This post is part of the Break Through Your Creative Blocks series.
If you have a creative block you’d like some help with, tell us about it – details in the first article in the series.
One of the biggest challenges facing many creative people is simply finding the time to pursue their creative interests, in the midst of the demands of everyday life. Strictly speaking, lack of time doesn’t qualify as a creative block – but when we say we “don’t have time” for something, it’s often an indication that we aren’t making it a priority.
While my 9-5 job is quite creative (arts manager) I struggle to find time to write outside of work hours, writing being what I consider my first and favourite creative pursuit.
When I get home there is always something else to do – housework, seeing friends, spending time with my partner, catching up the news etc. Or else I’m “too tired”.
Suggestions and strategies would be great! Aside from “STOP PROCRASTINATING” 🙂 )
OK, I promise not to say “STOP PROCRASTINATING”. 😉
Here are some suggestions that have worked well for many of my clients (and me!) facing the same challenge. Treat it like a menu – choose the items that appeal to you and try them out. As with all good meals, you’ll probably need to combine several elements to get the balance right.
Build on Your Achievements
Before we look at what you could do differently to create more time for your writing, I’d like to know more about how you have already done this in the past.
You see, when I look at your blog, one of the first things I notice is that you’ve been blogging regularly since 2004 – longer than me, and longer than many other bloggers. That tells me right away that you are capable of a lot of dedication and persistence in pursuing your writing. So the first thing I’d suggest is that you pause for a moment and give yourself a little credit for it. 🙂
Now, I don’t know all the details of your situation, so it’s possible that your work and other responsibilities have become more demanding recently, so maybe you haven’t been under the same time pressure for the past 6 years of writing.
But even if that’s the case, there must have been many times when other things were calling for your attention – and you somehow managed to tune them out long enough to get on with your writing.
How did you do that?
Can you recall a time when you were tempted to give in to distractions or outside pressures, but managed to ignore them and focus on your work? How?
Whatever it was you did – supposing you start doing more of that?
You Can’t Do Everything
It sounds like you’re confronting the fact that you can’t do everything in life. Whatever you choose to do, there’s “always something else to do”. This is why the stories of great creators often involve hard decisions and sacrifices – at least at the beginning.
Like the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope. His day job in the Post Office meant he had very little spare time in which to realise his literary ambitions. His solution was to get up at 5.30 every morning and write several hundred words before breakfast. He also wrote on trains while traveling for work. Eventually, he earned enough from his novels to give up his job – but most of his 37 novels were written while he was a full-time employee.
A few years ago, I was in a similar situation: I was studying for a Master’s degree, running my coaching and therapy business, editing a poetry magazine and getting married, all of which required a lot of my time! And the middle of all of that, I decided I wanted to start a blog.
Reluctantly, I took Trollope’s route, and decided to sacrifice some sleep by getting up to write at 6.30 every morning. This was pretty hard for me, as I had always struggled to wake up early in the mornings. But the blog was important enough to make it worth the effort. (If you want to know how I did it, read How to Become an Early Riser by Steve Pavlina.)
I’m not saying you necessarily have to get up and write in the early mornings; that may not be the best time for you (see the next section for how to find out). But it sounds like you need to cut down on at least one activity in your life if you’re to find time to write.
Here’s the list of things you say are getting in the way of your writing:
- seeing friends
- spending time with my partner
- catching up with the news
Which of these would it be easiest to cut down on?
How much time could you create for your writing by doing so?
Write When You Have Most Energy
You say you’re often “too tired” to write. I know how you feel. To write properly, I need to be very alert – which means I need to make sure I write at the times of day when I’m naturally most awake.
All human beings have circadian rhythms of arousal and rest during the daily 24 hour cycle. For most people, this means they have plenty of energy and mental focus during the morning, feel drowsy at some point during the afternoon, and get a ’second wind’ of energy in the early evening.
So I always try to keep my mornings free for writing, when I know the words will flow easily; and I don’t even try to write after lunch. But some writers are able to work better during the evenings than the mornings.
If you’re a ’morning person’ then you’ve basically got two choices to make the most of your optimal writing time: get up early to write on weekdays; or keep at least one morning free for writing at weekends.
If you’re an ’evening person’ then it should be easier for you to write in the evenings after work.
Whichever your natural preference, you’d be only human if you felt too tired to write after a long day at work. In that case, if you really want to make the most of your evenings, you could try having a power nap for 15-20 minutes when you get in from work. According to neuroscientist John Medina, this will ’reset’ your brain and boost your productivity by 34%!
Even though I’m a morning person, I find that a power nap can work wonders if I really have to crank out some writing in the afternoon or evening.
Ring-Fence Time for Writing
One of the things that makes it hard to prioritise writing (or a similar creative activity) is that most of the other tasks demading your attention have someone else ready to fight for them: your boss wants you to do your work; your family want you to do your share of the housework; your friends will miss you if you disappear off the social scene.
But who is there to champion the cause of your writing? Only you. So you need to stand up for it!
- Set aside time for writing. For example, 2 hours on a Saturday morning. Mark it in the diary! And tell your partner and/or anyone else who needs to know you’ll be unavailable (and who can encourage you to keep you promise to yourself).
- Write down all the excuses you could give yourself for not doing your writing at the appointed time.
- Now write down all of the genuine reasons you could have for not doing it. E.g. if my kids need urgent attention, that trumps writing for me. But not much else does.
- When it’s time to write, switch off your phone, e-mail, internet etc. Close the door. And write.
- If you do miss a day’s writing, give it back to yourself.
Make the Most of Odd Moments
You can take another leaf out of Anthony Trollope’s book, by copying his habit of writing on the train, in ’dead time’ between his other tasks.
I live in London, where lots of people complain about the time it takes to get anywhere by Tube train. Not me. Whenever I head into town, I take a book or notebook, and look forward to an hour’s reading or writing on the journey. Another bonus of the Tube is that no-one can ring me on my mobile while I’m down there. And of course, as this is Britain, there’s no danger of my fellow passengers trying to engage me in conversation. 😉
Where are the odd scraps of time during your week?
Could a notebook (or netbook) transform them into blissful oases of writing time for you?
Get (More) Organised
Another big change I made in my life at the time I started my first blog was to get more organised in my working habits. This meant I became much more efficient – and freed up extra time for important things like writing.
You may already be super-organised, in which case feel free to ignore this suggestion. But if not, then improving your time management skills will reduce your level of tiredness, as well as creating more writing time.
You’ll find plenty of advice on how to fine-tune your daily workflow for maximum creativity in my e-book Time Management for Creative People. It’s free to download and share, so you’re welcome to pass it on to anyone else who might find it helpful.
What Solutions Can You Think Of?
Have you ever successfully made time for your own creative projects in the midst of a busy schedule? How?
What advice can you offer to someone who’s struggling to find time for creative work?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a creative coach with over 15 years’ experience of helping people get past their creative blocks and into the creative zone. For a FREE 26-week creative career guide, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.