Finding a Writing Schedule That Works

Most of us have to cram writing time into the leftover hours and minutes of our days. Maybe we have day-jobs we can't give up. Perhaps we have responsibilities that demand the majority of our attention—commitments to family, children, or friends.

Whatever the case, writing isn’t a full time occupation for most of us. We can easily accept we’ll give writing our “leftover” time before the book contract. But we think that once we have a contract and income, we’ll finally be able to make our writing career more legitimate and justify carving out more time.

And perhaps that line of reasoning is true to an extent. As a contracted author, I do feel the need to block out more time for the increased responsibilities. And now that I’m getting “paid,” I can lock myself away for writing-time without feeling as much guilt.

But . . . I still don’t have the luxury of tossing aside my other responsibilities so that I can focus entirely on my writing career. The bottom line is that it’s still just as hard after the contract to find writing time as it was before. Dare I even say, it’s gotten harder to find enough time? The process of publication has brought quite a bit more work, but I don’t have significantly more time in my schedule for it.

In fact, a couple weeks ago, I hit a breaking point. One gray afternoon after we had finished school, I sat down at my lap top to begin some writing work. My kids were running around me, in and out of the house, doing their jobs and playing, being noisy and just being kids. But I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t type but a few words without having to stop and answer a question or break up a squabble or something.

My to-do list was stretching far beyond my capability to handle. And I needed to work on my rewrites for my next book. The stress was pounding through my head. After the hundredth interruption in a five minute span (maybe I’m exaggerating a little), I finally laid my head in my hands and wanted to cry. I had SO much to do, but had so little uninterrupted time in which to work. How would I get it all done and do it well? Especially my rewrites which required so much focus and effort?

I was overwhelmingly discouraged. After having a pity party for myself the rest of the afternoon (I’m really good at throwing pity-parties if you haven’t noticed!), I finally cleared my head of the clutter and realized I needed to rethink my schedule. Here’s what I came up with:

Make better use of the quiet writing times.

Obviously my quietest times are when my children are in bed—early mornings and later evenings. Instead of tackling my inbox first thing in the mornings or visiting blogs, I needed to take advantage of the uninterrupted time in which I could focus on my rewrites. Anytime the kids are in “quiet mode,” I needed to use that time for the writing responsibilities that needed the most intense focus.

Work efficiently with the leftover time.

I’m learning to save the administrative responsibilities for other times. Even though it’s really hard NOT to respond right away to friends and readers (because I love interacting), I’m trying to wait. I can easily answer emails, write interviews, and respond to facebook messages during the chaos of the afternoons/evenings instead of during my quiet times.

Seek help from others.

I had to sit down with my husband and share with him my frustration with the current schedule. I needed to vent, but I also needed his help to figure how to make things work. We brainstormed. Should we hire someone to help watch the kids and take them to activities? Should he streamline his work hours or shift them around so that I could have more time?

Look for ways to carve out more uninterrupted time.

After talking with my husband, we were able to come up with a plan for how I could get a little more uninterrupted time, especially during the times he’s home and can take over the household and childcare responsibilities. Two hours here, a few hours there—all adds up. Those would be sacred hours set apart for working on my rewrites/writing and nothing else.

Re-evaluate the schedule periodically.

The busyness of this fall has taught me that from time to time I need to re-evaluate how I’m doing things. The schedule that worked for me last year, might not work this year. The important thing is to see when it’s not working and then look at how to maximize the time I have.

~Summary: We probably won’t ever be able to ditch our other responsibilities and hole away in a private cabin on a mountain top to write endlessly. We’ve got to make the writer’s life work with what we’ve got. Besides, it’s the real living (as chaotic as it can get) that adds richness and depth to our writing.

Have you ever had the dream that once you get an agent or book contract that you'd be able to make more writing time? While it might be true to an extent, what are you doing right now to find a writing schedule that works amidst the other responsibilities of life?


  1. I guess the lesson I'm learning is that I won't have a few extra moments unless I make them. Some days it seems impossible, but I'm learning to carve out some more time for myself:) And you are right, if we didn't live such a full life our writing would probably be lacking in many ways.

  2. As usual, wonderful advice, Jody! I like the idea to re-evaluate the schedule periodically because there are variations in our commitments. I've started to use one of your pieces of advice already- asking for help. This is so hard for me. I keep chugging along, trying to do it all myself. Additionally, I have set an actual writing time each day. I had read online that we schedule ourselves for everything else, why not for writing? Now that I've done this, I've been so much better about getting my daily writing time in.

    Thanks so much!

  3. This is what I need to do too, use the quiet times to write. And they do happen, I just usually misuse them. *sigh* And you don't seem like someone who throws pity parties...I'm having a hard time seeing it. :-)

  4. This is SO SO SO true. If we don't do it now, we'll never do it.

    Sort of like how Ryan and I used to say stupid things, like, "When we have kids, we'll change this habit." Well, guess what? Magically having kids doesn't change lifestyles. And neither does getting a contract or an agent.

    Just like you said, we have to be VERY intentional!

  5. Oh, I can totally relate to this post, Jody. (Well, except for the publishing contract, etc.) My day-job work schedule has changed a lot in the past year, and as my kids grow older, their schedule constantly changes and gets busier, so finding quiet uninterrupted writing time without sacrificing all of my sleep has been a challenge at times.

    I hope you find your sweet schedule!!

  6. Great post. While finishing up my edits, my writing time was from 9 pm until anywhere from 11:30 pm to 2:00 am. It was insane, but sometime you just have to do it.

  7. My writing time during the week normally starts . . . once I send my partner off to work. Otherwise . . . what are you doing? are you busy? did I tell you . . . Arrrrgghhh! So, I've learned to a) lock myself in the office or b) wait until I'm home alone!

    On the weekends, I normally write early in the morning and, if my life isn't in one of those hectic modes, I try to fit in more writing throughout the day. It just all depends on life.


  8. I think you handled this just right. After the emotion passed, you made a plan. Writing is a job. Like any job, you have to organizae yourself and formulate how you are going to get it done. Then put the plan into action.

  9. You are talking my language today, woman!

    Squeezing in that time! I'm convinced I may never see the floor of our bedroom. Laundry just doesn't get put away much in this house.

    But I cruise through my WIPs. ;)

    Have a great weekend.
    ~ Wendy

  10. These tips will be a great help to me right now. Im planning and directing a writer's conference and it's taking so much of my usual writing time. Ive been trying to do too much and it's time to re-evaluate. I love what Im doing with the conference but I miss my characters!

  11. I think getting help from others when possible is a great idea. We can't do this alone. :O)

  12. There will never be more time in the day. A book contract won't change that for me--but I do understand the feeling that if I land one I'll be able to justify spending more time writing. But if I don't spend more time writing now, I'll never get that contract . . . Life is such a puzzle to me.

  13. Best words of advice here - make use of the quiet times. I tend to forget that.

  14. That's great that you were able to assess your need for more writing time and come to a solution.

    I typically write the most when the kids are in bed at night but I'm very fortunate to have a half day (sometimes even a full day) on Friday's when my kiddos visit with the in-laws. I spend much of that time writing, but also catching up on all that I've gotten behind on so I can start the weekend or the next week fresh with my writing again.

  15. Thanks for the tips. Lately, I've been trying to write "short" stuff because I don't feel I have the time to tackle a novel. I'm working on balancing all the demands on my life (writing/daughters/school).

  16. Great tips, Jody! I use a similar division of time - after a quick on-line check (necessary since I'm in CA and my publisher's 3 hrs ahead of me), I do my real writing during those blessed school hours. Then I do "interruptable" stuff like the bulk of my emails, interviews, blogging, while kids do homework. I also use snippets of time during kids' karate classes, waiting in the doctor's office, etc. to work - editing, character charts, emails - a lot of stuff can be squeezed in on-the-go.

  17. For me, how I make time for writing is all about attitude. For years I considered writing as frivolous compared to other daily commitments. I figured only when I got a contract would I be able to justify my effort as a "real job" and thus give it due priority. When I finally remembered that I was charged with using God's gifts wisely and thankfully, I began giving my writing more respect. Only then did I find it easier to justify making regular time for it.

    Each day, when we put our lives into God's hands we can trust he'll get us through the important stuff. Mind you, sometimes what I think is important apparently isn't aligned with what God has in mind. I like your "work efficiently" admonition. There will never be more than 24 hours in a day. We're humans, not robots. When life throws our well-intentioned schedules awry, we just have to give our full attention to the interruptions and then make the most of whatever writing time we can salvage... guilt free. :)

  18. Love your ideas! FB does take up a lot of one's time. I've been writing early and late each day. Love your book cover. I have a soft spot for books about the Amish. Will look for it in the stores.

  19. I've been thinking along similar lines these past few days, wondering how I would have survived if I'd continued teaching with a contract and feeling for my friends working full-time.

    And yet...

    Writing is not efficient. I have so much more time than I ever did before, but what I produce doesn't always reflect a "hard day's work." Last week, I spent several days working on acknowledgements, for example. Several days on just a couple hundred words??

    And being a part of two debut groups of authors is wonderful, but time-consuming, too.

    Still finding my way. No day is ever like another for me. Thanks for letting me vent a bit. :)

  20. Jody- I can TOTALLY relate to this. It's so, so hard to find TIME. Before I had the book deal, I thought I"d be able to find time-- after all, I've been working part time from home for years now while my kids nap/sleep/go to school and I figured my writing time would somehow work itself into that time... but I was so wrong. Writing a book takes a LOT of time and as much as I wanted to, I just didn't have the luxury of quitting my job to write. So, I really have to work hard to find balance. The big catch is that when I get too busy, I worry that my kids suffer-- they need me most-- so I really work hard to make sure they are my priority and my job/books come next. It's a delicate balance. Thanks for the tips.

  21. I've definitely been there before, but the nice thing about not being under publishing contract (yet--:)) is the lack of external pressure.

    At Donald Maass' Breakout Novel Workshop he said the number one thing published writers miss from pre-pub life is the time they had to get things done.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  22. This is a great list. I'm working on carving out that time for myself. Some days it works better than others.

  23. One of my problems has been that I love to write more than anything else (except read), so I do all my less-fun stuff first and then... No time left to write! I finally started writing first of all.

    When my children were grown, I was sure that I would have more writing time; however, my husband and I have found that parent-care takes as much time as child care, often more.

    I think God knows we need life to be imperfect so we can forgive ourselves for our own imperfections. But isn't it wonderful to imagine a little hideaway with no writing interrupts except to brew a cup of tea? Ahhhhh.

  24. This is one of my main difficulties when it comes to writing. Thanks for this post, Jody. :-)

  25. As my kids get older, their commitments increase. As I get farther on this journey, my commitments increase. I struggle to squeeze every second I can out of my time.

    One thing that helped me, as you mentioned, was being deliberate about my priorities. Writing has to happen during the peak quiet hours. Everything else can wait until after school!

  26. I was so glad to read this article! I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old, and it is so incredibly difficult to find the spare time to write between being a wife, a mother, and holding down a job.

    At the moment I am only able to write late at night after they've both gone to bed, and what spark of creativity or excitement I may have felt earlier in the day has occasionally fled by that time. It's frustrating, but I refuse to give up. I am glad to at least see I am not alone in this struggle, and that if other people can find ways to work around this, then so can I.

  27. Thank you for another insightful blog post, Jody! They always leave me feeling encouraged that I'm not alone in the challenges I face as a writer and with information I can put to use right away. :)

    Does anyone have any suggestions for those of us who are full-time writers? I work for a newspaper writing daily, weekly, and biweekly columns (in addition to other responsibilities) and my work regularly spills into my weekends.

    By the time I'm able to focus on my fiction writing, I'm fairly depleted and the last thing I want to do is confront another blank page. :) Does anyone have any thoughts as to how to tackle extracurricular writing in addition to work-related writing?

  28. Jody,

    I always appreciate your posts that speak honestly about the life of a writer. As much as I don't like change, I think you hit the mark when you said that what worked last year might not work this year. I'm learning more and more that writing requires flexibility and a willingness to shake things up now and then - in rewrites and schedules :)

  29. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I keep telling myself that I'll make more time once I'm out of school, once I'm no longer doing A, B or C evening activity. But really - I need to make time now, even if it is only a few minutes per day. Otherwise, how will I ever write a book that will allow me to quit my day job?!

  30. Great advice Jody! I'd like to think we're in the same boat, but I'm down one child and many deadlines in comparison. I think if I did have tight deadlines, I think I could dig out more time. I'd find it. =)

  31. Jody, it is great you have such a support husband and that you can identify your needs.

    I empathize with you as I begin my first year of homeschooling my 4, and struggling to carve out time to paint, connect, market, do bills!

    I enjoy your honesty!

  32. Teresa asked: Does anyone have any suggestions for those of us who are full-time writers? Does anyone have any thoughts as to how to tackle extracurricular writing in addition to work-related writing?

    My Answer: I don't do what you do on a day in and day out basis, but lately I've spent a lot of my extra time writing interviews and guest posts, blog posts, and marketing articles. So I think I can understand what you're going through to an extent. For me, the fiction writing side is so completely different than the other kind of writing, it doesn't feel the same. I put myself in "story mode" when I'm writing and live there while I'm doing my fiction writing. But I'd love to hear other thoughts on this too!

  33. This is good stuff. I have been getting up between 4 and 4:30 am this week, trying to get word count done for NaNo. While I am getting word count in, I am a zombie in the evenings and am finding I can't always get to bed earlier. I have teens...say no more. I'm not sure what my "best" schedule is, but I hope to find it soon.

  34. I've never really thought being published would grant me more time to write so much as I've hoped it would legitimize the vast amounts of time I already spend writing.

    As an unpublished author, many of my non-writer friends or family members look at how much time I spend at the computer with 'nothing to show for it' and think that I am just wasting my life away. Of course, I know that I am not wasting my time, and most of my writer friends reaffirm this for me; but sometimes I feel like being published is the only way to show non-writers that all that time in front of the computer is worth it and an essential need, not just a hobby or want.

    And in showing them that, hopefully they would grant me a little more writing time and finally realize it as the true job that it is.

  35. Jody, I've found that since I became agented (April '10), I've been far more motivated to make the time I do have to write as productive as it can be. When I feel like slacking off a little early, playing on the internet, or doing something that isn't really necessary, I'm learning to talk myself into sticking with the work for an extra hour, or to finish the scene, or whatever. I'm not contracted yet, but I'm trying to work as though I am, as much as someone who hasn't experienced those pressures for real can do.

    I so enjoy your blog. It's been a blessing that you've shared so much of the practical, how-it-gets-done, nitty-gritty of your first experiences in publishing. Thank you for your honesty. It certainly helps those of us who haven't been contracted yet, but hope to be, to walk forward with our eyes wide open. :)

  36. .... kind of like a deer in the headlights, at least in my case. :)

  37. This is one of the greatest writing blogs ever! For the last few months my scheduling nightmare has been with a plagiarist. It never occured to me I'd have to spend so much time defending my work after I created it.

  38. I think the biggest transition I ever had to make in terms of going from writing as a hobby to writing as a career was when I realized I no longer had an outlet for stress. When I worked in finance, I took up writing stories as a way to chill out, have fun, get away from my day job. When writing became my "day job", it became an entirely different and somewhat less enjoyable experience. I absolutely think it's important to carve out time every day for writing if you want to do it professionally, but also important is carving out down time.

  39. Hi Jody -

    I admire your determination and the commitment your family has made to your success. Your husband's willingness to shuffle his responsibilities and help you out gets him a gold star in my book. :)


  40. Great post! Thank you for your honesty.
    I carve out writing time before my kids get up, and sometimes at odd moments in the day when I have a miraculously spare moment.

  41. What a great post, Jody. I'm glad you were able to figure it all out. You're juggling so much, and I'm sure that weighs heavily on you.

    My kids are in school for a few hours a day, so that's when I do the heavy lifting. After their homework is done, then I'm able to do other things, like respond to email and visit other blogs. So far, it's working well!

  42. Your work ethic is such an example to me. Honestly? I don't see how you do it. I think you must have a cape in the closet -- you know, the kind that enables you to fly.

    I keep thinking that I will have an easier time of it when my situation changes. Which is probably true, but...I will still have to work at finding time. It won't be as easy as I expect, perhaps.

    During really challenging times while homeschooling, I hired some one to come clean the house once a week and I went out for 3-4 hours of uninterrupted time. I used it to plan the school week, and it made a huge difference in my overall stress load. Best money I ever spent.

    Hang in there.

  43. You are amazing! And you have an amazing husband. This latter is a great gift, as I'm sure you know. When I had four young children, I didn't produce anything like you have. Your book is one of the best books I have ever read. When I can carve out time to write the reviews I want to write of bloggers' books I've read (I'll probably have to re-read them by then!)I hope I can do justice to yours.

    It sounds like you will be able to get the revisions done on your second book. You do know how to organize your time, and to ask for help when you need it!

  44. Best of luck with your new schedule Jody. I can't wait to read your book. I change my schedule every time things aren't working out. I'm not inspired to write first thing in the morning after night-wakenings, so I check emails, etc. Then take my writing to where the kids are. My best writing time at the moment is lunchtime onwards with the busy stuff out of the way. I probably don't have so much squabbling to contend with yet though. Best wishes Catherine p.s. I recommended your book on FB so I'll let you know the feedback

  45. Thank you, Catherine! I appreciate the shout out on FB!


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