Don’t have time to write? Here’s a secret. Not having time to write is very rarely about actual time.
It’s about priorities.
IKR, how dare we suggest you’re not busy who do we think we are?!
Of course you’re busy. We’re all busy.
We have families and jobs and houses that won’t clean themselves, errands that won’t errand themselves, challenges that won’t de-challenge, and the general lifeyness of life to contend with.
That’s not to say that sometimes there genuinely isn’t enough time in the day. This very blog is being written from the far side of the school Easter holidays while I crouch in the corner of my bedroom hoping the children won’t notice I’m missing.
In the evenings, my 7-year-old wants to talk VERY INTENSELY to me about when the Earth will end and what happens when you die. In the morning, my 3-year-old wants to sit on my head for 40 minutes and sing songs from the Lego Movie 2 before getting up.
Right now, at this very moment, there’s not a lot of time to spare. But generally? Normally? With some shuffling and organisation? There’s always somewhere I can squeeze in a few minutes with my notebook. Because a few minutes a day is all you need.
Fun fact: the fundamental difference between you and someone who has written their book? It’s that they wrote their book.
Because it was important.
Because it had to be written.
Because they prioritised it.
Because the story they needed to tell was so urgent that they hunted down all other distractions and time-suckers and killed them dead with giant sticks, and then protected their writing time like the fearsome writing beast they are. That’s what you have to do.
Look, let’s not pull any punches here. In the words of Death (the Marcus Zuzak version, not Terry Pratchett’s):
You are going to die.
Only 30 seconds ago I was 2-foot-tall and chasing my brothers around the giant garden of my childhood home as we laughed and screeched the brown-grass, hot-sun summer holidays away. At night I lay in bed dreaming of travelling the world as a writer of cool stories.
Now, 30 seconds later, I’m 3-foot-tall, a middle-aged mum of two living in a draughty terrace in a dilapidated seaside town with approximately 800 failed novels under my belt, facing a future of huge political, financial and environmental uncertainty (alongside the rest of the world. This particular situation isn’t unique to me, just in case you were wondering if I lived in my own personal dystopia).
The moral of this accidentally depressing vignette is this: time passes very quickly and there is no greater motivation than knowing one day that time will run out, so don’t wait around. Get up and get on it.
(The second accidental moral of the accidental depressing vignette is this: never give up on your dreams because what if the 801st novel is the one that makes it?).
Not only does time pass very quickly but there is so much that is out of our control, you simply cannot let the opportunities pass you by while they are here.
Tl;dr: you can sit around bemoaning your lack of time, or you can do something about it. That’s your choice.
Write in the morning before the kids get up. Write in the evening when they’re asleep. Zombiefy them in front of CBeebies for half an hour and write. Write on the commute to work, do it during your lunch break. Have a notebook in your pocket and take quiet notes when your boss is banging on about fucking kanban boards. Write when you’re lying in bed. Kill all your social media channels dead. Completely and utterly dead. They are the scourge of the writer (keep our channels alive, natch). Reduce your weekly porn viewing by a 30 minutes and write then. Leave the laundry for a bit longer. Let someone else deal with the bills for a day or two. Write instead of – gasp – watching Bake Off.
Write yourself a timetable and stick the fuck to it.
Hunt down everything that distracts you or blocks you and smite it with sticks (but not your family, they’re excused from the sticky-smiting).
And if you find that you can’t face doing any of that, or if you find yourself scrolling endlessly through Facebook night after night, ask yourself: is this really the story I want to write?
Because if your writing isn’t burning a (figurative) hole in the bottom of your stomach, if you’re not prepared to prioritise it above other stuff, maybe it’s not the story for you. And that’s cool. That’s fine. That’s normal. If that is the case, stop wasting energy on it and find the story you have to tell.
Ask yourself: is writing important to me right now?
If it isn’t, cool! Go crack on with something that is important to you right now.
If it is: also cool! Look closely at your day. Let go of anything that it keeping you from it, and crack the fuck on.
Ready to write? Here’s your prompt.
Set your timer for 30 minutes. You’re going to write a story. Yes you are. In 30 minutes.
It doesn’t have to be a perfect polished beginning-middle-and-end story because you’re not doing it in much time. Think of it like a little sprint to exercise your story-brain muscles. You’re going to have a look at the prompts below, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths, then set your timer and write without stopping for 30 minutes and see what comes out. Just write, free and safe in the knowledge that you never have to share this work with anyone, unless you want to.
You can start something new or relate this to your current work in progress.
When your time is up, head over to the forums and tell us how you got on (or share your work if you want and see what feedback you get back).
Here are some text and word prompts. Use them as you wish:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?” Scotty shook his head. “The goon won.”
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
“We cannot turn away,” Miss Woolf told her, “we must get on with our job and we must bear witness.” What did that mean, Ursula wondered. “It means,” Miss Woolf said, “that we must remember these people when we are safely in the future.”
“And if we are killed?”
“Then others must remember us.”
Kate Atkinson, Life After Life