Finding Time to Write

Lilia Shen

I like to joke all the time that I’m a writer who doesn’t write. I’m a junior in college, currently getting ready to apply for medical school and also working on the staff for the Long River Review. Of course I don’t have time to write. I’m sure many people can relate. It’s hard to find time to write over all the other stuff in life that requires our attention—things like jobs, school, family, etc. But even though we may not have 12 hours in a day to ruminate on what our next novel is going to be (we might not even have one!), there are still a few ways to slip a little bit of writing into your daily or weekly routine.

Set realistic daily goals.

If you want to set up a routine where you write every day, make sure that you’re giving yourself a reasonable goal to do so. Setting a goal that’s too high will only discourage you more and make it more likely for you to give up on creating a habit of writing every day. Some goals I’ve tried that have worked for me are 400 words per day, or even just five lines a day. Both of these goals are easily achievable, and trust me, they add up over time. You’ll probably find that once you start as well, you’ll get into the rhythm of it and then blast past your goals.

Make a visual representation of your goals.

Going along with the previous tip, setting up some kind of visual to help you track your daily goal for writing will help keep you motivated. I like to keep a tracker in my planner; for example, I’d draw an ice cream cone with seven scoops perhaps, one for each day of the week, and every day that I complete my 400 words a day or whatever my goal is, I’ll color in one of the ice cream scoops. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing seven beautiful scoops of ice cream all colored in. Then, next week, repeat with some other fun theme. If you get really good, you won’t even need a visual tracker anymore, but it’s a great place to get started.

Try writing daily scenes or doing daily exercises.

If you want to write daily, but you’re not sure what to write about, try some daily exercises. In one of my creative writing courses, my professor had us do observation logs, where every day, we wrote three to five lines about something that we observed or experienced that day. I also have a notebook specifically for daily scenes where I flesh out a scene or character inspired by something I might’ve seen during the day like a person, a video, a picture, a quote, etc. I only give myself about twenty to thirty minutes to spend on these so they’re quick too. There’s tons of variations on daily exercises so don’t be afraid to get creative. Daily exercises and scenes may not be fully fleshed out stories or novels but they can certainly develop into one, and even if they don’t, they’re great practice regardless.

Set aside a specific time to write.

Recently, I’ve been using this technique more often to get my writing in. If you find writing every day to be too burdensome, or if you really don’t have enough time on the daily to write, try setting aside just one specific time during the week to write. I like to reserve my Friday afternoons, at least two hours, for me to work on whatever I’m writing in the moment. I shut off any and all distractions, and for those two hours, I just write. Setting aside one specific time to write also gives you the rest of the week to prepare for that time. If you can, plan what you’re going to work on in your writing session to get the most out of it. You can do this on a scratch piece of paper, or even in your head if you’ve got a good memory.

Carry a notebook around.

There’s honestly so much time spent waiting during the day that are perfect opportunities to write. I’ve got a twenty-minute bus ride to class every morning, or maybe a half hour before I have to run to my next class. A great way to kill amounts of time like that, where it’s enough to do something productive but not enough to anything super substantial, is to have a small notebook handy to just scribble in. Even if it’s just the “Notes” app on your phone, having somewhere to write stuff down when you’ve got a few extra minutes to spare will keep you in the swing of things with your writing and help you make the most of your time. If you’re going for the previous strategy, setting aside a specific time for a writing session, this is a great way to plan for what you want to accomplish in that time.

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.

We’re all busy people, and sometimes no matter what we try, we won’t have the time or energy to write. That’s how life works; it just gets in the way. You’re certainly not alone. I said earlier that I write daily scenes but if you actually looked at my notebook, you would see the last entry is from April 3. Sometimes I sit down to write for two hours and I only get maybe two sentences done. I’m only human, and assumedly, so are you. Don’t worry too much about whether your writing is good; it only ruins the experience. Even if it’s not, even if you hate it, even if it’s only one mediocre sentence you managed to fit in before bed, it’s valuable and we’re all super proud of you for doing it. Writing should be enjoyed so don’t force it too much if you don’t have the time or energy or the inspiration. And I promise, you’re still a writer even if you don’t write.

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