How To Make Time To Write When You 'Have No Time'

Image: John O'Nolan / Flickr

This week we have someone who desperately wants to escape his soulless career and become a writer, but he's too busy to write. Should he leave his job so he can finally find the time to put pen to paper? Or will he realise that it's possible to make time for his passion if he's willing to dig deep?

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Note: I'm not a therapist or health professional of any kind. People ask for my advice and I give it to them. End of transaction. Now that that's out of the way, let's get on with it:

Dear Patrick,

I've been an attorney for two years. I went to law school because I wanted to learn how to think, write, and publish about civil/human rights law with some credibility. After coming to grips with my massive law school debt, I accepted a well-paying job at a law firm so that I could have financial stability and independence. My parents don't have the ability to support me if things go south.

But my job is soulless and some days I struggle to get out of bed and show up to work. I haven't really written anything new (that's not related to work) since law school. I want to write more for myself, but at the end of the day my brain is mush and my willpower is completely tapped out. I have nothing left to give.

I'm especially weak right when I get home from work because my mood is low and I want instant gratification, so I usually succumb to watching TV or some other escapist activity until I have to get to bed and start the whole cycle again the next day.

I've been trying everything I can to use whatever free time I have to write, but I can't seem to do it. All the productivity articles in the world about time management etc. have not worked. I'm at the point where I feel like the only way to move forward is to quit my job.

Moving onto another job as a litigator is not really a solution because the work requirements are pretty universal. The only difference is less pay for less-challenging/boring work at other employers. I'm worried that if I take another job, even outside of law, I'll hate that too and I'll have given up a job that was at least stable and well-paid. If I stop working outright, I fear that not having a place to go every day, and not having deadlines, or people I'm accountable for, will make me undisciplined and I won't actually do any writing then, either.

Plus, I would have no money and be too stressed out about taking care of myself financially to focus on writing.

Part of me thinks I should stick around here and maybe someday I'll grow to enjoy and appreciate my current work. The other part of me thinks the longer I stay, the more I lose touch with what I always hoped I would do and become. I don't want to be sad and have regret. What should I do?

Thanks, Wannabe Writer

Hey Wannabe Writer:

I went through a similar process before I became a professional writer. I wanted to be published, but I was already working a demanding desk job, waiting for five o'clock every day. After work, I'd go home and veg out because I was totally wiped. I could never find time to sit down and tap those keys, especially with a refreshed mind. I was against the ropes, convinced I'd be stuck where I was forever.

You are currently at a similar crossroads, WW. Right now, the question for you is not "How do I become a writer?" That's easy — you write. The question you should be asking yourself is "Do I actually want to be a writer?" It's a simple "yes" or "no" question that's harder to answer than you think because there is no leeway there.

When I was at my own crossroads, I learned the most valuable lesson of my career: you don't find time to do the things you're passionate about, you make time. You sacrifice hobbies, you shift sleeping schedules, you remove distractions, you grab yourself by the ear and drag your lazy arse to the computer with your Wi-Fi off.

You say you haven't written since law school because you're too busy and tired?

That's horse shit.

Almost every writer gets their start while working another job, myself included. I got up early and wrote before work; I spent my weekends writing (you have weekends, don't you?); I wrote while I ate dinner; I even snuck in writing during slow days at the office. WW, you are either unwilling to commit, or you don't want to be a writer, plain and simple.

If you really think on this and decide you don't want to be a writer, that's OK. You're just going through your quarter-life crisis where everything feels rote and uncertain — like you're trapped on an unfulfilling path that leads to a life lacking of passion. It will pass; don't leave your job. Do some volunteer work, join a local club, exercise more, or do anything you can to change up your routine.

You'll feel better.

However, if you do want to be a writer, you still shouldn't quit your job (it is definitely not the only way forward), but you do need to prove to yourself that writing while you work is possible (and it definitely is). So here's your prescription — take mentally every time you think you're too busy or being lazy:

  • Start thinking of yourself as a writer. I don't care if you think this sounds stupid — do it. You'll never convince yourself to write more if you don't allow yourself to believe you're capable of it. You're a writer.
  • Remind yourself that what you write doesn't need to be good; it just needs to exist. Don't let fear or perfectionism hold you back. Writing is 90 per cent revision anyway. Get some freaking words down.
  • Take a thorough look at your daily schedule and look for times when you're free. It's clearly there, so don't lie to yourself. Even a block of ten minutes is enough to start. You might be surprised how much time you actually have each day.
  • Create a writing schedule. This is essential because you need to make writing a habit. No habit, no writing, no change to your life. If you know writing at night isn't feasible because you're too tired from work, go to bed earlier then wake up earlier to write in the morning before work. Maybe even ask your boss if you can work from home a couple of days per week and squeeze in some writing during working hours. If you want change, make changes. Through trial and error you will eventually figure out what works for you.
  • Stick to your writing schedule. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan says, "Exercising is a good analogy for writing. If you're not used to exercising, you want to avoid it forever. If you're used to it, it feels uncomfortable and strange not to. No matter where you are in your writing career, the same is true for writing. Even fifteen minutes a day will keep you in the habit." Do your exercise, WW.
  • When it's time to write and you don't know what to write, do this exercise instead: write your own biography, in the third person. It will get you writing something, and it will force you to look at your life from an outside perspective in a more analytical way (which might help you clear up your career confusion).

Repeat dosage as needed. If symptoms persist, re-evaluate whether you actually want to be a writer or not. Remember, productivity and time management articles don't do squat if you don't choose to take action on the advice presented. Now is the time to take action, WW. Go, write. It's the only thing that separates the wannabes from the real writers.


That's it for this week. I probably didn't make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but sometimes what you need is some tough love. 'Til next time, figure things out for yourself.


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