The real reason you don’t have time to write

Today I’m reprinting a revised version of a favorite article that appeared on the blog in January 2012. It’s just as relevant today as it was then. Enjoy!

One of the most common excuses I hear from people who say they want to write but aren’t doing it is that they don’t have enough time.

If you’re attached to that excuse, you might not want to keep reading. :)

I see frequent articles on the web about “how to find time to write” — and I’ve even written one of them myself for my ebook (it’s good — you can check it out here). But despite the plethora of advice out there about how to find the time, many aspiring writers are still not getting their butts in their seats and their fingers on the keys. And I know it’s NOT because they haven’t read the right “find the time” article yet.

So what’s happening instead?

What you’re telling yourself instead of writing

If you’re wanting to write, but not doing it, you’re probably telling yourself something along these lines:

I’m too busy — I have too much on my plate already.

Even though I really want to, I just don’t have enough time to write.

I have to have a big block of time to write, and that’s impossible given my schedule.

I’m already exhausted, I can’t add one more thing.

You might even be telling yourself you have more important things to do. You’ve got an endless to-do list, right? And obligations and commitments that are Really Important.

You might be waiting for a whole day off or a Big Block of Writing Time where you can finally sit down and focus on your writing, but when that time comes, you remember that the laundry really needs to get done or that you promised Jane you’d go with her to that party and you don’t have anything to wear so you have to go shopping and while you’re out you remember that you forgot to… Well, you get the picture.

You might also be thinking you need to get farther along in your career and save some money (or get the right writing room or the right computer) before you can devote yourself to your writing career. 

But none of these are the real reasons you aren’t writing.

Let me tell you what is true

The real reason you are not writing is because you are scared.

You are scared that you don’t know how to write, or what to write about.

You are scared that your writing won’t be good enough, original enough, or that maybe someone else has already said it better.

You are afraid that your new book concept isn’t going to hold up or that you’ll lose interest part way through.

You are scared to do the hard work of writing, and overwhelmed by the thought of such a big project.

You aren’t sure where to start or what to write about.

You are afraid to do a new kind of writing or venture into new territory, that you won’t be able to do it justice.

You’re scared you might hurt people if you write your truth. Or disappoint them.

This thing about time is just a story

You can go on telling yourself the story that you don’t have time to write if you want to, but we both know it isn’t true.

If writing means as much to you as you say it does, you must learn to overcome your fear so you can make it happen.

Stop looking for TIME and start looking for COURAGE. 

(If you want help check out my Writer’s Circle.)

You can do it. I believe in you.


Design your writing life as a mom (or dad!)

If you’re a parent, having a regular writing routine takes on an additional layer of complexity — especially in the early years. It’s hard enough to handle being a parent (and even more so if you’re ALSO highly sensitive or introverted as many writers are), and if you’ve got a career on top of it, it’s easy to let writing take a back seat to the more pressing day-to-day demands.

The funny thing is that in some ways it’s EASIER to design your writing life as a parent because it requires quite deliberate attention and focus, or it simply won’t happen at all.

Many writers — parents or not — tend to dream of having long, uninterrupted blocks of time to write. What’s fascinating to me about this dream is that 1) it often stops people from writing if they DON’T have it, and 2) it often stops people from writing if they DO have it.

For those you fondly cherishing the dream of long stretches of time to write you might be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”

But here’s the thing. What we see quite consistently in the Writer’s Circle is that writers who aren’t writing regularly don’t tend to benefit from having MORE time to write. If anything, they just tend to go into greater paralysis and procrastination.

Why on earth would something like this happen?

We’ve talked about this a lot here, but it’s worth saying again. (And again.) Fear is why writing doesn’t happen.

Big blocks of time simply INCREASE the pressure on writing. Which increases the fear. Which increases the resistance and procrastination. Entire days and weeks can go by and no writing happens.

Looking for big blocks of time is one of the fastest ways into paralysis I’ve seen.

So, writers, and particularly parent writers, let’s just give up that fantasy for now, shall we? At least until your writing habit is so firmly ensconced in your daily routine that expanding your time won’t send you into fits of terror. Or procrastination. (On a side note, that still happens even with the most experienced of writers, so don’t worry too much if it crops up. Just find a way to get back to the writing as quickly as possible.)

The bottom line for all writers — and particularly for parents — is that creating some kind of routine around your writing is key. Reduce the variables, reduce the amount of time available, and create parameters around your writing so that it HAS TO GET DONE at a certain time or it won’t get done at all.

The reason that this is easier for parents, in my opinion, is that it is actually TRUE. It isn’t fabricated quite as artificially for non-parents. For writers who aren’t parents, it’s easier to tell ourselves we’ll just write before bed or after work or some other random opportunity that comes along but often gets swallowed up by television or internet browsing. For parents, there’s a cold hard reality that stares us right in the face. Those kids are coming home at a certain time and the chances of pulling off any kind of writing after that point in time are slim to none unless we have some kind of pre-arranged plan with our spouses or co-parents to make it happen.

For non-parent writers, particularly those entrepreneurial types who work from home (like me, pre-kid), it’s SO MUCH HARDER to find something to “bump up against” in your schedule because so often your time is entirely self-directed. This is part of why we run so many writing sprints for my Writer’s Circle — it provides a scheduled opportunity to write for an hour that’s both fixed in time and fun to participate in.

On the other hand, the challenges for parents can be trickier too. Honestly, I didn’t even know what busy was until I had a child. I really thought I did. Truly! I was so wrong. Being a parent takes so much of my attention bandwidth and energy, I have to be exceedingly deliberate now about making time and energy available for writing too, in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’m taking it overly away from my son or from my work. A dicey balance to say the least.

Here are a few tips for parents — that ultimately translate for all writers — into a designing a writing life that works:

  • Get clear about the assumptions you’re making about writing. What are you telling yourself about what you need to write that might be getting in your way of actually doing the work? (See also my article about “Buts” here.)
  • Get clear about WHY you want to write. What’s important to you about it? For me, it has a lot to do with my identity that’s totally separate from my role as a mother, and I firmly believe is part of what keeps me sane.
  • Make a decision that writing for SOME amount of time is better than NO amount of time. Let go of the idea that writing for long blocks of time is the only way to do it. If you target 15 minutes a day, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of writing over time if you show up and do it consistently.
  • Get out your calendar and take a both ruthless and creative approach to carving out the time to write. Think about when the kids are occupied or when you can talk your spouse into watching them for you. Give yourself the gift of protected, uninterrupted writing time, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
  • Be aware that IF you have any kind of resistance to writing or tendencies to procrastinate (this is most of us!) it’s easiest to write first thing in the morning before you have time to think about it or talk yourself out of it. For a few months I tried writing every day after I dropped my son off at preschool but found that because it felt like “work time” I had a hard time focusing on writing. So I started getting up at 6 a.m. to write everyday — and knew that I had to be done by 7 a.m. when my husband would leave for work — so I had to get it done then. It changed my life. (See my articles about writing early in the morning here and here.)

Join me in Berkeley this Friday for more on this subject

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the Mothership Hackermom’s hacker space on “Designing Your Writing Life as a Mom” in Berkeley. Dads and all writers are welcome too. I’ll be talking about these tips and more — including brainstorming with parents whose little ones are so little that preschool isn’t an option yet. This affordable workshop runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and onsite childcare is available if you register in advance here:

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



You may also be interested in:

Coming Attractions

~> Friday, November 8, 10 to 11:30 a.m., an in-person workshop in Berkeley at Mothership HackerMoms. “Design Your Writing Life as a Mom.” I’ll share some parent-specific strategies for finding time to write. All writers, including mothers and fathers, are welcome to attend this workshop.

~> WEDNESDAY, November 27th, Last day to register for the Writer’s Circle. Register by November 27th for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts December 2nd). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects:

~> My annual birthday sale is COMING SOON! Stay tuned for details about getting some great savings on some of my favorite products.


What I'm Up To

~> Writing. Daily writing on various projects. Primarily LUMINAL, a supernatural thriller based on a true story. Follow the project on Facebook here, and on Twitter here (and be sure to let them know I sent you. :) ).

~> Learning. Continuing to study with Corey Mandell and ScreenwritingU.

~> Unplugging. Back to unplugging one day per weekend, usually Saturdays. Such a relief!

~> Reading. Ready for something new!


Thanks for reading.

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