It’s Okay to Say No: Balancing a Busy Schedule While Also Writing a Book
Writing a book is hard. Writing a book with a busy schedule is exceptionally hard. So, is there a way to successfully juggle both? It matters on the writer’s dedication.
Dedication to the Craft
Ask any published author how they managed to not only start a manuscript but eventually turn it into a book, and they will say something similar to, “I made the time.” But time is something that simply passes by, and so we must do something with it or it goes on without us.
“Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind,” so says Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Imagine “book time” (to write, edit, publish, promote, etc.) as a train without any stops, constantly pushing forward to no end. The only option for the writer is thus to hop on or hop off at any given moment, and to dedicate that time to one’s craft during the ride.
There are countless quotes about the importance of time; that it’s money, waits for no one, is never found again, is relentless, irreversible, but we must ask ourselves, “What is the importance of time, to me, as a writer?” and “How much time should I invest in myself?”
Establishing a Routine Despite Hardships
One thing is certain: words must go on the page, otherwise books never happen. Whether dedicating an hour each day, hopping on that train between a busy work and home life, or using days off or weekends to focus on writing, words must go on the page.
Jack London, one of the most prolific and successful writers of his time (comparable today to the success and output of Stephen King), had an incredibly busy life in his travels around the world. In all the chaos that surrounded him, he managed to dedicate a few hours each day to write fiction or nonfiction inspired by his adventures.
His routine: 1,000 words per day on a typewriter, Monday thru Friday, which is four double-spaced pages of rough draft manuscript. It’s not a lot, and he gave himself the weekends off. Sometimes he would finish those pages in under an hour, or sometimes it would take half the day, but he wouldn’t end his routine until he had four pages.
Quick math: 1,000 words per day is 5,000 words per week, or roughly 20,000 – 23,000 words each month, depending on the number of weekdays. This simple writing routine equates to a novel-length manuscript every three or four months, or over a quarter of a million words each year if writing all 52 weeks; this is about three or four novel-length manuscripts, depending on length. Highly achievable, right?
This article, for comparison, is about 500 words so far (roughly two double-spaced pages of manuscript), and has taken approximately 30 minutes to write because of interruption (emails, texts, notifications, etc.). If I had better focus, it may have only taken half the time. That would be a rate of 2,000 words per hour, thus doubling my daily goal in a single hour, which means I would be capable of writing a novel-length manuscript every two months!
But time is not always on our side, making a seemingly simple writing routine such as this seem daunting or implausible.
Establishing Goals Around a Busy Schedule
Unless writing full-time, which is an option for very few, a writer must learn to balance the real world vs. the world on the page. As time passes, using the train analogy from earlier, it gets more and more difficult to hop on for the ride to dedicate to a book.
Work gets in the way. Home gets in the way. Life, in general, gets in the way. The “book time” train speeds along, as a blur, and so, more often than not, aspiring authors take the easier path of letting the train pass on by without trying to hop aboard.
Consider the following weekday schedule for Jane Doe:
- 06:30 – 07:30: home life
- 07:30 – 08:00: travel
- 08:00 – 12:00: work
- 12:00 – 13:00: lunch break
- 13:00 – 17:00: work
- 17:00 – 17:30: travel
- 17:30 – 22:30: home life
- 22:30 – 06:30: sleep
In this 8-hour workday example, Jane Doe spends 16 hours between home life and work and 8 hours sleeping. Perhaps she wants to squeeze in gym time or is so busy she has to work through lunch, or maybe she is responsible for taking the kids to/from school, or works overtime and comes home later than expected, or has dinner plans out with family or friends. On the weekends, maybe Saturday and Sunday are just as busy. For Jane, time keeps slipping . . .
How could she possibly find a means to say one day, “I made the time” to write a book? If writing 1,000 words per day (at a minimum) takes an hour or longer (with distractions), when would it be feasible to write? How is writing a book with a busy schedule even possible?
Writing Takes Passion and Sacrifice
Writers who need to write more than want to write all have one thing in common: they sacrifice time to write. Writing is a passion, and passion means suffering, thus something in one’s busy schedule must be forfeited to write and eventually publish a book. On the chopping block is usually home life or sleep, or even one’s lunch break.
This article is approaching the 1,000-word mark (and will be there within the next few paragraphs), and I have spent an hour to get to this point (with many distractions).
Jack London would be proud, having an understanding of the passion.
I currently work 40 to 50 hours at my day job every week, and around that schedule I weave in 10+ hours each week co-producing and screenwriting a creative documentary series. And on top of that, I write fiction and nonfiction (when I can), such as this article, and I also write an average of one novel-length manuscript each year, while mentoring other writers.
Not only do I have a passion for writing, and for all types of creativity (and helping others), but understand sacrifice is a big part of that lifestyle. My family suffers. My friends suffer. My health suffers. I get up early to write, or stay up late, or I binge-write on weekends. I am constantly sacrificing my personal life (time) for my creative life.
I forfeit one to two hours per day, seven days a week, which is seven to fourteen hours total each week. Time is always moving forward, and that train is always blurring on by, so I either hop on for a half-hour here, an hour there, or take an extended ride over the weekend. I don’t necessarily “make” time to write, I “swap” time: a night out with friends for a night in working on a project, or an hour of sleep for an hour of writing.
In the Jane Doe example, what can she do? Weekends are not listed on her schedule, so that might be the place to start. Could she dedicate a Saturday or Sunday on her book, or even two half-days? On weekdays, how much home life might be sacrificed, or lunch breaks? Could she squeeze in an hour in the 17:30 to 22:30 block? Could she wake up an hour earlier each day or stay up an hour later, sacrificing words for fatigue?
Even with a hectic schedule, 1,000 words per day (or a cumulative 5,000 words per week) is possible, and that’s with distractions. Imagine being distraction-free and doubling the output. This, of course, requires a writer to often say, “No.”
It’s Okay to Say No
All writing should be taken seriously. Writing a book is a job and should be treated as such. This means scheduling time to write and then holding yourself accountable (or having someone else hold you accountable) for your dedication to the craft, maintaining a healthy writing routine, and reaching established goals.
Say to yourself, “I will write 1,000 words every day (four pages of double-spaced, rough draft manuscript), and if I can’t manage that on weekdays, I will collectively write 5,000 words by the end of the week, every week.”
Say to yourself, “I will write for at least an hour every day (if pressured by word count, although this will more than likely surpass preconceived goals), and if I can’t manage that on weekdays, I will collective write for five hours or more by the end of the week, every week.”
Say to yourself, “I will get up an hour earlier each day and will block out time on my calendar to dedicate to the book,” or, “I will spend my lunchbreaks writing,” and “during this time, I am unavailable.”
Say to yourself, “Writing a book is hard, and with a busy schedule is exceptionally hard, but I am going to juggle both. I will establish a routine despite hardships. I will establish goals around my busy schedule. I will make sacrifices. I am dedicated.”
Say to others, “No. I can’t [fill in the blank], unfortunately. I am writing a book and unavailable during that time,” just as you would if you were asked to do something during your regular day job.
And say to yourself, inspired by Hawthorne, “Time flies over us, but I will be part of the shadow it leaves behind.”
Michael Bailey is a Senior Editor and the Head of Developmental Editing at Manuscripts, LLC. He is a recipient and nine-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award, a four-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee, and a multiple recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award, along with over thirty independent publishing accolades. He has written, edited, and published many books. His latest is Righting Writing, a nonfiction narrative about dedication to the craft. He is also the screenwriter for Madness and Writers: The Untold Truth, a creative documentary series about writers. Find him online at nettirw.com, or on social media @nettirw.