How You (Yes, You) Can Find Time to Write
Contributor
Written by
Laura Vanderkam
June 2015
Contributor
Written by
Laura Vanderkam
June 2015

Maybe you’ve got a day job. Maybe you’ve got kids. Yet you have aspirations to write that novel. Your problem is that you’re not sure when you can make the time.

It’s a common dilemma, and one I’ve spent the past few years studying. From 2013-2014, for a book I wrote called I Know How She Does It, I collected time diaries from 1001 days in the lives of women who earned six figures and also had kids. Most weren’t writers (alas), but many did have creative hobbies they pursued in addition to their rather demanding jobs. Here are some of my favorite strategies I saw that can help any busy woman pursue her literary dreams.

Use the time after the kids go to bed. By day, Anandi Raman Creath works for a major software company. After her two young girls are tucked in, though, she skips the TV, and instead indulges her crafty side, working on her own gorgeous scrapbooks and creating scrapbooks for others through her side business, The Papercraft Lab. Even if you’re busy, “You’ll still find a way to do the things you really want to do,” she says.

Consider the time before breakfast. Lisa Camooso Miller, another woman in my study, went to bed by 10 p.m. on school nights so she could be up at 5 a.m. to do CrossFit. Our supply of willpower tends to be highest in the morning. So that’s a great time to devote to important but not urgent matters such as exercise -- or writing. Try setting your alarm half an hour earlier until morning writing becomes a habit.

Upgrade your work breaks. We take breaks at work whether we mean to or not. If you don’t take conscious breaks, you take fake ones that involve cruising to Twitter or...reading posts at SheWrites.com? Next time, go find a secluded spot, pull out a notebook, and write for 10 minutes. Over time, these minutes add up.

Trade off with your partner. If you’ve got a co-parent, there’s always this solution: each parent gets one night “off.” Maybe your partner wants to join a softball league. You want to go to the library and write. As long as you both get your time, it doesn’t matter what you each choose to do (and the kids will enjoy some solo time with each parent as well).

Seize time on the sidelines. Of course you want to watch your kid score a goal. But many kids’ sports have downtime, like the practice beforehand or player meetings after. One mother in my study told me that she made friends with a group of other soccer moms and “we’ll get sushi, and grab it to go and get a bottle of wine and sit in the car.” Rather than host a party, sit in your car (or somewhere else in the park) and use those 20 minutes of downtime to write.

Let it go. If your kids are like most, they love watching movies and playing video games. So why not let them? Give yourself a 90-minute break on a weekend afternoon and instead of puttering around the house tidying up, squirrel yourself away with your laptop. Then use this time to pursue your craft. A satisfied mom means a happier house all around.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, and a novel, The Cortlandt Boys. Visit her website at LauraVanderkam.com.

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Comments
  • Jeanne Nicholas

    So just an update.  I finished my first novel in 2016.  And I'm regularly working out in the morning now as a habit.  In fact I wake up a few minutes before the alarm rings at 4:30 most days.  Even on weekends darn it.  I submitted my request for graduation last month and I was approved so it looks like 2017 I'll be graduating with my PhD.  Writing is a serious hobby for me but I've never sat down and scheduled it in.  Thanks to some articles like yours I've changed that habit and found my rhythm for work, life, school, and writing.  I'm on schedule now to finish my 2nd novel in 2017.  Check, check, and check those boxes.  

  • Nikki Prince

    These steps that you've mentioned are the only ways as a single mother of two that I've been able to be published since 2012.  Sometimes you have to take time for you.  I take time whenever I can to get some words in.  Thanks for the reminder.

  • Mohana Rajakumar

    People always ask me "when do you find time to write?" I used to say, oh on Saturday afternoons or 4 hours here and there and I don't procrastinate and... then I realized the secret. Whenever, and wherever I can. I write on airplanes and during swim lessons; at night and in the morning, and in November, every single day. Great advice Laura. Especially on the techno-guilt. :).

  • Awesome suggestions, Laura!  I will try some.  At the moment, I do take some time to write down notes as ideas come to me, but I do have snippets that would be perfect for the novel I am planning to write (also need to conduct some more research)....so I will make sure I  weave in the time it takes to write.  Hope to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in July...might help. ~:0)

  • Jill G. Hall

    I write a few pages in my journal every morning BEFORE I turn on my phone or computer.

  • Jeanne Nicholas

    I dont have kids. But i have commitments of work, school, health, and writing. I tried setting the alarm for 5:30 and getting up early to write but i snooze it. I walk then eat during my hour lunch at work. I swim after work 2 days a week in a bewell class. I have cooking healthy class on tuesday nights and a writing group meetup every other Thursday. So friday i take off and TV veg and SAturday i work on writing. Sunday is all about laundry and homework. Once in a while i nap.

  • Michelle Cox

    I find that my brain works best the first thing in the morning, so I get up before everyone else and spend at least an hour.  On school mornings, I get the kids off on the bus and then dash back in the house and start.  No excuses! 

  • Kenny Bodanis

    The posts on this site are frankly fantastic. I admit I am usually just a lurker, but this time...
    These are great ideas (from a dad with 2 young kids). I think I would add (since I am SOOOOO guilty of this): Admit to yourself you're procrastinating! I know I constantly find reasons why I'm not writing: not quiet enough, not enough time to "get into it", etc. 
    What is comes down to for me is I have a huge problem following the most basic rule: Just write! (Kind of like I'm doing now...leaving a comment instead of writing:)