Writing When You Don't Have Time

Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images

My children are home on summer break. This is both wonderful and not-so-wonderful.

It’s wonderful because they really are pretty awesome kids. And I enjoy having them around (most of the time). Perhaps even more than that, I enjoy the down time. I enjoy not having to spend my evenings drilling spelling words and listening to reading assignments and nagging them to practice. I enjoy letting them stay up a bit later. I like the lack of scheduled things and the generally more relaxed vibe that summertime brings.

Most of all, I enjoy lazy mornings when we can all roll out of bed a bit later. When nobody has to be anywhere right away. When I don’t have to spend my mornings yelling at people to get up and get dressed and no, you cannot wear your pajamas to school, today is not Pajama Day and are you KIDDING me a T-shirt and one sock does NOT constitute ‘getting dressed’ and eat breakfast and no, that is not breakfast and NO YOU MAY NOT JUST EAT A COUPLE SPOONFULS OF NUTELLA AND CALL IT BREAKFAST and what do you MEAN it’s due today and get your shoes on, the bus is coming and what do you MEAN you can’t find your shoes and well where were you when you took them off and YES YOUR SHOES HAVE TO MATCH and OKAY FINE they don’t have to MATCH, they just have to be for the right feet and NO, NOT LITERALLY THE RIGHT FEET, YOU MAY NOT WEAR TWO RIGHT SHOES TO SCHOOL and I don’t CARE that it doesn’t bother you, it bothers ME, so it SHOULD bother you, and you need your glasses and SERIOUSLY THE BUS IS COMING RIGHT NOW AIIIEEEEEEE.

I’m sure I am not alone.  

But for all these perks, there is one definite down side.

The children are home.

All three of them.

All the time.

This means that those blissful quiet hours in which I used to write are now filled with the following:

“Mo-om! HE HIT ME!” (I cannot EVEN with the two-syllable ‘mom.’ Where do they learn it? Is it taught in schools?)

“HE STARTED IT!”

“No, you may NOT have a snack, you just finished breakfast fifteen minutes ago.”

“Why is this wet?”

“WHO LEFT A HALF EATEN PIECE OF CHEESE ON THE COUCH?!?”

“In or out, guys. Shut the door.”

“MOM! THE iPAD’S DEAD!”

“MO-OMMMMM. HE HIT ME AGAIN!”

“SHUT THE DOOR!”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Who ate all the Popsicles?”

“SERIOUSLY. WE DO NOT NEED TO AIR CONDITION THE OUTSIDE!”

“No, I am NOT running to Dillons just to buy Popsicles.”

“IF YOU ARE THE LAST PERSON TO FINISH AN ITEM OF FOOD, THROW THE EMPTY CONTAINER AWAY! DO NOT JUST PUT IT BACK IN THE CABINET!”

“HE HIT ME AGAIN!”

“But you just HAD a snack!”

And, of course, the dreaded “I’M BORRRRREEEEDDDD.”

All of this, naturally, cuts into both my writing time and my writing focus. Even during “quiet time,” which is when my daughter naps, I have two boys, who are older and who do not nap and who believe that “quiet time” means “fight about Minecraft at a volume level that is only two nanodecibels softer than the volume at which we usually fight.”

Again, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

But maybe it’s not kids for you. Maybe it’s something else entirely, like a time-consuming job, or a family crisis, or something else altogether that is sucking your writing time away from you. Perhaps it’s just for a season, or perhaps this is just the way your life looks right now. Here are a few survival tips I’ve come across during my years of trying to combine motherhood and writing:

1.       Schedule your writing time.

Maybe you’re a morning person and you do your best work before the sun comes up. Maybe you’re a night owl and your brain clicks most effectively after everyone else goes to bed. Maybe you’ve got a lunch break or, like me, a block of an hour or two when you’re home and things are somewhat quiet. Make the most of that. For the last three years or so, quiet time has been my writing time. Often, this is the only time I have to write in any given day. And yet, by dedicating this time, I was able to finish an 85,000-word manuscript in just over a year. Granted, this pace will not set any speed records, but I was still able to complete a book. I say that not to toot my own horn, but to encourage you. If I can do it, so can you.

 

2.       Be open to the ways life can contribute to your story.

Even when you’re not writing, if you keep your story’s tab open in your mental browser, you’ll find things that can help with your story. Maybe it’s a song on the radio that inspires a scene. Maybe it’s a coffee shop that would be a perfect setting for a chapter. Just today, I was having coffee with my critique partner in a coffee shop that’s a converted century-old farmhouse. Since my WIP involves a century-old farmhouse, I found myself distracted in conversation admiring the windowsills and the wooden staircase and other Old House Features.

When you find yourself with one of those awkward windows of time (waiting on a kid’s piano lesson, waiting at the doctor’s office, etc.), you can use this time in a multitude of ways. Read part of a book. Take advantage of wi-fi and research something. Or, put the phone away and people-watch. Daydream. Let your mind wander. You might be surprised at what it comes up with. Just be sure to carry with you a way to record any brilliant insights you might have.

 

3.       Touch the Story Every Day

I saved the best tip for last. Because some days are so insane, so off-the-wall busy, that even your dedicated writing time disappears. On those days, just touch the WIP. Open it up and work on a paragraph. Tweak a sentence. Change a single word. Even if that is all you do, your story is still in your mind. Your marvelous brain is still working on it. Slow momentum is better than no momentum.

This single tip is why I have a finished manuscript. Some days, I lacked either the time, the energy, or the motivation to write. I promised myself that I would touch the story, and then I could quit. Some days, that one word is all I wrote. But other days, the act of touching the story reawakened my interest in and passion for it, and I found myself catching a second wind and moving on well past that single word.

Your turn: I am, of course, always looking for new ways to squeeze in writing time. What are your favorite tricks? I’d love to hear them!