An oft-cited excuse for not writing is, “I don’t have the time.” (I confess to using it myself on more than one occasion.) The reality is that, as a friend once told me, “How you allocate your time shows what’s important to you.”
So ask yourself, “Is writing important to me?” If not, that’s fine, simply move on to your next project and don’t make your life any more stressful by maintaining the fiction that you would like to write.
If writing is important to you, then consider following these tips for carving out the time you need.
- Change your mindset. In his excellent book, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, Silvia says that the trick is not to think of finding time to write, but instead think of allotting You don’t “find time” to attend to your professional duties like attending that next committee meeting, you simple schedule it, which leads me to tip #2…
- Schedule your writing time—and respect that time. The best writers write every day, even if it’s only for 10 to 15 minutes. If that’s too difficult, try scheduling a set time every week, or even better, two to three times a week. It’s usually best to have multiple shorter times rather than one long time. Whatever schedule you choose, treat the time with the same respect you would treat any other important meeting—don’t be willing to reschedule except under dire circumstances. Don’t feel obligated to give a reason why you can’t alter your schedule. For example, if someone asks, “Can you meet about the new laser on Tuesday at 8 AM?” and 8 AM is your writing time, you simply say, “No, but I can do 10 AM.”
- Find the best time and (maybe) the best space. Some people like to write the first thing in the morning, others prefer evening. Find what works best for you. It’s usually better to stick to the same time of day. Many people recommend having a designated space for your writing if possible, so you don’t have to carry resource materials from place to place and you associate that location with writing. On the other hand, most material is usually on your computer or a keystroke away on the ubiquitous internet, so don’t let not being in your favorite space hold you back. I’ve worked on planes, trains, and boats. To me, writing is a mindset, not a place.
- Think before you write. I rarely sit down at the computer without some idea of what I’m gong to write. Whether it’s in the car, on the treadmill, or in the shower, I think about my topic, from how I’m going to narrow it to how I’m going to structure the article, to puzzling out some point I’m struggling with. If you’re worried about remembering your thoughts, consider an app such as Evernote that lets you synch notes across platforms.
- Manage the project. Treat your writing as a project by preparing a timeline that includes major steps such as developing an overview, writing the first draft, and revising. (I have a sample timeline in my book.)
- Be flexible. Don’t assume you have to write in order, from the start to the article to the very end. Many people, for example, feel that the methods section of a research manuscript is easiest to write, so you might start there. The beginning of the manuscript is often the most difficult, so you might want to do that later in the process. On the other hand, I find that once I get the beginning down, I feel much more confident about what comes next. I mention this to illustrate that you need to see what writing advice, whether what I have here or what you glean elsewhere, works for you.
- Reward yourself. Mark milestones, such as your first draft, with a small reward that resonates with you—an outing with your children, reading that new book you’ve heard about, or anything else that gives you a positive feeling. Just be sure you don’t reward yourself by skipping your next writing appointment.
Above all, keep these wise words from Stephen King in mind: “When asked, ‘How do you write?,’ I invariably answer, ‘One word at a time.’”
For more information about breaking down the time barrier, see Anatomy of Writing for Publication for Nurses, 3rd ed.