Last night, my husband and I went on a rare date. My in-laws, who live 10 minutes away from us, watched our son. I was hoping they’d keep him overnight, but when we called around 10:15 to check in before we started our 45-minute subway ride home, he was still awake. So we took pity on them and picked him up. By the time we got him home and he had unwound enough to fall asleep, it was almost midnight.
The upside was that he slept in until 8 a.m. this morning. I was awake by 6:30, so at 7 I dragged myself out of bed, crept downstairs and fit in an hour of work on my novel.
So there’s tip No. 1 for carving out time to write: Take advantage of insomnia and fortuitously empty blocks of time.
Tip No. 2 is to figure out your best time to write and see if you can change your schedule. Before my son was born, I worked out a flexible schedule with my then-boss. Two days a week I went to a coffee shop near work and wrote all morning before heading to the office. I worked extra hours the other days to make up my 40 hours.
But, now my schedule isn’t as flexible. Tip No. 3: Make a date with yourself. On Tuesday evenings, my husband picks our son up from daycare (normally my duty, as daycare is closer to my office than his), so I can go plunk myself down in a coffee shop and write for two or three hours. The downside is that I don’t see my son on Tuesday nights. Sometimes I have to force myself to be productive instead of sitting there missing my family. I’m trying to see Tuesday nights as my chance to get a break, because when the writing goes well, I feel happier.
Tip No. 4 comes from my friend and reader Andy. His advice boils down to “Go to bed early.” Retiring with the chickens enables you to get up at 5:30 and write for an hour or so before getting ready for work. Andy says an early-to-bed-early-to-rise schedule only hurts for a week or so. Hmmm.
Tip No. 5: Apply for a small grant or residency that would allow you to take a week, two weeks, a month off from work. Or just go on a one-week vacation to write. While I was on a one-month residency sponsored by the Espy Foundation, in Oysterville, Wash., I wrote as many pages as I might normally write in a year. And in the Oysterville public library, I read about Elizabeth Gaffney, author of the historical novel “Metropolis,” who said she wrote her book while on annual residencies. (This is my recollection of something I read three years ago, so don’t quote me!) Writing a novel just didn’t fit into her busy life as a Paris Review editor; she had to take time off to do it. Of course, if you don’t work at a famous literary magazine, you may have difficulty convincing your boss to give you time off. Or perhaps your spouse wants you to save your vacation time for a trip to the Bahamas. But even if you take a short “book leave” just once rather than once a year, you’ll make progress.
What have you done to make time for writing?