Why There’ll Never Be a Perfect Time to Write
One day, you’re going to write that novel that’s been tugging at your sleeve.
One day, you’re going to start posting regularly on your blog.
One day, you’re going to finish that ebook you started.
Trust me, I know how you feel. For years, I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t actually write. I had lots of ideas and dreams, but they never made it out of my head and onto the page.
Why? Because I was waiting for the perfect time.
I thought that I’d suddenly, magically, find myself inspired. Great chunks of free time would materialise from nowhere, without any effort on my part.
Guess what? It never happened.
If you’re struggling to find the time (and energy) to sit down and write, then take heart. You’re not alone – in fact, “finding time to write” is the most common issue that I’m asked about when I’m coaching writers.
Here’s why there’ll never be a perfect time:
#1: Writing is a High-Resistance Activity
I’ve been writing for a living for three years (I’ve completed a novel in that time too), and I still find myself reluctant to get going when I sit down to write.
Writing isn’t easy. It takes mental energy – and often emotional energy, too. For most of us, the writing process is also a thinking process: for instance, if you’re putting together a “Hire Me” page for your blog, you’ll have to get completely clear about what exactly you offer, what you charge, and so on.
There are an awful lot of activities that feel much easier than writing. Doing the housework. “Networking” on Twitter. Making a coffee. Sure, you’ll have the occasional day when you’re filled with inspiration and you can’t wait to get to the keyboard. But those days are pretty rare.
#2: Writing Requires Concentration and Privacy
Finding the perfect time to write isn’t the only issue at hand. You might also need to find a good place. It’s very tough to write if you’re sitting on a sofa with your laptop while the television’s on and housemates or family members are chatting.
I personally find it almost impossible to write at all if anyone can see my screen (even if they’re not deliberately watching) – and I know that a lot of writers feel the same way. To feel secure enough to write, you need a certain amount of privacy.
The perfect place isn’t going to appear from nowhere. You might hold out hopes for a magical day when your family do the chores, clear off to the park and leave you in peace to write … but is that really going to happen?
#3: Writing Is Important but (Usually) Not Urgent
Your writing is important – even if no-one else seems to think so. If you get that novel finished, it could be the first step on a lucrative new career. If you write regularly on your blog, you’ll establish a strong online platform. And if you finish that ebook, you’ll have something to sell to your blog’s readers.
Beyond that, your writing is important because it’s part of who you are. I’d hazard a guess that you’re happy when you manage to write – and dissatisfied when weeks or months go by without any writing.
The problem is, “write novel” probably isn’t the most urgent thing on your to-do list. Less significant but more time-pressing tasks – like doing the chores, or fulfilling commitments that you’ve taken on – are pushing writing down and down the list.
So What Can You Do?
Stop waiting for the perfect time.
Instead, make a commitment to find two hours during the next week when you can write. There are 168 hours in a week – you can take two of those to do something that really matters to you. Perhaps they won’t be the perfect time – but they’ll be far better than nothing.
Good luck with your writing!
Ali Hale is a writing coach and founder of our Freelance Writing Course. If you’d like some help finding time to write, she has a free mini-ebook “How to Find Time For Your Writing,” available when you join her newsletter list. (You’ll also get weekly writing tips and encouragement and occasional extra free ebooks – all straight to your inbox, all completely free.) You can find out more about the newsletter, and sign up, here.
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25 Responses to “Why There’ll Never Be a Perfect Time to Write”
Leif G.S. Notae
Great article Ali, like the topic and it is a good reminder to me personally that there are more things I can do to keep the momentum going.
I’m a fan of the small moments to write if you can’t seem to find chunks. Five minutes here, ten minutes there, on the back of a napkin while waiting for appetizers or maybe an smartphone writing while taking a moment away. Every step leads toward more writing and getting used to the habit.
And that is what it is, a habit to form. Probably the second best habit I have in my life (beer being the first, of course!).
I break writing a novel into discrete components.
1) The idea. Developing the idea for my next novel (and the one after that, sometimes) can be done anywhere, anytime. It happens, for the most part, between my ears. Watching my son play soccer, listening to a boring presentation at work, arguing with my wife – all of these events are only on the surface. Inside my head I’m actually thinking about and expanding upon ideas.
2) Planning/plotting. I give myself a couple of months for this and it includes research, plot twists, character arcs and further expansion of the idea. Much of it is spent at a laptop, but pad and paper works too. Not as much need for solitude.
3) writing the first draft. Now *this* is when “finding the time to write” is a challenge. Because I can’t get in to the flow of the story unless I’m by myself, with no distractions, listening to classical music I sped the first draft two-to-three months getting up at 4 and writing for a couple of hours a day, large pot of coffee by my side and Zoe Keating pumping through my headphones. It, so far, is the only time I can binge write.
4) Edit, revise, clean up. This happens whenever and as often as I can. Sometimes 4 in the morning, sometimes late at night, sometimes only a few pages at a time. But by that point the end is in sight and, in the immortal words of Mick and Keith, wild horses couldn’t drag me away.
It’s worked for 3 -1/2 novels so far.
Marylane Wade Koch
So true, Ali. Good to hear that as a seasoned writer you still find yourself reluctant to get to work at times. As humans I think we miss a lot of good life experiences waiting for a perfect time to whatever… Thanks. I am now encouraged to get going!
Ali: thanks for the great counsel – I appreciate it and I’m taking it to heart.
I look forward to your future columns.
The trouble I’ve found isn’t taking the time, but trying to make good use of it. Even setting time aside to write, sometimes the pages just fly out, but many times I can’t even find the next word in the story. That, is the most frustrating aspect of the work. Even when I know exactly what is to happen in the story, there are times when I cannot continue. Often this happens when I get myself into what I call a “box” and can’t get myself out of it gracefully. Like to see a piece by you called “The Next Word.”
I always read, but rarely comment – but after the addendum to today’s email I thought I’d click through!
I really love receiving the writing tips email. This one was a timely one for me as I am finalising my thesis and finding the last couple of chapters difficult to complete.
Thanks for the information and inspiration!
Truer words were never written.
Three strategies also work for me:
1. Managed procrastination. When I was freelancing, I’d set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes and do procrastinating activities like clean house or check email. When the timer sounded, I’d turn to my writing project. I got lots of housework done this way and wrote regularly as well.
2. Write a bad first draft. Giving myself permission to get the story out without editing the initial draft in my mind made me far more productive.
3. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! I’d give them to myself if the client couldn’t or wouldn’t. Nothing like a due date to motivate me.
Keep writing, all!
Ali, thanks for the validation. Glad I’m not the only one that feels this way. I set aside specific times to write, so others know not to bother me and I remember not to schedule anything for that time.
Writing, especially a novel is like any great project, it may seem insurmountable from the bottom, but if you just focus on one chunk at a time, you can get it done in a reasonable amount of time.
@ Tony: 3 1/2 novels — well done! Your plan sounds sound, and worth following.
@ Ali: Thanks for a good article and another reminder to get to it. I promise that I will.
Many thanks to the writer, Ali Hale. In deed, as a writer (never mind that we dont write as much since time is always a problem) finding time to write is a major challenge.
Thanks again Ali (at least am writing this and time isnt an issue!).
PS: Let me share this on facebook, so many writers there are there!
great points Ali! thanks so much for echoing what i was inherently feeling…”don’t wait for the right moment just freaking do it!” haha. sometimes i really need a kick in the ass
In 2009, I impulsively signed up for National Novel Writing Month. Except for an opening scene, and a way to commit a murder, I had no idea where I was going. Thirty days later I had 50,000+ words of magnificent kludge, but it was a revelation:
1. My inability to write is not a barrier to writing.
2. I can write on demand.
3. All first drafts are crap. So what.
3. I’ll never be scared again.
I like writer Louis L’Amour’s attitude about writing, and have taken it to heart. This quote means everything to me: ”I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees,” he once said. ”Temperamental I am not.”
Temperamental I am not.
Such wise words. I walked around with an idea for my first novel and the words. “one of these days….” One day my husband handed me a notepad and pen and said, “Stop saying one day and write it.”. Sometimes we need that extra push. That person who lets us know we have nothing more urgent than starting that book.
Ali Luke (nee Hale)
@Leif – Little steps definitely do add up! I personally prefer to write for longer chunks of time, but if 10 minutes is all I can manage, it’s definitely better than 0 minutes…
@Tony – Great way to split it up. And like you, I find that writing the first draft is the toughest bit — so easy to stop and not start again.
@Marylane – I think all writers struggle at times; most just don’t admit it . 😉
@Colin – Cheers! I try to write for Daily Writing Tips every month or two… I always get lovely comments here, which is a great incentive. 🙂
@Moiby – Thanks for commenting! 🙂 Glad this helped!
@Deborah H – Congrats on the NaNo win! I did it in 2007 and learned pretty much the same four things you did. 🙂 My resulting novel was only fit for the recycling bin, but I found that I *could* write around my day job (and then my writing paved the way for me quitting said day job less than a year later…)
I love the quote from Louis L’Amour, though I fear I’m a rather more temperamental writer…!
@Sandra – Sounds like you’ve got a fab husband. 🙂 (Mine is awesome too — he’ll bring me cups of tea when I’m writing!)
My favorite and most productive time to write is in the morning, right after coffee and reading, and right before company business and the “real work.”
When I’m working on a book, I can usually find a couple of hours, three times a week, for writing and editing. I also write blog posts in the morning. At any other time of the day, I’m either too caught up in clients’ documents or I’m too mentally fatigued to write productively.
“you’re happy when you manage to write – and dissatisfied when weeks or months go by without any writing” Oh so true! Doesn’t matter if it is great or just mediocre, it is the processes used.
Lief’s comment about small chunks reminded me of doing it in the past. Need to get back to it again. At least it was some sort of writing. Wonder where I put those scraps . . .
Wonderful article! Makes me feel normal and it inspires me to get writing!…
“Is someone peeping at my monitor? I’ll turn it off, just to make sure…”
This is such great advice! I need to take your advice, it is so easy to find excuses, especially since “on the surface” I am a stay-at-home mom of three kids. But I know of many authors, such as Diana Gabaldon and Jodi Picoult, who have three kids and wrote novels, so the big trick is just to do it. I do manage to write poetry, because that seems more manageable in small chunks, so WHY NOT a novel? Thanks for the inspiration!
I decided if I stopped hitting the snooze alarm I could write for 15-30 minutes every morning before I went to work. Over time, building my writing muscles made it easier and easier for me to pick up and start writing at other times of the day as well.
Michael E Fawcett
I have previously been an international standard procrastinator!
At no point would I have expected to have the time or discipline to write a novel. However, when I was made redundant I had plenty of time, yet still found “better” things to do.
Eventually I decided to take time out of the job search circus and do something creative but still dithered until:
I told everyone I was writing a novel: this means that they ask about how it’s going and prompted me to make sure I was making progress.
I helped my wife to understand that this was now “what I do”: Just because I am at home doesn’t mean that am being idle and I might not have the time to do all those jobs on the list you’ve given me!
Routine, routine, routine: Walk the dogs, brew and drink a coffee, Watch Frasier on channel 4, check emails and at 9:00am start working. (Maybe another coffee at 11:00am!)
I think Cynthia’s got it. For me, it’s just been a matter of sleeping less. If I train myself to sleep less, I have more time to write when I can actually write well: the morning.
Having said that, I can agree that the Internet has certainly not made it easier to avoid procrastination. Case in point, I was on a cruise without free Internet access and managed to write about 8,000 good words in three days. Now, back home, not so much…
Thanks for a very inspirational post! I am still starting off as a writer. I have so many dreams that one day I’ll be this, I’ll do this and that. You’re right, there will never be a perfect time to write. Waiting for an inspirations is procrastination for most writers. We should not wait for inspiration to come to us, we should be sensitive and proactive enough to find inspiration even in the small things that we do.
Seize the moment!
Ali Luke (nee Hale)
@Precise Edit – I find that first thing in the morning works well for me, too; I’ve got more energy then, and the demands of the day haven’t crowded in!
@Charlie – Hope you find (and use/add to) those scraps… 🙂
@Bruno – Thanks! Glad to help!
@StephWJ – I think it’s tough to keep up sustained momentum on a big project like a novel, but it IS possible. Good luck!
@Cynthia – Fantastic way to get into writing! 15-30 mins really adds up over time, and like you say, it can be a great start for a more extended writing practice.
@Michael – It’s a shame there aren’t any Olympic medals for procrastination… 😉 I think accountability to friends/family can work really well, so long as you don’t feel too pressured by it. Very best of luck with the novel!
@Shyxter – Great point about proactively seeking inspiration: personally, I find that I get inspired when I read books or have new experiences, not when I sit at my desk waiting for lightning to strike…
wow! this is just the unknown answer ma soul has been searching for… deep down in me I know there’s alot I can write buh sitting and writing has alwyz bin an issue,Ali ur rily gud! tis ma first time of reading ur stuff and am alwyz gonna do so. Now am going bak to those notepads I’v kept since and am gonna write! write!! write!!!
I try the same thing, but I end up with more and more ideas that I WRITE down. But the problem with this is:I can’t seem to figure out what I CAN do for one of the stories, it’s full of tragedy. Currently, I’m writing others but this one catches my eye when it comes to this. This ISN’T the only story that I’m stuck on. (I’m writing them all at the same time since the ideas come easier for me…) Is there an easy way to plot?
And I suggest writing for first draft script like then convert it to a book, then do what you do for your second draft. I learned writing a story is easier this way! I wrote some scenes this way.