O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

The Iron Fist: Finding Time to Write

A couple weeks ago, in the comments for this post, a commenter offered a suggestion:

you feel up for it, maybe you can put up a post that can give us
readers some tips on how to keep writing when you don’t feel like it.
I’m not sure where to find the time to write with 2 kids, dishes,
packing lunches and work.

This post is for you, Charlie. That’s an excellent question, of course, and I’ve found that the simple answer to it illustrates the difference between people who ARE writers and people who want to BE writers: if you’re really dedicated to writing, you’ll find a way. 


Just like you’ll find a way to show up for work every day, even on the days you don’t feel like going to work.

Just like you’ll find time to go to the grocery store, even when it’s hard to fit it into your schedule.

Just like you’ll find a way to file your tax return every year, even when that’s the last thing you want to do.

Writers find a way to write.

You do what you have to do. If it seems like I’m painting a picture of writing as drudgery, that’s because sometimes it is. Part of it can be ridiculously creative and fulfilling, but that’s usually at the beginning (when you’re starting something brand-new) or at the end (when the hard work is over and the delayed gratification kicks in). But in the middle? It can be a slog. It takes a loooong time. It fries your brain.


Back in September, Scot McKnight blogged about his writing schedule and quoted Harper Lee, who was once asked by students what it was like to be a real writer. She explained to them that she would write between 6 and 12 hours a day — every day — and was able to produce a single, completed page during that time. Then she offered this little rainbow-colored nugget of glittering inspiration:

To be a serious writer requires discipline
that is iron-fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think
you have it in you or not. Everyday. Alone. Without interruption.
Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour to writing. In
fact, it’s heartbreak most of the time.


Yikes. That quote’s not going to show up on any kitten posters, but she’s pretty much correct. I’m not so dramatic as to call it “heartbreak,” but writing is rarely that glamorous. She’s right to portray successful writing as the product of iron-fisted discipline more than anything else — even more than things like passion, talent, or creativity.

I have a steady, fulfilling, but mentally taxing full-time job that eats up 40 hours of my week during regular business hours. When that job’s over for the day, I have two kids at home who need help with their homework. They want me to play catch with them in the front yard, or Monopoly with them in the living room. I volunteer at their school and at our church. I coach their sports teams. I also have a wife, with whom I like to hang out. Also? I like to watch TV.


Currently I am under contract for two book-length manuscripts, both of which are due in January and require lots of research. I’ve carved out around two spare hours a day, every day, to devote to these projects — and that’s all I’ve got. Two hours, and that includes research. Harper Lee’s 6 to 12 hours are an unimaginable luxury.

So how do I do it? I sacrifice.

What do I sacrifice from the list above? Hint: It’s not my kids. I sacrifice some of my TV viewing. That’s what DVRs are for. I can catch up in January. I also sacrifice sleep.

When do I write? I write when it’s time to write. I carve out a space late every night and early every morning and that’s when I do it, regardless of how I feel. Regardless of if I want to sleep in. Regardless of whether or not I’m ready to go to bed. I do it because that’s when I have to do it, and if I don’t do it, it won’t get done.


Maybe I’m too much of a hard-nosed realist, but to me, the “where do you find the time?” question isn’t that hard: You make the time. You make the time to do what’s important to you, just like you show up for your job so you can get a paycheck. Just like you go to the gym so you can stay healthy. If it’s important, you’ll find a way to get it done.

Beyond that, I don’t have any magic secrets. No waiting until inspiration hits or until the creative juices are “really flowing,” whatever that means. It’s just iron-fisted discipline. I just sit down and do it because that’s my job.

How do I find time to write? I don’t. There is no finding. I don’t go looking for it. I have to make it.

Then again, I also have a luxury that many writers don’t have: a publisher. Giving me a deadline. And paying me to write a book. I dare not discount those things, and they are indeed a blessing. That’s all the motivation I need.

Comments read comments(8)
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Eric C

posted October 26, 2010 at 9:54 am

Thank you for this post! I have really enjoyed your blogging, especially when you open up about writing. You have definitely played a big part of keeping me encouraged to continue writing and it’s starting to pay off. I just got my first paid assignment for a local magazine and reading this article is a good reminder to disciple myself and make the time to write. Thank you!

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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted October 26, 2010 at 11:36 am

If you sit around waiting for the creativity to come to you, you’ll be waiting a long time. Guitarists typically don’t write riffs in their heads, rather they are sitting at a guitar for an hour plucking away when they create it.

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jay sauser

posted October 26, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I’ve never heard or read the word “slog” before. It has just been mentally added to my vocabulary now.

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Gregory Nelson

posted October 26, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Thank you Jason. I’ve been wrestling with this very issue. I think I already knew the answer, but sometimes I just need someone to say it.

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posted October 26, 2010 at 9:06 pm

‘Slog’ is my word of choice when I ineveitably encounter the lonely wasteland that’s always waiting for me halfway through a painting or project. Experience has taught me that if I just keep moving I will successfully complete most things.
Now…if I could just figure out how to apply that to writing I’d be a very happy camper!

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posted October 27, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Whenever we become focused on goals we can so easily hit the ends of our time constraints! This becomes especially true as we get stretched thin between a plethora of relationships.
Ironically, I wrote a blog post today dealing with this similar topic: 10 Ways to Make More Time

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Charlie Chang

posted November 1, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Jason, thanks for the insight and honesty that writing isn’t always glamorous. I don’t need to watch NBC tonight! My goal is to get my tv time down to almost nothing and my reading up.

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Dena Dyer

posted November 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Jason, I so agree. After doing part-time work for years, in order to be mostly a mommy and wife, our move to Amarillo (big wave!) has meant that I’m now working 40 hours a week. It doesn’t leave much time for writing, which is a passion and a calling. But I am still making time for it. Because writers write. Period.
By the way, I’d love to meet you sometime. I’ve been visiting Paramount BC and it seems we have a few friends in common. Maybe after January!

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