Blog

4 Ways to Make Your Writing Schedule Work

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is: “How do you find time to write? You homeschool and have five kids. How do you do it?”

I recently got an email from a writer mom with two young children. She said: “My first manuscript is being read by several major publishers and just awaiting their response . . . but I'm actually a bit concerned about getting my writing time in. When do you make the time to write? With all you have going on, what does your schedule look like on any given day?”

Her concern is a very real one. As we move toward publication and beyond, our writing work increases. But our other jobs and responsibilities don’t go away. Most of us can’t quit our “day jobs” whatever those might be. The reality is that a large percentage of novelists will only make part time monetary compensation for the full time work they put into writing, editing and marketing their books.

Whatever the case, writers have to learn to balance multiple roles and workloads. I’m still learning how to do that. Like many writers, I have to squeeze in writing time around other things.

On a typical day, I wake up early, long before my family arises. I try to get a jump start on the day’s writing work. Then once the kids are awake, I pack up until later in the afternoon. I generally spend about one and a half to two hours every afternoon on my WIP. Whatever word count I don’t get done during that time, I finish after the kids are in bed.

In order to make this kind of writing schedule work, here are four things I’ve had to learn how to do:

1. Scale-back:

I’ve gradually scaled-back on my commitments, outside activities, and involvements. The fact is, we can’t be everywhere, doing everything, and still have time for writing. There are just WAY too many great things for our kids and families to do. But do we need to do so much? Maybe the scaling back is a blessing in disguise that can lead to a slower pace and more time at home.

2. Simplify:

In having five children, I’ve had to learn to simply life as much as possible: meals, closets, clothes, shopping, housework, etc. If we choose to live simply, we can eliminate some of the stress that comes when we buy too much, have too much, and try to do too much.

3. Sacrifice:

We really can’t make more writing time unless we’re willing to sacrifice. The sacrifice will look different for all of us. Maybe we’ll have to give up TV, sleep, traveling, golf, ladies’ night out, etc. Anytime we sacrifice, we experience pain and loss. In other words, the process of giving up other pleasures won’t be easy. But most of us will have to make those tough choices in order to have more writing time.

4. Support:

I've had to learn to rely on the support of my husband, children, and friends. Although I’m very independent, I’ve realized that I really do need the help of those around me in order to make more writing time. I involve my kids in the housework and in “babysitting” their younger siblings. And my husband helps me carve out uninterrupted writing time on Saturdays and a couple of evenings a week.

Are you juggling multiple responsibilities and trying to write? Do you struggle to find enough time to write? What are some things you do to make your writing schedule work?

45 comments:

  1. I've no kids and therefore more limited commitments than someone with a young family - and I still find it hard! The more I get into a project and the more it is exciting me the easier it is. And for me, writing early in the mornings is key.
    I really enjoy your blog. You always give good, clear advice.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a six months old boy, and with him not even having a normal sleeping schedule yet, it's very hard to make a writing schedule of my own. So I just try to do it whenever he's asleep.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know it must be hard for you, but stick with it and you'll soon develop a schedule that works for you.

      Delete
  3. I really encourage everyone to try as best they can not to skimp on sleep. And I realize that's sometimes the first place we look to sacrifice but I think energy and imagination come to those who get enough zzzz's. And for those of you with babies and young children give yourselves a chance to settle in and figure out what you need before sacrificing sleep. And as Jody says, ask for help. We can't do this alone.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Jody. My husband and I share the care of our 13-month-old daughter, so I have three days (sometimes in half days to work around playgroups which he boycotts!) to work. For me, that's artwork as well as writing, but what counts for my sanity (?) is that I have time to be creative. We're slowly working through our savings and there may come a time when I need to be employed again, but I'll keep trying to earn this way as long as I can. The journey is educational in all those fun and ouchy ways you write about :o).

    ReplyDelete
  5. My wife and I have a fairly active social life, I think. One gaming night a week with our friends, and often a night out to the cinema once a week. It's going to be tough cutting back on things when our baby arrives, but I'm finding I have the desire to give up certain things to have more more time to write anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  6. And here I always tell people I lock my kids in the closet. ;D

    I don't do that. No, never would. But my kids know mommy is serious about writing time. I've taught them to respect when I really need to get some ideas out (and of course they are always superhuman quiet during these times). At least I'm building the idea in them.

    ~ Wendy

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for your thoughts this morning, everyone!

    Jillian, I appreciate your perspective on sleep. Perhaps it's not so much sacrificing on sleep, but on our sleep schedule. We may have to adjust it in order to find quiet writing time. For me, that means getting up earlier. And quite frankly over the past couple of years, I've also realized I can get by on less sleep than I thought! But I agree, we don't want to wear ourselves out so that our productivity and creativity suffer.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've had to give up on "perfection". Nope, the house won't look like the Pottery Barn Catalog. Nope, we won't eat gourmet meals everyday. Yes, sometimes we dig for our laundry in the basket. But sacrificing those great things gives me time and energy to write!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Jody, I always feel guilty when this subject arises. God didn't call me to writing until after I took a very early retirement from my systems analyst job, and that timing aligned with my younest heading into kindergarten. I don't homeschool, so other than being active in my kids school as a volunteer for years, I had the freedom to write during the day for the most part. But still, I found myself stretched with cooking, cleaning, and all the errand demands any mother has. So, how do you guys do it?

    All I can say is that God must have gifted you all with a need for limited sleep, an abundance of juggling power, and massive discipline to have called you to add writing to your life at this time. And I'm a true believer in that God doesn't hand us anything we can't handle, so you guys must be able to handle A LOT!!!! Blessings prayed for you all!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have to say no to things I long to say yes to. Our house is less clean. I shop less. I talk on the phone less.

    But one thing I noticed really helps me with time management is exercising regularly. When I carve out time to exercise, I get more done!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Excellent post. I admire everyone who manages to find time in their day to write. Whatever our situation, there are a thousand things in today's world that compete for our precious time. Finding the balance to meet every obligation is a struggle, and managing to find a quiet corner for an hour or two to save some thoughts about a story is commendable. With 5 kids, I use the dark silence when they're all asleep to write. It's precious time, and usually when I'm at my best. You're exactly right, Jody, there is sacrifice involved, and with support from my wife and other writers, I don't really miss the things I gave up to write.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sleep. I've reworked my schedule to rise at 5 AM for a minimum of 4 days a week (I'm not published so no deadlines means I can be A LITTLE flexible) :) - it works great! Although my poor husband last night covered me up where I passed out on the couch at 9:30 and shut the curtains for me. Supportive family is the MOST IMPORTANT for me. A husband who does NOT like fiction but lets me fall asleep - during NCIS no less - is a hero in my book :) - pun intended.

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a great post. And I know you KNOW what you are talking about here! You have done the thing I never felt I could -- writing while homeschooling.

    Part of the reason you can is passion. You can dive into it every day like that because writing is your passion.

    But where you get the "brain space" is a wonder which I can never grasp.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post. One to print out and just read the simple points - support, simplify, scale back, sacrifice. I need to work more on the scale back and simplify. Thanks for the reminder!

    ReplyDelete
  16. As much as I yearn for more time to write, I often find, when I have it, I waste it. Distractions come to easily. Yet when I only have an hour I spend it all concentrating.
    But I am amazed you find any time to write, homeschooling five kids!
    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Jody,
    Very true. I think all writers struggle with this, especially those with families, children, and other commitments.

    Utilizing your schedule might be worth a try.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Finding time to write is always the big trick, isn't it? I can't imagine what your schedule must be like as a mother of five who home schools (that is definitely the equivalent of a full time job outside the house!) and then you have all your writing responsibilities on top of that. You're amazing!

    You've offered us some great tips here. They're definitely ones that I use myself, but even with them, it's still a struggle to keep all the balls in the air and find all the minutes we need to get everything done. But where there's a will, there's a way and we writers are determined types who tend to keep their eyes on the ball.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great post. People who find out I'm a writer will sometimes say, "I've thought of writing a book if I ever find some spare time." For me, consistency has been key. I have declined invitations that conflicted with regular writing slots. Writing time is not "spare time."

    ReplyDelete
  20. One of the most difficult things to limit is time with friends. I'm a people-person, but I'm also a writer who knows writing equals sitting in front of my computer and, well, writing. So, I have to say no to a lot of invites to go have coffee or meet for lunch. All those "It's only an hour or two" add up to a lot of writing time. I try to limit my weekly get-togethers to one--no more than two a week. It's painful, but necessary.

    ReplyDelete
  21. This post is exactly what I needed today. Thank you. I'm just starting out in my writing career and mastering my schedule has been one of the challenges. I stay at home with my 3-year-old and 15-month-old twins--they keep me busy.

    My husband has been extremely supportive and I am so appreciative. He gives me an opportunity to write by stepping up his childcare duties in the evenings and on weekends. I also wholeheartedly agree with simplifying. I think it not only gives us more time to write, but it also helps us focus more on family time together, rather than on schedules and activities.

    I'm getting wordy here, but I will keep your tips in mind as I go. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  22. I totally needed this post right now! You are a gift to the blogging world, Jody! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. The job I work has two different shifts. One week I work 9 to 5, then the next week I'm working 3 to 10:30.

    The week I work in the evenings, I write after work until 2 am. It's tougher to work in writing time when I work days...so I give it up until the weekend.

    I've had to learn to say no to a few things. It's hard for me.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I also have 5 kids and home school. Until today, I didn't realize we had that in common. My oldest is in college now, so I'm (only) teaching four. Like you, I get up early in the morning. I've been working on my wip from 5-7 every morning. Afternoons are devoted to blogging and twitter, and only slightly to the wip. I really need peace and quiet to work on my novel and that only comes when the rest of the house is unconscious. My youngest is 9 years old now. I don't know how you guys manage to write anything with little ones in the house. I stand amazed.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Rachelle Gardner is also blogging today about the harsher realities of the published author's life. From the perspective of my working career I think the secret of having time for everything is in loving what you do and finding an organized system that works well for you. I also believe enthusiasm for the tasks has to be balanced with self-survival, so scheduling in slivers of 'me' time is crucial, too. I think the truth is, if there is passion for something, you do what you have to do to accommodate it!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Yes, I definitely have multiple responsibilities pulling me in different directions. But I'm learning. One big thing I'm learning to do is not to waste time. I have to be more purposeful in all areas of my life in order to fit everything in.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thank you so much for this post. I've devour these types of tips, because, even without children, it is difficult to carve out writing time. Often, I find myself staring at a blank page during my designated time only to have the creative flow awaken when it's least convenient! That's why I carry a small notebook around with me. This allows me to capture those creative bursts and prompts me when I can sit down to write. Thank you, again!

    ReplyDelete
  28. oops. *I devour...

    nice, typo ;)

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love scaling back! I hate having too many activities planned. Thanks for sharing about your schedule. I like mine now but it's always good to think ahead to how it might change (during summer, etc)

    ReplyDelete
  30. Jody, I'm definitely juggling. Prioritizing is huge, as well as help from my supportive husband :D

    ReplyDelete
  31. I've tried getting up hours before my kids, but that would mean getting out of bed at 3am. I suffer from insomnia, so that would give me maybe 3-4 hours sleep. And not quality sleep, I might add.

    I do try and work later, but once I hit 9pm or so, my brain just freezes. I can't think anymore. I just zone out.

    In order to fit in time for writing, I try and finish up all of my work by 2pm. That leaves me time to clean house and get an hour to an hour and a half of writing in before my daughter gets home. I then try and write from 7pm to 9pm. If I get an idea during the day, I do try and take notes or section off part of my brain and allow it to run with the idea while I work. That's not always easy, though.

    I'm finding that the older my son gets, the more he helps me. He tries to help sweep the floor and get dinner ready. He'll even set the table and help with laundry.

    As far as dinner goes, the crockpot is my very best friend. That simplifies things a great deal.

    Unfortunately for me, my time on the weekends is severely limited because I live next door to my mom and I have to help her a lot. She's been dealing with back and leg problems for awhile now, so she needs help with laundry, running errands, etc. Since I'm the only child close by, I'm the one there to help. So for me, there's just no way to cut back on certain things, no matter how much I need or want to. Maybe someday.

    ReplyDelete
  32. You amaze me, Jody, you really do.

    I do struggle to find the time, to write, to follow-up on comments, to network and build the platform. I work part-time and have two kids...so I totally get the challenge of limited hours.

    Basically I have entirely given up TV -- occasionally I get a netflix DVD of Mad Men if I need a fix bad! I also have scaled back my social life -- I meet with my book club once/month and occasionally have dinner with my husband or a movie out, but most nights, it's work at the computer.

    During the daytime hours that I am not at work and when my kids are in school, I am super obsessive about sticking to my writing time. I hardly make any acceptions -- if I am at home alone, I am writing. I decline coffee out with the girls, and I don't even answer the phone when it rings during those hours (unless it's my kids' school calling). It's sort of a lame life I've cared out for myself, isn't it? :)

    ReplyDelete
  33. I also get up early, and stay up (too) late to write. I'm hoping to find more balance next year when I cut down a little bit on my volunteering at the kids' school. I love doing it, but there's just not enough time for everything. Kudos to you for finding a way to work things out~

    ReplyDelete
  34. Oh, this is a subject close to my heart and I've spent the last seven years trying to find that balance and learning I just need to be flexible and go with the flow of every stage and season of my life. Over the last 7 yr. I've interviewed over a hundred moms and dads making it work for them. In fact, I'm running the old interviews on Mondays now and following up with the authors several years later to see what they've learned over the years. I'm always encouraged by those who seem to make it all work.

    ReplyDelete
  35. So glad I found this post through twitter. This is my biggest struggle. And it is my day job that sucks my time. 50+ hours every week makes it hard and tiring to find the time to work of writing, but I must do it! Another writer at a conference I just attended (and took vacation time to attend!) told me she schedules time in her planner so if work asks her to meet or come in at that time, she opens her planner and says she already has an appointment. I LOVED that idea!

    Thank you for addressing this issue Jody, it really is a struggle for so many of us.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Jesswords10, I'm glad you were able to stumble upon my post! I really like the idea of scheduling blocks of uninterrupted writing time into our weeks. I do that a couple of times a week and I try really hard not to let other things interfere with that work time. If I hold it sacred, then my family and those around me are more likely to take it seriuosly too.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thanks for the great advice.I have a 2yr and 4yr old and find it very hard to find enough time to write.Half an hour here and there is not enough. By the time i have turned computer on and got organised they then want something.In the evening once children have gone to bed i need lots of coffee as always feel so tired and drained.Can`t wait for them to start school!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I have no social life and I have to confess to sacrificing more sleep than is healthy. And I agree with Jillian that I shouldn't. Though I may get a lot done late at night when the house is quiet, it catches up with me and I get stressed and cranky after a few days. Then, I sleep more and write less.
    I've been trying to juggle a lot and have *almost* gotten something of a schedule down. Then along comes a sick kid, or Spring Break or some other bump in the road.
    I have managed to sneak in a few productive writing sessions while my youngest is in preschool for 3 hours M/W/F. I drop her off, do some errands, then hit the library where I can usually type away for an hour or two. I am looking forward to when she joins her brothers at school full-time, but I think I may miss my library "office". :)

    ReplyDelete
  39. I have no social life and I have to confess to sacrificing more sleep than is healthy. And I agree with Jillian that I shouldn't. Though I may get a lot done late at night when the house is quiet, it catches up with me and I get stressed and cranky after a few days. Then, I sleep more and write less.
    I've been trying to juggle a lot and have *almost* gotten something of a schedule down. Then along comes a sick kid, or Spring Break or some other bump in the road.
    I have managed to sneak in a few productive writing sessions while my youngest is in preschool for 3 hours M/W/F. I drop her off, do some errands, then hit the library where I can usually type away for an hour or two. I am looking forward to when she joins her brothers at school full-time, but I think I may miss my library "office". :)

    ReplyDelete
  40. This is such sound advice. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I don't have kids and I don't have a full-time job, so you'd think it'd be easy to schedule in writing time, right? I certainly did.

    But, I DO have a chronic illness that saps my energy and ability to function, in addition to having an extremely ill mother to take care of daily and a farm to manage.

    When you add all of that to trying to deal with a drug-addicted, sex-addicted, alcoholic, and bipolar aunt, you have no end of stress and work to try to keep up with. Keeping on schedule has proven near impossible, but I'm determined to try to make it work once again. Here's hoping I can manage to make myself get up and write tomorrow morning at 6:00. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Great advice. I have six children and homeschool as well, although my twin daughters are now 21 and in college. But you have provided some excellent advice. I struggle in the area of scheduling with my writing, but you have inspired me!
    Thanks!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's that weird apostrophe thing happening again. :)
      ~Amy O'Quinn

      Delete

© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!