Here is an axiom: Writing well takes time. It takes time to think about what you want to say. It takes time to put your ideas into words. And it takes time to mold your pile of words into something that resembles a coherent thought.
Here is another axiom: Time is not made—everybody has the same 1440 minutes per day—time is spent.
How do you find time to write? Easy, you put it on your schedule. Do not mentally put it on your schedule, actually put it on your schedule.*
Many people fill their schedules by putting in their known commitments—if you are in academia as a student or professor, you might add your classes and weekly meetings and whatnot. Then you might add in some other things like an academic conference and other one-off events. At this point, your schedule is not stuffed. You may actually feel optimistic by the amount of unscheduled time you see. It appears you will have ample time to tackle your writing projects in between your scheduled activities. This is where most people stop filling their schedules.
This approach tacitly treats your writing time as non-essential. It assumes that you’ll write during your “free time” when you do not have classes and meetings—at least that’s the story you tell yourself. However, inevitably, each week your chunks of “free time” erodes around the edges. The time in which you might get to write gets filled with last-minute add-ons. It’s sneaky how easily this happens. One day you lose 30 minutes to doing a homework assignment. No big deal. The next day you borrow another 30 minutes because you’re running late to get to campus. No big deal. The next day you have an inordinate amount of email to sort, so you rationalize that an hour of decluttering your inbox will free your mind so your next writing session will be extra productive. The next day you’re having an “off” day and you tell yourself you deserve 10 minutes of mindless internet browsing. These 10 minutes turns into 30. And so it goes, many little chunks of time that are each trivial start to add up to some serious chunks of time.
A solution is simple: Schedule time to write. Just as you put in your classes and meetings into your schedule, you should put in writing time. Treat those writing times as important meetings. You do not skip those meetings. You do not check email during those meetings. You show up and you are mentally present. If you claim that writing is a priority and you cannot find the time in your schedule to write, then you need to re-prioritize some things.
Here are a few questions you might ask.
Is putting “writing time” into a previously unscheduled block of time really doing anything? It’s not like you’ve actually created more time. That’s true, but trust me, scheduling writing time works. Seeing something on your schedule mentally commits you to a specific activity during a specific time. It is mentally difficult to remove an actual activity from your schedule and replace it with something else. Removing writing time from my schedule is physically aversive to me.
What if somebody asks to schedule a meeting during your writing time? Simple, just say, “I am not available.” People respect that. You will find another time on your schedules to meet.
How much writing time should you schedule? It depends on many factors, but I would say to be ambitious with how much writing time you stake out. Your scheduled writing time should be enough to complete your essential writing projects. Any additional writing time you find will be a bonus.
If you are wanting to hit your writing goals in the upcoming months, go to your calendar now and schedule some writing time. Do it now.
*Sure, people can use the same time more productively than others and we should strive to use our time wisely. But a big battle is in finding time in your schedule so you have the option of using it wisely.