How to Make Time for Focused Writing

Written by Emily Harstone | October 27, 2016

“All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish any stories.”

― Neil Gaiman

Time for writing doesn’t make itself. This might seem like a ridiculously obvious statement, yet it is a trap writers fall into all the time, myself included. If you have a good writing habit and you write regularly, this article isn’t for you.

This is article for writers like myself, who have to work hard to make the time to write. If you want to have a regular writing habit, this article is for you.

As a parent, I live a highly regimented life. If you’re like me, you might work eight hours a day and only have a small period of free time each evening or morning.

The first step to make time for writing is to be deliberate about it. Look at your calendar, and write in time reserved for writing. It can be a half hour each day. It could be three hours every Saturday morning. Whatever works.

However the most important thing isn’t writing it down calendar,  it is protecting that time. If it is on the calendar it can make it easy for you to tell friends who ask you to go out that night or that morning that you already have plans.  I have had friends get mad at me because I was writing instead of spending time with them. If a friend gets mad at you because you are writing, it is an indicator of how good a friend they are (hint: not very).

If you are at home and your home is a mess and you are tempted to clean it – don’t. Write in the mess, or go out to a coffee shop and write there. Setting aside time for writing is important, but it is even more important to take full advantage of that time by writing.

If you have a relatively flexible schedule (as I did once), it can still be hard to make time for writing. It is easy to think that there will be time, that each day the muse will visit you and tell you that the time to write is now. That rarely happens. One period of not writing leads to another.  The only reliable way to get the muse to visit you is to sit down and write.

Set aside a part of your day that belongs to writing. Be deliberate about it, even if it isn’t on the calendar, make sure there it is something you do every day.

Now I want to say that when I say writing, that is what I mean –  writing. Below are a number of things that can often be confused or conflated with writing, but are not writing and for that reason they should never take place during writing time.

  • Reading
  • Research
  • Editing
  • Submitting (your work to publishers)
  • Talking (about your writing)
  • Self promotion
  • Emailing
  • Facebook

Don’t let those things steal your writing! Those things are the opposite of the (unfortunately non-existent) elves that Neil Gaiman talked about in the opening quote. I think a lot of people convince themselves they are doing writing, when in fact that “writing” is a Facebook messaging a friend. If you need to turn off your internet or go somewhere without WiFi in order to get focused writing time – do that!

All of this information might seem obvious and self evident. But I can tell you this: Every author, from the ancients to contemporary authors, have struggled with it.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.”

― J.K. Rowling