Why the Last Thing You Need Is More Time to Write

Very early on in my writing career–dare I say, before I’d written or published much of anything–I took a seminar with Ron Carlson.

Look, he has a Wikipedia page, but no website. What’s up with that, Ron?

Anyway, Ron is a very talented short-story writer, and a terrific speaker and teacher. There we were, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eager wanna be writers with stars in our eyes over becoming full-time writers someday. He told us a story about his own life.

He’d started writing when he was teaching, so he grabbed writing time when he could. At lunchtime, in the 15 minutes between classes, waiting for students during office hours. We’ve all been there, where even a few minutes of writing time is precious and you snap up each opportunity. But you long for the paradise of unbroken writing time. It beckoned to him, too. How much more he could write, if he only had the time.

So, he and his wife reviewed their finances and decided they could afford for him to quit teaching and write full-time.

It was the worst thing that ever happened to him.

Also? The house had never been so clean.

He did dishes. He vacuumed. He dusted things that had never been dusted. He did not write. One day, a friend dropped by and found him washing the spiral cord on the wall telephone. (That’s a dated reference, huh?) She took one look at him and said, “Man, you are lost.”

One of the questions I get most often from new or wannabe writers is about finding the time to write. And my answer is always that they never will. You have to make the time, or it won’t happen. I also tell them that they don’t have to find much. 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there – it all adds up. And that bright and shining hope for unbroken writing time?

It’s a lie.

It’s very difficult to use time wisely when you have big chunks of it. Ask any retiree. They dally the days away. People who have to cram a great deal into their days, get a lot more done. Because they need to.

The more you do, the more you can do.

So, what was Ron Carlson’s solution? He got a part-time job. A couple of them. And when he was back to having a finite time to write in, he started producing again.

It’s a valuable lesson.


17 Replies to “Why the Last Thing You Need Is More Time to Write”

  1. Absolutely true. Even if you don’t have a full time job – that you know – actually PAYS you…schedule the home management tasks as if you were working for a company with nonnegotiable deadlines. Then the writing you sneak in becomes a game – a welcome, fun relief from mopping up yet another pile of cat yak.

    1. I think that’s how you have to do it, M. Scheduling makes a huge difference. Which is what having busy days does for you.

  2. You know, there are times when I really wish I had more time to write – I do think I would be a bit more productive…but the more I think about it, the more I realize I’d probably just spend more time gaming than writing. (Oh, let me finish this one last quest and THEN I will write 5000 words to make up for all the time I’ve wasted!)

    And then…yeah. So in some ways, it’s actually better that I’m as busy as I am – I value those spare moments that much more as a result and try to get more done in them.

    1. I know it, Allison. It’s so tempting to think that’s the answer. If I get more time to write (i.e., can spend less time on day job), I’m going to be *very* careful how I structure it.

  3. Thanks for sharing this great insight. I have found it to be absolutely true. I wrote more in the one precious hour before I left for my day job (750-1000 words) than I do now in four hours without a day job (500-800 words). Amazing isn’t it?


  4. So dead on! The house is clean, regular meals have turned into gourmet occasions….I’ve learned to disconnect my internet modem, dress as if I’m going to the office and eliminate ANY distractions (like THIS) and just get to it. Great post!

  5. Yep. Totally true. I have scads of time to write – especially since the kid isn’t a kid anymore. But all that free time during the day is wasted. My most productive time is after dinner, when everyone’s home and there are tons of distractions. Silly, isn’t it? If I could find a way to focus all day, I’d have a lot more done and my nights would be free. Heck, I might even have weekends off.

    But the house is so nice and quiet, and I have the TV all to myself right now…

    1. You must like your schedule the way it is, B.E., since you’re not inclined to change it! BTW, did you see you won the copy of Rogue’s Pawn? You totally nailed “apple picker”!

  6. I’ve heard this same story from lots of writers… I think the best thing to do is wait to go full-time until you have a bunch of deadlines to keep butt in chair.

    However, I have to say I’m much more prone to using writing as an excuse NOT to do housework (which I loathe) than the other way around.

    1. I think that’s a really solid plan, Nicole. Nothing like a bunch of deadlines for appropriate motivation. And I agree – I never have trouble postponing housework. It’s a gift. 😀

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  8. This week my husband has been away on business. I assumed I would get a ton of writing done afte work. Yeah, I got next to nothing done. And he’ll be home in a few hours. So much for my big writing plans.

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