One of the great things about writing for a living is being your own boss. Only you get to decide when you write, for how long, and toward what goals.
One of the scariest things about writing for a living is being your own boss. The only person responsible for making sure you get your writing done is you.
Some people are naturally good at this part of writing successfully. The rest of us struggle for one or more reasons. Today I’d like to talk about five of the most common reasons. More importantly, I’ll offer a technique you can try to overcome whichever reasons cause you the most trouble.
The Top 5 Reasons Writers Don’t Write
In my travels, I talk with a lot of writers. Of those, the folks who have trouble with time management cite five reasons more than any other:
- They Suffer From Writer’s Block
- They Get Distracted While Working
- They Keep Losing Their Writing Time
- Their Family Keeps Interrupting
- They’re Too Busy
For the rest of this article, we’ll deal with each problem one at a time.
It’s such a commonly reported problem for writers that we make jokes about it. You sit down to write, and the words just aren’t coming. Some writer’s block lasts for a few hours. Some last for weeks or even months.
Your muse has vanished. No matter how you try to call her back, she remains coyly out of reach. The mysterious artfulness of your writing is beyond your grasp, and you must wait patiently for it to return of its own accord.
Throw all of that nonsense away. You’re not writing because you don’t want to write. It’s that simple. You might have gotten bored with your work in progress. You might be struggling with a particular scene and shying away from the work. You could be suffering from burnout.
In many cases, writer’s block comes in the final push before you’re finished. If this happens, it’s usually because a finished book needs to be submitted to editorial examination. It’s a scary process, and new for beginning writers, leading to a subconscious desire to slow down progress on those final steps.
- Make yourself write, no matter what. If you can’t write what you’re working on, do a journal entry or a short story. Type your to-do list. You’ll find that once you start writing it’s easier to keep writing than to stop. You can shift into what you’re “supposed to write” as the momentum builds.
- Stop editing while you write. On difficult scenes, worry about the art later. Just get clunky words on the page, even if you sound like an excited nine year old or bored teen. Rewriting is often easier than writing.
- Figure out what you’re afraid of. Whether it’s the next steps, or a scene you’re uncomfortable with, or something else, it could be behind you not wanting to write. Identify the problem and deal with it head on. You’ll soon see the blockage fade away.
You’ve set up time to write, but find yourself at the end of your hour having written very little. When you’re honest with yourself, it’s because you keep doing other things.
Your artistic mind can’t be constrained to just one activity. It goes where it likes. You’d hate to lose it by forcing it into some arbitrary pattern. Either that, or people keep being wrong on social media and it’s up to you to correct them, no matter how long it takes.
It’s time to add a little discipline into your writing life. Staying focused on tasks is a skill like any other skill. The more people practice it successfully, the better people do…and you need some practice.
- Install anti-distraction software. These tools will lock you out of social media and streaming sites for a set period of time, removing some of the strongest temptations.
- Set a timer, beginning at just five or ten minutes. Until it goes off, your hands don’t leave the keyboard. Take a break once it goes off. Over a few weeks, keep increasing the time until you’re going full-speed for half an hour or more.
- Block your writing time into segments for writing and segments for writing support like research, editing, or re-organizing your desk. Keep them separate.
You schedule your writing time, but somehow it still never happens. That hour (or half hour, or whatever) is well gone by the time you have time to write.
The day ends with you not having written, even though you set aside time to do it. Something always comes up, or you lose track of time, or the demands of the world around you seem to take precedence every day.
You have every good intention of writing each day, but let other things stop you despite your best intentions. This means the structure of your days doesn’t work for how you want to write…which means you need to address how you structure your days.
- Get up early and write first thing in the morning. If you get in this habit, the other demands of your day can’t interrupt. There’s no time for things to go wrong before your writing time.
- Redefine “emergency”. If you set up writing time that keeps getting interrupted or postponed by “emergencies”, remember that true emergencies don’t happen every single day. Give yourself permission to take a break from real life to focus on your writing during that time. Your problems will still be there, none the worse, when it’s over.
- Track the days you write and the days you don’t, with a short journal entry or even just a sticker on the family calendar. For many people, this sort of score keeping helps motivate them to make their goal happen.
Interruptions From Family
You’ve scheduled your writing time. You’ve overcome writer’s block. Nothing’s gone wrong for the whole day, leaving you an hour to sit and write. Just as your fingers touch the keyboard, your child comes in needing a snack. Or a buddy calls for help with a DIY project. Or your spouse slips in for a kiss.
Next thing you know the whole writing period is gone and you’ve gotten nothing done.
There are too many hands on your time. People keep asking you for things even though this is your writing time. On the one hand, it’s annoying. On the other, it feels nice to be so wanted and needed.
You need to learn how to set boundaries around your writing time. If you want to write professionally, you need to treat it like a job…which means your people know to interrupt you for it just as often as they would interrupt you at a regular, 9 to 5, workplace.
- Write early in the morning or late at night, when everybody else is asleep and won’t bother you. Most writers get better results with morning writing, since they’re fresher, but either one works better than writing when people are up and demanding your time and attention.
- Write in hiding. Go to a coffee shop, the library, or a friend’s empty house during your writing time so nobody knows where to find you. Turn off your phone while you’re at it so they can’t call you, either.
- Get an office with a door that closes, and close the door. If you’re lucky enough to dedicate a whole room to it, that’s great. If not, use the laundry room, your bedroom, or even a closet for your writing space. Just choose somewhere with a barrier that makes people stop and think before interrupting.
Being Too Busy
You’d love to write, but find you don’t have the time. At the end of the week, you’ve written zero pages. At the end of the month, you’ve had maybe one or two sessions. Life just seems to intervene, and maybe writing isn’t for you right now.
Life is simply too busy. You have commitments of all kinds, and writing is just one of them. When you have the time to write, you love it, but you can’t count on having that time as a regular thing. It’s too bad, though. You really love writing, and think you could make a go of it if you just had a few more hours in the day.
When you say you “don’t have time” for something, what you’re really saying is that you value some other activity above that thing.
If what you value above writing is time with your loved ones, working at a fulfilling career, and engaging in other hobbies that make you happy, that’s great! Accept that, for right now, writing isn’t on the table and come back to it when things are less active in your life.
But if you’re filling your time with things that don’t lift you up and fill your heart the way writing does, jettison some so you have time to write.
- Set a “time budget” where you track how you spend your time and limit distractions like Netflix binges to create time for your writing.
- Drop a commitment that doesn’t fulfill you, like membership in your HOA board or something else you felt roped into. Spend that time writing instead.
- Set a plan and a goal for making your money from writing instead of a job you don’t like. Focus your efforts on success in that area.
How About You?
Which of these sounds most like the biggest challenge to your writing productivity? Choose the best solution and see how it goes.
If you could do me a favor, and report over on the Facebook group what you tried and how it worked, that would be great. It helps your fellow community members more than you know.