How Do Writers Make Time to Write

by Dianne Van Dien

“Everyone who is a serious writer has to fit writing into the rest of their lives.”

—Donald K. Grayson, author of Giant Sloths and Sabertooth Cats and Sex and Death on the Western Emigrant Trail

Cover image for Sex & Death on the Western Emigrant Trail. Crow on a post with gray background

The time and effort that goes into a book from the moment an author decides to write it to the moment the book becomes a published reality is enormous. How do authors find time for writing a book amidst their busy lives? Since making time for anything extra can often be difficult—let alone a project that will take years to complete—I was eager to see how University of Utah Press authors would answer my survey questions about fitting writing into their lives. Their answers were varied and informative.

Cover for Hikmet Loe Spiral Jetty

Hikmet Sidney Loe, The Spiral Jetty Encyclo

It was admittedly hard since I not only worked full time but also taught. Writing took place mostly on the weekends, and I took vacation time to get more blocks of time to write.

Cover image for A Modest Homestead. People standing in front of an adobe house.

Laurie Bryant, A Modest Homestead

I spent most of my spare time working on the book. My younger son had multiple disabilities and needed a good deal of care, although he lived semi-independently. I’m single, so all the work of caring for a home, yard, etc. is mine. Sometimes the other chores just didn’t get done and the book took priority.

Cover image for Utah's Air Quality Issues. A car tailpipe spewing smoke.

Hal Crimmel, Utah’s Air Quality Issues

I just had to fit it in—just put my head down and do it even when I had little energy to give to the project. There were a couple pretty tough years and this project took a lot out of me.

Cover image for Every Last Breath. Three Koi swim closely in black water.

Joanne Jacobson, Every Last Breath

As an academic, I had the great luck to have chunks of my summers available to write full time, as well as sabbatical leaves. I also was awarded residencies at the Ragdale Foundation outside Chicago; at the Anderson Center near Minneapolis, and at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts—where I had the even greater luxury of focusing all my time on my writing, while meals and a writing studio were provided. I would say that the company of other writers and visual artists at each of those residencies provided an inspiring sense of focus and motivation.

Cover image for Stories FInd You, Places Know. Aerial view of flat, green landscape with some lakes.

Holly Cusack-McVeigh, Stories Find You, Places Know

This is the key to completing a book! You just have to find ways to hold yourself accountable to your writing each and every day. Establish a routine that works for you.… In academia we are pulled in so many directions with teaching and service responsibilities that we just have to carve out time for writing or it will never happen. So my advice is simply this: be selfish with your time and learn to say no. Protect your writing time and don’t bend. With my first book I declared Friday as my writing day! If you don’t hold the line, the writing won’t get done.

Cover image for Feed My Sheep. Purple cover with a portrait of Alberta Henry.

Colleen Whitley, Feed My Sheep

My oldest son was an adult, the next three were in grades 5 through 11, so they could handle a lot of things on their own. They still needed rides to ball games, piano lessons, etc., so my schedule was a bit erratic (actually, more than a bit). I just grabbed time when I could, often just waiting [and writing] in the car during the piano lessons, for example.

Cover image for Ordinary Trauma. An image of a small wave on a tumultuous wave.

Jennifer Sinor, Ordinary Trauma

I do believe that you have to make time to write, but I also believe that you have to lower the bar in terms of what counts as writing. Before I had kids, I used to think I needed a four-hour block in which to work. I wanted long, interrupted stretches of time—preferably in the morning after a good, long run—so that I could immerse myself. My sons quickly corrected my understanding of what kind of space I needed in which to work. I learned to write in shorter periods of time and no longer asked for solitude or quiet. Like every parent on this planet, I became more nimble.

One size does not fit all! The authors’ answers clearly illustrate that each writer must figure out his or her own approach, but hearing how others write can be helpful when you’re trying to come up with your own writing plan. Since the press’s authors shared much more about time management, in the next post we’ll delve further into this topic and look at what they shared about writing schedules, routines, and daily goals.

Dianne Van Dien began working for the University of Utah Press (UUP) in 2010 as a graduate fellow while earning a MS in Environmental Humanities. Later she shifted to her current role as UUP’s freelance marketing associate. She lives in rural Missouri, from where she also writes and edits for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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