Making Time To Write


By Elaine Viets
The cat needs to go to the vet, the repairman is coming at three to fix the light switch, and the dryer is making a shrill squeak. When am I going to find time to write with all these household demands?
This is the writer’s dilemma, and after 35 novels, I’m still coming to terms with it.
Here are some suggestions:
(1) Have a dedicated space to work.
I’m lucky to have an office in our condo, with a view of the Intracoastal Waterway. My husband, bless him, prefers a room with no windows. Don says windows are a distraction. I’d get claustrophobic in his office. The landfill pictured below is my desk.

If you’re serious about writing, you need a place to work. A writer friend with a small apartment uses her daughter’s bedroom while the girl’s away at college – my friend loses her space at Christmas and spring break, but otherwise she has a good writing space. Another has a small desk tucked in a nook in the hallway. A third writes at a kitchen desk. No matter how small it is, stake a claim to some space in your home. And when the going gets tough and you’re overwhelmed by noisy spouses and children, head for the coffee shop or local library.

(2) Know your most creative time.
I get most of my writing done between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. After that, I’ll still write, but my work often feels flat. My brain really sparks during those four peak hours. After that, it’s better for editing.
(3) Seize the time you have.
If your husband takes the kids to McDonald’s, don’t use that time to sort socks. Write!
Romance writer Joan Johnston wrote her way to the New York Times bestseller list by writing her novels between 4 and 6 a.m. – while the kids were asleep. Now, that’s dedication.
What if you have a sick spouse or ailing children – or you don’t feel so well yourself?
That’s where your own determination comes in. I’ve written novels by my husband’s bedside when he was in the hospital, and edited proofs for the next book while waiting to hear from the doctor when he was in surgery.
Am I Super Woman? Heck, no! But I can concentrate for short periods. Writing is a way to escape a painful or scary situation. It can be solace.

(4) Make time
Remember the words of that rabble-rousing journalist, Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” You need seat time.
Try to schedule time-sucking activities after your peak writing time. If the cat isn’t deathly ill, make her vet appointment at 4:30 p.m. The repairman – if he deigns to show up – will start the repairs after your peak writing time. And for now, I’m ignoring the squeaky dryer.
Be ruthless when you write. Turn off your cell phone. Ignore the siren call of the internet, tempting you with cat videos, unanswered emails and Kim Kardashian’s latest lingerie photo. Use that time to write.

(5) A writer writes.
Make that your mantra.
I love being a writer. I enjoy talking to other writers at the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime meetings, and hanging out with other writers in the bar at conventions.
But writing is a lonely business. Eventually, I’m going to have to go to my office, all by myself, and write. You will, too. Good luck.

Pre-order A STAR IS DEAD, Elaine Viets’ newest Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, here.

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book.

18 thoughts on “Making Time To Write

  1. Good advice, Elaine. If you want to make money at writing, you have to think of it as your job, and you have to go to work. I can’t imagine calling in to the office to say, “but I have to sort the laundry today.”

  2. Nice to see your computer!

    One of the sage bits of advice from my father was the most distracting things are the case before and the case after the one you are looking for. He was a lawyer. OR Stay focused. Probably the exact opposite of what I am doing now. Four open browser tabs in two browsers, and three desktop apps running. But, I did get my killzoneblog read for the day done.

  3. Love this! Good post…

    I’m blessed with a nice home office. It’s the room addition from several years ago when my mom moved in with us for a time. It has space for a big desk, a reclining love seat, bookcase, recumbent bike. It even has its own bathroom and closet. After mom passed away, I made the space my own. We live on 5 1/2 acres on a hill and I have 3 windows to look out and think.

    You’d think I wouldn’t have any trouble “applying the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair” in this beautiful space, but I do. Real life gets in the way of the life in my head.

    My best time to write is from 6-10am. Then I take a break-go for a walk, get on my bike, or cook dog food for the most discriminating palate in a German Shepherd ever. Editing and research happens after that, from about 12-3. After that, I’m useless.

    I’d love to say that nothing has the power to change that schedule, but, again-things happen. However, it’s good to have a plan and stick to some semblance of it. I like routine. I function better when I can lay out my day, not get wild and crazy. I reserve that for my fun-loving, reckless, rebellious characters. 🙂

    • “Real life gets in the way of the life in my head.” — Deb, the life in our heads is REAL. Sounds like you have an ideal place to write.

  4. Great advice, Elaine!

    For me, the hardest part of writing is getting started. I find myself organizing my day, checking email, commenting on blogs ?, and doing other novel-avoiding behaviors. (Can I count my blog comments in my word quota for the day?)

    But once I jump into the current WIP, I remember why I love writing so much.

    • Yes, yes, you’ve nailed it, Kay. Suddenly even mediocre mysteries need to be read right away. But then I tell myself, “Okay, Elaine, keep messing around and lose your contract and you’ll have LOTS of time to read.

  5. The opposite side of this advice is:

    Writing is a hobby, an avocation, or a career, but it is not a life. Real life is what matters most. You will regret it if you look up from your keyboard one day to discover life has passed you by, and the writing wasn’t worth the cost.

  6. “A Room of Her Own” is time-honored, and yours is nice.
    I read that Dr. Seuss walled over an ocean view in his writing room, too distracting. He was of your husband’s mindset. I like to rest my eyes by looking out at trees. <3

  7. Elaine,

    After reading this, I said, “What if I try writing when I feel too tired to do anything. That time’s up for grabs.” So I tried a 20-minute writing sprint during a pre-lunch energy slump and pulled 497 words out of thin air! This when I was sure I’d just stare blankly at the screen. Thanks!

  8. All of your points make sense Elaine! Someone once told me to write appointments for writing on your calendar like you write doctor or dentist appointments. I find that works for me.

  9. Elaine, I meant to comment earlier but I got busy…writing. To me, the best reason to write is that it’s my priority. One day as I was tapping away on the keyboard, my fingers slipped and I signed something JK instead of Jo. That got me thinking…what is JK Rawlings doing right now? How would my life be different if I were her? And interestingly enough, that’s been a real eye-opener in the way I spend my time and the services I’m willing to purchase.

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