead of time, and letting those people most likely to steal your attention away that you are busy, can help shore up space for your creativity to bloom.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days” — J K Rowling

It doesn’t take much effort to make a difference in the long haul. If all you can manage is 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week, that adds up to 52 hours a year.

That’s 52 hours you didn’t have previously. 52 hours dedicated to improving your art. 52 hours of creating great stories. 52 hours of getting lost in your own imagination.

That’s all I started with — 15 minutes on the morning commute to work.

I now aim for (though rarely attain, admittedly) a cool 10 hours a week.

That’s 520 hours a year (theoretically)! I’ve lost the commute time, but I’ve made up for it elsewhere.

So there’s no great secret, really. Just steal and sacrifice the time from elsewhere, then guard it jealously.

As always, it comes down to what you want.

For me, there is little greater joy than creating new worlds, new characters, new conflicts, and tying them all together.

Don’t let the not-enough-time excuse prevent you from doing the same.

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