Finding the Time to Write

By John Gilstrap

“Where do you find the time to write?” It’s among the most common questions asked of me—by writers who find out that I have a day job, and by neighbors and colleagues who find out that I write books. As if we’re only capable of doing one thing at a time.

Back in the early nineties, when I was in my transition phase between thinking about firing up my writing muse and actually doing it, I was inspired by the story of Tom Clancy, the then-unknown insurance guy who had rocketed to fame with The Hunt for Red October. Clancy’s calendar was constructed of the same 24-hour days as mine, yet he was able to find the spare time to write a blockbuster novel. Ditto Stephen King and James Patterson and Linda Fairstein and Tess Gerritsen and . . . a lot of people.

The bottom line is this: If you want something badly enough, you don’t find the time to do it, you create the time to do it. If we waited until it was clear how we could afford any of life’s milestones—the courage to get married, the commitment to have kids, the money to buy a house, or the time to write a book—nothing would ever get done. You set the goal and you forge ahead. Along the way choices have to be made, meaning maybe the nightly reruns of Seinfeld aren’t as important as you thought. Or maybe you can in fact survive on six and a half hours of sleep a night instead of eight. The ticking clock being the constant, every choice made within its cycle is a statement of one’s priorities.

Let’s start with the basics: family and the day job. One nourishes the soul—gives us a reason to live—the other keeps food on the table. As far as I’m concerned, neither is expendable in the pursuit of publication.

Childhoods are fleeting, and soccer games are important. Don’t sacrifice those. Stories are important, too, but imaginary friends should never trump their flesh-and-bone counterparts. Not in my world, anyway.

The day job is the day job. While I have always been blessed with jobs that I enjoyed, none of them have ever been about writing, except as incidental other duties. I imagine that it’s probably easier to settle in to write after a day of safety engineering than it would be after a day of, say, writing technical manuals; but toughing it out is what victory is all about. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

When all is said and done, there are a gajillion reasons not to write your book. Just about anything on earth is more appealing than addressing the Page One blinking cursor. There’s no shame in not creating the time. But the words will not write themselves.

None of us has enough time; but each of us has all the time there is. How do you create the time you need to fulfill your writing jones?


9 thoughts on “Finding the Time to Write

  1. “Build it and they will come.”

    Good stuff John, and I absolutely agree that we should never sacrifice family for the sake of writing, or any other hobby for that matter, even if that hobby may one day become a career.
    We can’t play soccer with a manuscript. We can’t make love to a pdf. Wife and kids are the temporal world, the “this” and “now”. Writing is the “if” and “hope”.

  2. “None of us has enough time; but each of us has all the time there is.” Great line. I intend to steal that one, John.

    When I wrote my first novel, I would get up early and write from 5 to 7:30 before I got ready for work. And I would grab a few hours on the weekends as well. It still took a couple of years, but I found the time and the book got written.

    Whenever I complain that there’s not enough hours in the day, my wife always reminds me that I have the same amount as Donald Trump.

  3. Excellent perspective, John. I belonged to a writers group where few people finished anything, and some stayed with the group for years though they’d not written a word. My attitude was, and is, “they’re not writers.” They’re nice people, and I enjoy their company, and they have many other gifts and skills that may be more important than writing in the grand scheme of things. They’re just not writers. Writers write.

    On the other hand, I’m creeped out by those who are completely obsessed with their writing, no matter how successful they are. Past a certain point, discipline becomes compulsion becomes obsession becomes mental illness, and that’s not good for the writer, or for anyone who comes in contact with him.

  4. Become a “snatcher of time.” I carry around an AlphaSmart when I’m going out and about. The AlphaSmart Neo is one of the coolest writing tools ever. Turns on in an instant. Light and easy. The other day I had to go in for some blood work. As I was waiting to go in to the lab, I put the Neo on my lap and pounded out most of a chapter.

    Even though I keep regular writing hours, I have this baby at the ready the rest of the time.

  5. I’m with you, John- family always comes first, which means that my writing window at the moment is fairly small. I do what I can during the late morning/early afternoon on weekdays, and just accept that weekends and evenings are not times when I’ll get any work done. I have tremendous admiration for people who get up at 5AM or stay up until midnight to work, but I can’t process a coherent thought during those time blocks.
    There has to be a balance, and if that means that a few days occasionally pass where I don’t write at all (as in this week, with school out of session) then so be it. Books need time to percolate, anyway.

  6. I really enjoy when I’m reading your books. I do. Thank you for sharing us your stories. I’m reading NO MERCY these days.

    Daniel from Argentina

Comments are closed.