Finding Time for a Big Thing

Finding Time for a Big Thing

The last two questions on the midterm Survey Monkey survey I gave to my students:

What has been the hardest part of this process? What has been the easiest part of this process?
Far and away, they said the hardest part was finding the time to write:

  • Making time within the day to write. I have so many things going on.
  • Sitting down and actually writing… I get distracted by online quizzes and video games easily.
  • Actually finding the time day to day in order to write.
  • Making myself sit down and do it.
  • Writing without distractions has proven difficult.
  • Exhaustion. Approach-avoid conflict.
  • Keeping up with the writing.
  • Scheduling time to make up missed days.
  • Forcing myself to write.
  • Finding the time to write.

You might be surprised by what they said was easiest. (Here’s a sampling.)

“Writing it. I just find it enjoyable and I love taking time off from homework to do it. In fact, I stopped calling the writing process homework. I just find it too much fun to consider it in that category.”
“When I get going, I usually don’t stop unless I have to go do something. Also, writing directly after amputating the words ‘distraction’ and ‘road-block’ from my vocabulary. Sitting down and writing 2,000 or so words an hour every class period has helped immensely.”
Many students said they would have liked “more guidance on how to find the time to write.”

I laughed. Well, duh. Limit or eliminate television, gaming, and Facebook, and you’re golden. The request made me cranky. It’s not my job to teach you time management skills! But then I realized that, yeah, it sort of is given the unique nature of the course.
A former student of mine who lives and works in San Francisco just started participating in #Reverb10. It’s kind of like 750words + New Year’s Resolutions. Each day during December, Reverb10 sends you a writing prompt, which my student is using to reflect on her life generally and her writing in particular. She’s sharing these reflections on her blog—>sharing your journey is part of the point—>you send out “reverberations.”

Her prompt for December 2 was “Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing and can you eliminate it?She outlined a typical day and took a good hard look at how she spends her time. Next time, as part of our preparation for this course, I will require my students to outline their own days and take a good hard look at how they spend their time.

(Actually, why not do this in all my creative writing classes?)

Even if you don’t become a writer in the long term, even if you don’t finish the novel you drafted, you learn a lot from participating in NaNo. It reveals with startling (sometimes painful) clarity the reality of how you spend your days. 

How do you find the time to write 50,000 words in a relatively short period of time? Well, how do you incorporate any big thing into your life? Said “big thing” being novel writing, having a baby, caring for a dying parent, taking a second job, studying for the bar exam, taking 1,000,000 pictures, training for a marathon, traveling to every country in the world,-eating a healthy, well-prepared meal every single night, etc. You find time, make time, create time. Or you don’t.

Recently, The Fiction Writers Review asked the incredibly productive writer Benjamin Percy this question:

“You’ve got this novel coming out. Stories keep popping up in magazines. You teach at Iowa State University and in the low-res MFA program at Pacific University. You contribute to Esquireand other publications. How do you balance it all and still find new material and time to work on your fiction? How do you stay in the ring, to reference another ofyour P&W articles?”
Ben said:

You’re forgetting the hardest job of all: I’m father to two young children. I don’t sleep: that’s the answer. Five hours a night sometimes. My blood type is caffeine. I never take it easy-I’m always working, always writing or editing or grading. Even when I’m supposedly relaxing, I’m not. If I’m at the gym, I’m listening to an audiobook. If I’m watching a movie, I’ve got my notebook out and I’m jotting down ideas. If I’m out in the yard with my kids, I’m pushing around sentences in my head. People often seem to view writing as an indulgence, but I operate under the belief that you must give up all indulgences if you want to write seriously. I used to think this was a calling-that’s too romantic of a term. I’m fairly certain that I’m driven by obsession.

For some, the answer isn’t how to do more with less time, but to alter one’s life, to make it more outwardly simple in order to live more richly.

In her novel, The Maytrees, Annie Dillard writes:

She took pains to keep outside the world’s acceleration. An Athenian marketplace amazed Diogenes with, “How many things there are in the world of which Diogenes hath no need!”” Lou had long since cut out fashion and all radio but the Red Sox.” In the past few years she had let go her ties to people she did not like, to ironing, to dining out in the town, and to buying things not necessary and that themselves needed care.” She ignored whatever did not interest her.” With these blows she opened her days like a piata.” A hundred freedoms fell on her.” She hitched free years to her lifespan like a kite’s tail. Everyone envied her the time she had, not noticing that they had equal time.

A few months ago, the New York Times ran this piece, “But Will It Make You Happy?” which seemed to strike a cultural chord. I know it certainly did with me.

Finding time to write wasn’t something I thought about until I was no longer in school. Suddenly, the external structure that had guided my writing life up to that time was gone. NaNoWriMo teaches valuable lessons about personal development and life planning, knowledge that students can keep for life, the ultimate transferable skills.


  1. writereadrant says:

    This is a great piece-time management is the trickiest part of any big project, and it seems like we always have the time for the small stuff, but not always for the important things.

  2. Kara Garbe says:

    Wow. I love the idea of outlining a typical day and analyzing how you spend your time. I'm going to have my composition students do this, too. It seems like a really good exercise for any college freshman struggling with time management. (Not to mention that I need to do this myself!)

  3. youwillknowelasticity says:

    Loved this post, Cathy. I read a great & applicable quote today by Laurie Buchanan: "Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing." I'm going to put this above my desk to remind me that each day/hour I'm not writing when I could be writing is a choice I'm making & not something that just magically happens.

  4. Cathy Day says:

    That is an AWESOME quotation. Thank you. And thank you for allowing me to share your insights and ideas with others.

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