9 Ways to Find the Time to Write

The challenge is to be oneself.—Derek Raymond

    1. Unhook

You know what I’m talking about.

The number of hours a writer can waste on the Internet would make even the most hardened geek’s blood run cold.

Here’s my #1 tip to getting work done, the one that carves out time in my schedule every blessed day so my clients don’t gang up on me and appear at my door waving fistfuls of precious manuscript in righteous indignation over their heads.

You know that little doohicky with the floppy ears that plugs the blogosphere, Facegook, and Twitter into your computer like a cable plugging the Matrix into the back of your neck?

Reach right over and yank that sucker out.

    1. Close your mouth

And a weird thing will happen. Everyone out there will stop listening.

There you’ll be, sitting at your desk or kitchen table or armchair or porcelain throne with a head full of words and nowhere for them to go.


    1. Plug your ears

But before you bring out your manuscript or open your notebook or click that golden Open button, take a quick look behind you and all around. Are you alone? You’d better be. Otherwise you’re going to have to roll up some little bits of tissue and insert them (very carefully!) into your outer ears. Or take a moment to breathe deeply and hum through your nose until you’ve forgotten all about the other people in the room.

Whatever you do, don’t look up. That only encourages them.

    1. Watch the clock

What time is it right now? And what time do you expect to have the biggest chunk of time available today?

Whip out a red pen and scribble that time on your hand. I write on the thumb part of the back of my left hand—always have, always will, even though 25 years ago I injured my arm and damaged a nerve so it feels kind of yucky.

Now whatever else you do all day, keep one eye peeled. About half an hour before that time, start closing down shop. Take care of anything that might interrupt you—like kids with appetites—and shut down the airlocks. You’re going into orbit.


    1. Take advice

Then pick up a really good book on writing advice, something that makes your head just want to detach from your neck and do a little dance across the room. I mean, a really good book. Something full of concrete, hands-on advice while also intensely encouraging and inspiring.

Let it fall open randomly and start reading. This is called divining, and it works for writing just like it works for oracles.

    1. Doodle a name

If you get too caught up in the reading, pick up a pen and doodle your protagonist’s name on something. It doesn’t matter what—your arm, the margin of your book, your jeans, the back of the cat. The act of holding that pen and writing that name over and over links synapses in your brain and makes them start pumping juice toward the little grey cells allotted to that personality in your mind.

    1. Drink tea

Don’t eat unless you’re starving. And don’t get yourself all jazzed up on caffeine or stupid on booze. Just make sure you have something warm and comforting you can reach without looking up, like a swimmer taking a breath, before you sink back down into the imaginary place you’re exploring.

    1. Zonk out

And if the noise in the room or in your head is really loud, go take a nap. This isn’t copping out. It’s preparing you to stay up late after everyone else has gone to bed, after your part of the planet has turned off the lights and disappeared, when the quiet rises up around you like mist so you can see your characters come walking or stumbling and crawling out of it toward you.

Even if you try to do a runner at bedtime, it won’t work because you won’t be able to get to sleep.

  1. Disappear for a week up a river or a mountain, break a leg, and get snowed in

    And if all else fails, do what I’m going to do and just vanish into thin air. Leave your house. Go somewhere else. Trade apartments with a writer friend and force yourselves to communicate only by phone. Don’t back yourself into a corner where you actually injure yourself unconsciously, getting just that desperate to escape your daily routine.

    You know that feeling that you’re about to get sick and have to spend a day in bed, so you haul off and spend a day in bed so you won’t get sick?

    Do that.

“The freshest and
most relevant advice
you’ll find.”

—Helen Gallagher,
Seattle P-I

The Art & Craft of Fiction
The Art & Craft of Story

A. VICTORIA MIXON: Freelance Independent Editor

VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN: Having the Chops to Be a Writer

64 thoughts on “9 Ways to Find the Time to Write

  1. I stand by these. These are helpful. I do a lot of these, especially napping. I don’t stand by the coffee one though, which is what helps me rejuvenate my frontal lobe after a particularly good sleeping session.

    I once time spent 6 days in a remote cabin with no electricity, no hot water, one window, a dog, and a lot of mice. I wrote a lot. I edited a lot. Most of it was pure garbage, and I think I haven’t looked at it since. But it was fun. Also: it was spooky. I saw only one other person – an attractive young woman-hiker, but apparently she was on some sort of retreat too. As in retreating from the pale, drooling man who hadn’t talked to anyone in almost a week.

    1. Victoria says:

      It is totally spooky. You learn a whole lot about what it means to you to be alive on this planet when you’re locked up inside your own head for long periods of time. This is why so many experimental novels of the ’70s were about writers going crazy locked up inside their own heads.

      But that unique, spooky view on reality is where the gold is. Sitting around describing in factual detail what happens day-to-day in a remote cabin inhabited by mice is surprisingly good practice at writing compelling scenes.

  2. The shut your mouth and vanishing ones are my favorite. Maybe I should check into a hotel and just type until check-out time. No distractions, mini fridge full of munchies, facilities…hmmm.

    1. Victoria says:

      Watch out for that mini-fridge, Raquel. They charge up the wazoo for that stuff.

      Bring a suitcase of sandwiches and teabags.

  3. Genevieve says:

    O.K. πŸ˜€

    1. Victoria says:


      That’s what I like, Genevieve—a writer who just says, “O.K,” and does it.

  4. Jenny Hansen says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with #1 and #5.

    The internet is a huge time suck (as much as we LOVE IT) and the advice of the masters can help us leap mountains. My favorites (trust me, there’s more but my Top 10 are below):

    Jesse Lee Kercheval (Building Fiction)
    Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)
    Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones & Wild Mind)
    Julia Cameron (The Sound of Paper & The Artist’s Way)
    Stephen King (On Writing)
    David Morrell (Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing)
    Christopher Vogler (The Writer’s Journey)
    Blake Snyder (Save the Cat)

    1. Victoria says:

      Thanks, Jenny! Writers always appreciate great recommendations. And, hey, feel free to take my book into orbit with you, too.

  5. V Demetros says:

    Great advice. I love the idea of getting away to write, wish it were possible, but the rest are definitely possible. Thanks for the reminder…there are too many distractions out there, but only if you let them.

    1. Victoria says:

      Oh, it’s hard. I know. We all work for a living, and a lot of us also have kids to raise. That’s why I recommended a sick day rather than, say, a stay at Yaddo. Unless your kids are really little, you should be able to swing a few hours hiding under the covers once in awhile.

  6. Joan Swan says:

    Humorous, refreshing and realistic. That is the best list of applicable tips I’ve seen yet!


    1. Victoria says:

      Thanks, Joan! It can be so hard to find that time. . .

  7. The Matrix image is a very potent one for me. Of course, how to balance that with the advice to be on the Internet networking is the question! I just read a post yesterday by a successful author who advised that we should not leave the internet for days each week. We should be a steady, consistent presence.

    1. Victoria says:

      Beware advice to make your marketing more important than your writing. Sure, once you’re an experienced writer with one or more books finished and know exactly what you have to sell, the blogosphere is an amazing new resource for writers. But first you have to become a professional writer.

      That successful author has already put in their years of apprenticeship. That’s the joy of the work!

  8. dawn groves says:

    How many ways can we say the same things we’ve known all along but dont do? You’ve clearly come up with a refreshing new way. I’m tweeting it. Got to you from Debbie Ohi. Keep up the great work!

    1. Victoria says:

      Thanks, Dawn! Debbie’s a great resource.

  9. Great fun. Good advice. Gonna do some of this, like 1,2,4,5,8, and 9. Definitely 8 and 9. Thanks for the entertainment and inspiration.

    1. Victoria says:

      You’re welcome, Betsy. I figured I’d get lots of people saying, “Oh, yeah. Definitely 8!”

  10. Arjun Rao says:

    This sounds like the Biblical answer to procrstinating authors like me!!

    What I found worked for me (my first novel ‘Third Best’ just got published) is that even on those terrible days when nothing seems to be flowing (and sometimes that is worse that even writer’s block!) just type something, anything, even if it sounds absolutely terrible in your head. Eventually something will emerge that will surprise you (‘Finding Forrester’ style).

    1. Victoria says:

      That’s hilarious about the “Biblical answer.” I’m going to tweet that. πŸ™‚

      Yeah, Arjun, there’s a lot to be said for simply sitting around reinforcing the conduit that leads words out of your brain onto the page. I used to journal a lot (“and then she said—and then I said—“) and now I blog about craft. Natalie Goldberg really blew the writing world open when she said, “It doesn’t have to have a goal. Writing exercises are developing your skills.”

  11. Pam Parker says:

    Great reminders, thanks! I have to not open my web-browser when I’m writing – for me that’s key to focused writing. Thanks – I’m likely to link to this on my blog later today.

    1. Victoria says:

      I do that, too, Pam. But if I don’t unplug, I get pinged every ten minutes or so when my email reader checks my email, and that is totally distracting.

  12. Hi Victoria. Great tips, will tweet to our followers.

    Happy writing


    1. Victoria says:

      Thanks, Adam!

  13. I love #9. I wrote the bulk of my first book during the week I took off after getting my wisdom teeth pulled. The recovery wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but had already taken the week off work, so it was a great time to get the draft done.

    Plus the fact that my face looked like I had ran chin first into a cinder block wall made me want to stay away from the world, helped as well…

    Great article! Thanks.

    1. Victoria says:

      You’ve got to wonder, Michael—how much of writing is about creating a fictional ‘avatar’ for ourselves, someone who doesn’t look the way we look in the mirror every morning?

  14. I don’t know, but my fictional avatar was pretty ugly for a couple of weeks… or uglier that usual πŸ˜‰ But there is a place that I have to go when I get fully engaged in a project. I have more energy there, and if there is enough time, the state of “flow” occurs and then everything seems to slip into place. It is hard to find that kind of time in a busy household, and many times I settle for 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, an hour after weekend soccer practice, etc. I don’t get these types of blocks of unbroken project time often at all, but I do cherish them when they do occur.

    1. Victoria says:

      Amazing how much time our lives take up, isn’t it? That pesky business of living. πŸ™‚

      So many of my clients are parents. You wouldn’t believe how much of my correspondence with clients goes on around soccer practice.

      That’s great you’ve found a way to make writing happen. Getting that door open is one of the biggest issues writers face—it’s like prying open a sealed vault with a toothpick and a pair of fingernail clippers. But once it’s open. . .then you’re exactly where you need to be.

  15. Thanks for the fun and useful article. Another idea is to have two computers. One for work and one for play. Even two desk setups: one minimalist, another indulgent.

    1. Victoria says:

      That’s a pretty good idea, Dave. I have two places to work—in my office, and by the kitchen fire. I get a lot more actual writing done in my office because I have room on my desk to spread out books and papers.

  16. Sheri Adams says:

    Turning off the phone is one of the best techniques I’ve ever run into. I started to do it when I had a migraine and now if I am busy writing or creating something, the phone goes off! The off button is one of the greatest inventions on any machine that will disturb or occupy you.

    1. Victoria says:

      “The off button is one of the greatest inventions.”


  17. Parthenia says:

    These tips are just what I’ve been looking for. I’m a writer who has many ideas but has trouble figuring out “when” I’ll get them down and focus on them. Love the writing-in-your-hand thing. πŸ™‚

    1. Victoria says:

      Nobody ever finds enough time! Especially in this day and age. It’s such a constant struggle.

  18. Laura says:

    Thank you! These are all so helpful!

    #2 is funny, I always clean the house or chat non-stop, sometimes I forget I have control of my mouth…
    #3 This is why I don’t understand how people can write in a cafe! Too much noise makes me crazy, I downloaded ocean sounds off iTunes to help me focus.
    #6 is great, a way to connect and focus on your goal. It makes perfect sense and I never thought about it. If you’re going to write about someone, you need to make that connection, like a kid in school writing a boy’s name over and over…


    1. Victoria says:

      “I forget I have control of my mouth.” πŸ™‚ So do I. You should see what goes on on my IM. Friends quail.

      I used to write in cafes all the time because they’re hot-beds of material, but I didn’t get any novels written there because I couldn’t spread out my notes on plotting without getting latte all over them.

      And sometimes you really just need to sit and write your protagonist’s name over and over and over again—fantasizing.

  19. Mel says:

    I find it halarious that rule #1 tells me not to use the internet, but I found this on stumbleupon when I should have been studying. : /

    1. Madi says:

      Me too my friend. Me too.

      1. Victoria says:

        You guys are too hilarious.

        Me too.

  20. Anna Sayburn says:

    Thanks for the good advice. I never wrote so well as the 6 months I lived in a flat with no phone, no TV and no internet access! I’ve linked to your wise words from my blog, here: http://annasayburn.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/developing-our-fiction-half-way-through/

    1. Victoria says:

      No kidding—total stimulus starvation is fantastic inspiration to create!

  21. Kaitlynn says:

    excellent tips. writing is kind of a hide & seek sport. you have to go out and listen a lot, but then when you go out & comment on it you have to be alone with your thoughts. Easy if you’re predisposed to deep thinking & reflecting, but harder to shave space & solace to keep momentum.


    1. Victoria says:

      It’s really hard these days, Kaitlynn. Holy cow. It was way easier in pre-Internet days.

      Now you just have to show enormous self-discipline and tenacity. And, as you say, create your own solace. That’s what the life of the imagination is all about.

  22. Aarushi says:

    Hi Victoria,

    Your blog is amazing. These are truly inspiring tips. I am a self-proclaimed “writer” who doesn’t really do much of the actual writing very often, unless assigned by one of my college professors. I go through every day thinking at the end of it I will churn out some words but I don’t know what happens. I have ideas but lose inspiration or the other way round. I will try these tips out. Again, I love your blog!


    1. Victoria says:

      Thanks, Aarushi! We’re all self-proclaimed. There is no license to be a writer. . .although it would probably help.

      And, yeah, we all struggle with getting work done. Don’t worry about it. College is a busy time of life. I spent a lot of my college years castigating myself for not writing regularly, only to find when I looked back on them later that I’d done a ton of good work.

      It takes a long time to get good in this field—a really insanely ridiculously long time. Whatever writing you’re doing now, whenever you can, you’re improving your craft.

  23. Paul Bursey says:

    I love your writing style Victoria, oops time to zonk out

    1. Victoria says:


      Made me laugh, Paul.

  24. Gillian says:

    Stumble Upon is the bane of my life, especially as a writer.

    My most productive time was when I had to take a year off Uni due to ill health – I taught myself disciplne through the seemingly endless stretch of time I had in front of me and needing to fill it. I wrote a short play and started two novels, writing about 20,000 word of each. Unfortunately since being well and having to do things like uni work and job searching, writing itself seems like procrastination from the other essential things :s

    And when I have a spare five minutes I go on stumbleupon. Doh.

    1. Victoria says:

      Yeah, I hear a lot of this, Gillian! πŸ™‚

      Don’t pressure yourself. Set a timer, go to StumbleUpon, find one thing really inspiring to read about writing, and take notes. The act of taking those notes will snap you out of your trance, especially if you start scribbling your protagonist’s name when you run out of notes to take. Feel your hand creeping unconsciously toward that plug. . .

  25. Teresa B. says:

    I feel like I’m going to get sick soon, the flu or something like it. Great time for a 14 year old writer. That and the boring Literature class, when I just zone out. haha. Great advice. Thanks!

    1. Victoria says:

      I know that flu, Teresa. It’s a pernicious bug. Knocks you out cold for a day, except for your writing hand.

      It’s weird that way.

  26. Jacob says:

    Number 5 is important, though at some point you just have to sit down and start writing. I’m no professional author, but I enjoy creative writing. For me, the hardest part is getting started.

    1. Victoria says:

      That’s the transition, Jacob, and everyone struggles with it to some extent. That’s why reading a really good book on writing can help—it can bridge that transition for you, calling up references to your own manuscript in your mind, so you don’t notice when you leave the real world and arrive in your fictional dream.

      Then you write!

  27. Becca says:

    I can do all but 8 and 9. Partially because i’m only in high school. partially because i have too much going on. But since this is what i want to do i will definitely try :))))

    1. Victoria says:


      High school? I got some of my best napping done in high school!

  28. Jane says:

    I am reminded that the first time I managed to produce a good “short” story to publishable standard, I wrote it while on a training course where the accomodation was a motorway service station. Daytime – learning things. Evening – no Internet, effectively no TV, no company, food that filled a hole and no more – but I had a lap-top with me.
    At the end of the week, I also had 9K polished words, ready to go.
    Research and emailing a copy for criticism happened in lunchtime (about 20 minutes online a day).

    1. Victoria says:

      Yes, the Internet and TV are the biggest obstacles to decent writing in today’s world. Cut them out of your life, and you’ve won half the battle right there.

      Write because you love it! Life is truly too short to waste staring mindlessly at a screen.

  29. Ben Chason Sokol says:

    Miss, you are inspiring.
    Just so yo know.

    1. Victoria says:

      Well, thank you, Ben! How very kind of you. πŸ™‚

  30. Anastasia says:

    I needed a laugh – my shoulders were tense with anxiety over how am I EVER going to plow through the research I planned for my book. Now I know. I heart this post.

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