Finding Time to Write

How do you find time to write? You don’t.

Non-writers try to find time to write; writers make time to write.

A couple lifetimes ago, after having been a pastor for seven years, I took a desk job—the first time in my adult life when my job wasn’t 24/7. But it was also the first time when I had a boss on site, and set office hours. I had written and published a few articles every year during my pastoral tenures, but once I was in a (roughly) 9-to-5 job, I made it a goal to write a book.

In addition to my 9-to-5 job, however, I had a wonderful wife who deserved a fair proportion of my attention and energy. I also participated (loosely) in raising our two children of elementary-school age. So even though my schedule was not as constantly demanding as it had been when I was the pastor of a growing church, time was still at a premium. When would I find time to write?

Our small home at the time had no extra room for a home office, so I set up my desk in the furnace room. No kidding, it was a real sweat shop. So I had a place to work, but I still had to carve out the time to write. I committed (and told my wife and a couple friends) that I would write for a couple hours each workday evening after my two school-age children were in bed. I planned to write a chapter each week, and promised myself and my wife that if a week’s chapter wasn’t written by bedtime on Saturday evening, I would not go to bed until it was done. I first-drafted my first book, two hours at a time, ten hours or more a week, for fourteen weeks…on a manual typewriter.

Another book (the first I published) was written by going to the office at least an hour early (and I am not a morning person!) to write on an actual computer from 7:30-8:30 a.m., before the rest of the staff came in.

Later, having planted a new church, I crammed all my writing time into one morning and afternoon each week, on my “off day,” before a new week of ministry demands clamored for my attention.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote in the car, while his wife drove him to and from butterfly-catching expeditions. William Faulkner found time to write by utterly neglecting his postmaster job. A. J. Jacobs writes on a treadmill. Some people write during the kids’ nap time, others while the kids are in school. Some carry a notepad with them so they can write wherever they are, while others sketch out a particular place or routine.

My point is, it is almost universally futile to try to find time to write. That’s seldom how time—or creativity—works. So get creative. Figure it out. Make time your servant, not your master. And wrestle your calendar and clock into submission to your artistic goals.

How do you (or will you) make time to write?


49 Responses to Finding Time to Write

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson May 16, 2018 at 3:50 am #

    So true. After three books, this has proved itself out in my life time and again.

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    Shirlee Abbott May 16, 2018 at 4:27 am #

    Once it’s a habit, it comes easier. Until it doesn’t. I find myself suddenly retired, with more time to write. But where am I at the late hour previously enforced by a full-time job with its long commute? Writing. And when I’m at the computer earlier in the day looking at several free hours to write? It feels wrong, I’m distracted by the sounds of a world awake. Old habits go, and new ones come, with perseverance.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 6:33 am #

      Good point, Shirlee. Habits are harder to break than to establish….and sometimes become a rhythm in our lives, that we do well to recognize and cultivate.

  3. Avatar
    Elisabeth Warner May 16, 2018 at 5:12 am #

    “Non-writers try to find time to write; writers make time to write.” How true! Writers write, they don’t make excuses. It’s worked out that when I make time to write, I saw how much time was available.

    I have two writing times that work for me. My husband likes to unwind on the weekend by playing video games for a few hours; while he’s playing, I’m writing. I also am involved in ministries at my church, so I’ll make time to write between work and whenever the ministry of the night starts. The key is not going on my phone or social media when I got writer’s block!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 6:34 am #

      Sorry, Elisabeth, I was looking at my phone. What were you saying? 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Lori May 16, 2018 at 5:14 am #

    To not neglect my family, i usually sacrifice sleep and set my alarm for 5 a.m. The world is quiet, the distractions are few, and God is there. I often try to talk myself out of the decision when the alarm rings, but seldom regret it once I’m vertical.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 6:35 am #

      And you will probably look back on those early morning sessions with nostalgia, some day.

  5. Avatar
    Julie Christian May 16, 2018 at 5:21 am #

    I used to have my writing time carved out of my busy schedule. I was sailing along smoothly- having completed my first manuscript in only a few months. However, I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Christian Writers Conference and happened upon this motivational speaker that we will name “BH” to protect his identity. “BH” motivated me to go out and do in the community what God had called me to do when He gave me the writing ministry. I wasn’t just called to write books, I was called to deliver a message to those people who needed to hear it.

    As a result of “BH’s” motivation, I went out into my community and promptly surrendered ALL of my writing time. I was so excited, I gave up all of my other time as well. My husband and children began to wonder if our floors actually had tile on them, or if they were new, completely organic, dirt floors.

    I credit our anonymous friend, “BH,” for motivating me to this extreme. However, as we ALL know, writers need much less important temptations waved in front of their faces to convince them to give up the scheduled minutes or hours each day contemplating which word to use in the third sentence of the second paragraph of the first chapter of a novel. Perhaps it is the challenge of rewriting that chapter, or the idea that if we finally finish it, then we have to face the stinging burn of rejection. Whatever it is, we writers often find any excuse to miss our scheduled creative time.

    But I blame “BH.” Admitting the problem is a huge part of the battle, I hear. So I am now carving dedicated writing time back into my schedule, and letting go of some of the opportunities that have arisen as a result of that inspiring speaker.

    I made a personal commitment to have book #1 edited and book #2 complete before setting foot into another writers convention. I can’t risk running into that clever motivator again.

  6. Avatar
    Joy Neal Kidney May 16, 2018 at 5:33 am #

    The days my husband volunteers at church, all radios are off so I’m at it. Otherwise, often I flee to a local library.

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 16, 2018 at 5:52 am #

    Ain’t got time NOT to write.

  8. Avatar
    Shulamit May 16, 2018 at 6:12 am #

    Time to write, no problem. Keeping away from writing is hard.

    Getting to the editing–that is my sticking point.

  9. Avatar
    Cherilyn Rivera May 16, 2018 at 6:17 am #

    Thank you. I needed this today!

  10. Avatar
    Kimberly Joy May 16, 2018 at 6:26 am #

    I’m a single mum to three teenagers, and a daycare mama to ten toddlers for 50 hours a week. I work hard to get all those kiddos to sleep at the same time each day so I can grab an hour to write. If I were a rational person, I would rest during naptime. But I’m a writer. 🙂

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 6:39 am #

      Wait. Are you saying that writers aren’t rational persons? What?

  11. Avatar
    Rebekah Love Dorris May 16, 2018 at 6:27 am #

    You remind me of Jerry Jenkins, who also built his colossal body of work without sacrificing time with his kids. As a mama of eight, I have to be careful not to sacrifice rest along with not neglecting kids growing through fleeting years that pass like blinks.

    I do get up early, but when the kids do too, it can be hard. Praise the Lord for here a little, there a little. Hopefully by the time my youngest is grown, I’ll have sharpened my edge enough to publish a book worth reading.

    • Avatar
      Shirlee Abbott May 16, 2018 at 10:02 am #

      Rebekah (and other parents who write around their children): Clearly, you don’t shouldn’t neglect your children. But I suspect it would be to their eternal benefit to see Mama doing what God’s called her to do, and learn to grant her some space to do it.

      Full disclosure: I wasn’t writing when my kids were young; that calling came later in life. But my grandsons are fascinated that I write. They’ve decided they want to be writers too.

  12. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 6:40 am #

    I’ve heard of that Jerry Jenkins guy. Seems okay.

    • Avatar
      Rebekah Love Dorris May 16, 2018 at 6:42 am #

      Y’all should meet! You could be twins! Like, the kind who don’t look alike but both have the uncanny ability to transform the world through encouraging writers.

  13. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 6:40 am #

    As I often say about marriage, family, and ministry: it’s not about “balance,” it’s about achieving “synthesis.”

  14. Avatar
    Callie Daruk May 16, 2018 at 6:58 am #

    Hi Bob, you really have hit on the crux of the matter. I appreciate your encouragement and practical advice as I purposely carve!

  15. Avatar
    Tracie Heskett May 16, 2018 at 7:20 am #

    Great thoughts to ponder this morning while I walk before I then come home to Write! Looking forward to meeting you at OCW summer conference.

  16. Avatar
    Kathy Nickerson May 16, 2018 at 8:07 am #

    I manage my husband’s medical clinic and work the front desk. I also try to spend time with our fourteen grandchildren. When readers ask how I find time to write, I say, “I don’t bake cookies.”

    The truth is, I barely make supper. But, that has nothing to do with writing.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 11:19 am #

      Great answer, Kathy. But fourteen grandchildren and no cookies? There oughta be a law.

  17. Avatar
    Jaime May 16, 2018 at 10:40 am #

    I’m not sure what my deal is, but I can find any excuse to put off writing.
    Once, not ten minutes into the few hours I had set aside to work on a manuscript, I found myself cleaning out the pantry! I hate cleaning!

  18. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 16, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    Bob, thanks for another insightful blog posting! I haven’t tried actually writing on my treadmill, though I do think about plots while I am running. I am also very busy, what with teaching at three colleges, but I spend a dedicated 1 1/2-2 hours a day writing, usually right after I read and post on the Steve Laube Agency blog. (Guess what’s next today? Right!) It is my goal to write 1,000-2,000 words a day, which is about one chapter in my novels.
    I noticed that Kathy said she “barely makes supper”- my idea of a good recipe is one that’s in the oven in less than five minutes.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 11:21 am #

      Sheri, 1000+ words a day is a great goal, especially for someone who also does honest work.

  19. Avatar
    Rebekah Millet May 16, 2018 at 10:42 am #

    I’m blessed to have one full day a week dedicated to writing. For the other workdays and weekends, I’ve given up baking sweets and cooking elaborate meals, which also means less time spent washing pots and pans ;-). I’ve learned to simplify life and use that extra time to my advantage.

  20. Bob Hostetler
    Bob Hostetler May 16, 2018 at 11:22 am #

    As Thoreau said, “simplify, simplify, simplify.” Though he should have just said, “Simplify.”

  21. Avatar
    Annie B Garman May 16, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    This is so true. I am full of excuses where I need to be full of sacrifices…thanks so much for this!

  22. Avatar
    Carolyn May 16, 2018 at 12:53 pm #

    I love this. I find time to write by scheduling it and treating it like my job. I have run into things I’ve had to say no to, because they would eat up my time to write. in saying yes to writing, I had to say no to other things. Sometimes that’s been hard, but the reward is great.

  23. Avatar
    Jennifer Haynie May 16, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

    I seize the moment. Normally, I make time to write on Thursday nights (or at least one night a week) by retreating to the Starbucks near my house to write for a couple of hours. Or, I really seize the moment. For example, right, now, with my day job calling for a 16-hour day tomorrow and having finished my work early for today, I have scored an additional hour to write before I have to leave for the evening. I agree that serious writers do indeed make the time to write rather than find the time to write.

  24. Avatar
    Sarah Jane Robinson May 16, 2018 at 1:48 pm #

    Thanks for your article, Bob. I don’t know about synthesis over balance of priorities, my creative process seems to derail the whole house 🙂 I find writing comes in waves. They’re the times meals don’t get cooked, dishes and washing pile high and everyone in the house feels neglected… but the passionate writing just seems to turn out the best” I’ve tried the forced writing but it is never the same! Ah the joys of being a creative! 😀

  25. Avatar
    Patricia Beal May 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm #

    When on writing mode, I wake up at 3 a.m. to do it. If editing on deadline, I wake up at 3 a.m. for that too. I don’t use the alarm. I ask God to wake me and He does. Every once in a while it doesn’t work. I assume nothing useful was going to come out if I’d got up. It became our thing. Whenever I wake up at 3 a.m. without having prayed for it, I assume He wants to meet on the writing playground, and we do. It happened last night. I’d been waiting for my new book person to show up (I cannot stand calling my book people characters – they’re my people). She showed up at last. Book three, here we come 🙂

    • Avatar
      Tisha Martin May 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

      Love that spin on “book people,” Patricia! You’ve endeared them to yourself and to your readers as well. By the way, I just finished A Season to Dance—oh my, what a compelling book!

      • Avatar
        Patricia Beal May 17, 2018 at 5:19 am #

        Tisha! Thank you for reading the debut! Those are some seriously special people to me. Thank you for loving them. LPC just finished the audio book, and let me tell you, it’s amazing to experience them anew through the interpretation of the beautiful narrator God gave us for this project. As for “book people,” I would love to claim the idea. But Hemingway said it first and said it best: “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” – Ernest Hemingway. Great to see you here 🙂

  26. Avatar
    Tisha Martin May 16, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

    I always carry a little leather book with me so I can jot down notes as I’m out and about. But I set aside three hours each night to write. On the weekends, I’m able to do more. And yes, it’s a struggle and a fight to preserve that writing time! But I do win and make my characters happy because they finally get to have their say…

  27. Avatar
    Robin Mason May 16, 2018 at 7:16 pm #

    so.much.YESSSS!!!! do it – or don’t, there is no find…

  28. Avatar
    David Rawlings May 16, 2018 at 10:48 pm #

    So true Bob. I made 4-5 hours a week as I now write on the train, headphones playing a soundtrack I create to suit the scene. I’m on the outskirts of the city, so I get 35 minutes back each way – an hour and ten per visit to the city.

    The added benefit is the cavalcade of humanity that shares my carriage – a great inspiration for character traits and looks that I’d never imagine in a million years.

  29. Avatar
    B.L. Jenkins May 17, 2018 at 2:24 pm #

    This is so true, Bob. Novels are willed into existence. Passivity is our enemy.

  30. Avatar
    Michael LaRocca May 18, 2018 at 5:02 am #

    If an author can’t find the time to sit down and write that book, because there’s always something else they’d rather be doing, it’s probably best for everybody that the book is never written.

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