One of the hardest parts of being a writer is learning to be the right amount of selfish.
Writing a book is an endeavor that takes hundreds of hours. In order to ever get it done, you have to carve out time even as you’re juggling a job, family, friends, and the temptation to binge watch old seasons of Survivor. (Okay maybe that last one is just me.)
Earlier this summer, I had planned to take a one week hiatus from blogging, which turned into… a four month hiatus.
Well, a whole lot of things, including travel and work and unexpected surgery (fine now!) and more travel.
But most importantly: I realized I had to prioritize writing a novel I’ve been working on for way too long. I had to prioritize myself.
Many people are embarking on #NaNoWriMo this month, and will likely bump up against the challenge of striking the right balance between carving out time to write and well, keeping your life moving.
Here’s what I learned along the way.
Figure out your actual “must dos”
We all have “must dos” every week that we couldn’t shirk even if we wanted to.
Jobs. Kids. Spouses. Family.
There are some iron-clad commitments we’ve made and our lives would quickly start falling apart if we neglected them.
But there are also a lot of things we do that feel like must-dos because they’re part of a routine or because we feel a certain obligation to people… but the world isn’t really going to fall apart if we stop doing them.
Maybe it’s that thing you volunteered for or your book club or a weekly social gathering or even a time consuming task that you can afford to pay to have done for you.
It’s so easy to start confusing your actual “must dos” and your “nice to haves,” because often people do depend on you or at least derive some benefit from what you’re doing.
To me, blogging felt squarely in this category. I like giving back to the writing community, but the world will go on without new posts. I had to put it on hold to prioritize my writing.
Extreme calendaring can help
For the past year I’ve extolled the benefits of extreme calendaring, which basically boils down to putting nearly everything you do into a calendar and then spending a bit of time each week tracking how you spent your time.
This is a great way of seeing what’s really taking up your time and can help you figure out how much time you need to carve out for yourself. You may need to give some things up in order to have enough time for yourself, and extreme calendaring will help you see your tradeoffs.
Once you’ve accounted for your must-dos, immediately put in your “you” time, whatever that means for you. And then track your time week by week so you can “adjust your dials” and figure out the right amount to allocate.
But often it’s not even the literal time, it’s more about your mindset. You may need to…
Give yourself permission to accomplish your dream
Often what’s standing in the way of carving out the time to write is not other people. It’s you.
You’re the one who feels guilty or thinks it’s frivolous or thinks people are going to be mad at you if you say no to them in favor of staring at a computer screen thinking about imaginary people.
Chances are, you haven’t admitted to yourself or other people how important this dream is, because it seems crazy or you don’t know if it’s going to amount to anything or you’re afraid if you give voice to your dream it will dissolve in front of you.
If you just own it and tell the people you love how important writing is to you, chances are you’ll be surprised at how supportive they’ll be.
There’s only one thing all successful writers have in common: they did whatever it took to sit down long enough to write a novel.
Don’t neglect the people around you, but don’t give yourself over to obligations either. Be the right amount of selfish. You only have one life, so make it count.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes, my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Equestrian Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles by Diego Velázquez
JOHN T. SHEA says
Nathan Bransford? The name rings a bell…And sightings reported in Scotland and Hawaii and other corners of the world must be true…
But seriously, I’m glad to hear you are well. I enjoyed your travel pics on Instagram. Best of luck with the novel, and thanks for your wise advice!
Incidentally, that young prince is riding only one horse! I often ride two or more, not always in the same direction. That’s my priority problem!
Rachel Capps says
Hospital sucks, glad your out.
NaNoWriMo is great opportunity to force yourself to carve out time and be selfish 🙂
Welcome back! You were missed and some of us were a little worried (but you already knew that because I messaged you!) I’m glad to hear that you are well and hopefully accomplished some of the things you needed to. I am participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time ever this year and I am rapidly learning that it isn’t possible to effectively work a part time desk job, raise 2 kids (one with special needs), write a blog about that parenting experience, AND try to write a novel in a month – all while trying to prepare for the holidays. I do love your extreme calendaring though. I’ve been using it since I first read about it on your blog. It also helps my autistic son, so double score.
J L Misener says
A one week break turning into four months? Sounds like my life! However I do a lot of learning during those “writing breaks”. I think I have a tendency to overestimate the amount of work I can get done, and how much time each step along the way actually takes. As writers we often do not realize that our goal of WRITE BOOK actually involves many many small steps such as: learn how to research, learn how to outline, learn how to write, learn how to re-outline and re-write, learn how to build a blog, learn how to edit, and re-outline again, and re-write again, learn about the publishing industry… Great read, lots of good ideas to keep on track!
S Wolberius says
Binge gaming is my bane. Every time I start my favorite game I have to set an alarm clock, or else I’ll lose track of time and spend hours shooting at virtual pixels instead of putting letter-shaped pixels on the screen in logical sequences.
Except for when I’m gaming, I’m essentially writing 24/7 (yes, sometimes even when I’m sleeping). If it’s not putting words on paper, it’s thinking about the plot and living out the scenes I want to write about already. It really is a continues mental process, not merely taking the time to write down words.
Late to the party, but first: Glad you’re doing better!
I would say that you should pay attention… to reasonable people. I have family, colleagues, doctors etc, who know about my publishing goals and… while I’m not saying correlation equals causation, it doesn’t look great when other people create emergency after emergency or make time-consuming, last-minute commitments for me (“oops! you can write later!”) without discussing with me first.
So while supportive family and friends are great, please understand that not everybody has people who believe in them or want them to succeed outside a very narrowly-defined path.