How To Write A Book (Or Tackle Any Daunting Goal) When You Have Absolutely No Free Time

I wrote an Instagram post about my writing process because I’ve been doing some new and scary things (writing fiction for the first time alongside my second memoir), not because I’m an expert because holy shit I’m not (just look at all of the mistakes in this post, by the end you’ll be like holy shit is she even sober? Yes, I am. I know, it’s surprising).

Every time I do a little update on the things I’m working on, I get a few messages or comments asking how I find time to write while home 24/7 with an intensely active toddler, a workaholic husband, during a pandemic. So I decided to share what works for me and how I do it despite having virtually no time. I want to emphasize that it’s not easy and I virtually had to retrain my brain to be excited about snail-slow progress–a challenging thing for someone as impatient as me.

Here’s the post (including very bad photo that looks like the beginning of an adult film):

But then after I wrote this post I had a lot more to say about it. Starting with this: Nobody should feel like they have to be exceptionally productive right now because the pandemic is enough to cope with, nobody needs unnecessary pressure and stress.

However, if you’re like me and you cope by being productive, (and maybe you’re having a really hard time finding a way to do it in current circumstances or in general) then this post might be for you.

The other thing I wanted to add to this post is that our culture is a lying bastard. We’re taught a lot of bullshit around creativity that really holds us back.

The Magic is Persistence Not Genius

I hate how our culture celebrates “magic” and genius instead of hard work. It’s why people feel like they can’t do stuff or like they’re failing. We’re served stories of genius over stories of sweat and persistence.

I’ll use writing as an example, because that’s what I know best but it applies to art and opening a business or even building an instagram following. How many of you have heard stories of people who blinked and were successful overnight because they’re just goddamn rockstars in the concert of life? Like a million, right? Have you heard the story of Stephanie Meyer, a stay-at-home mom who wrote a NYT bestseller during her children’s naps in three months time? But what’s left out is that she’d taken a fantasy writing class at BYU six years prior where she’d reportedly asked how to write a bestselling YA fantasy romance and worked with the professor to map out the concepts and then had six whole years to mull it over before the night she dreamed up the Twilight characters. Or maybe you’ve heard the story of David Sedaris and how he was discovered reading his work at a Chicago club by Ira Glass and became an overnight success and one of the most important humorists of our time? But did you know that for like fifteen years he wrote feverishly in his diary and stayed up for hours and hours every single night writing and re-writing his stories, that’s thousands of hours with his ass in the chair working hard on becoming a master storyteller, before being “discovered.” Glennon Doyle blogged for years at four a.m. before she became the massive household name she is now. My point isn’t that these authors aren’t brilliant, they are, my point is that their brilliance was earned by working their asses off. My point is that we’re being sold half-truths about their success because it makes for a better story. I mean, imagine the story of Cinderella if instead of a fairy godmother, CPS was called and she went to a foster home and after therapy and tutoring and a makeover, she got into Standford and married a nice guy. Not as fun, right? The stories we tell about real folks make it seem like their exceptional talents appeared out of thin air. And I believe it impacts whether or not we believe we can do hard things, too.

I know that for years I’d sit down to write or blog or sing or paint and I’d feel discouraged because I wasn’t good for a long time (or ever, I sound like a goat being brutalized when I sing). There’s this belief that everyone else doing it is a master right out of the gate. There’s also this idea that everyone does things while seated in their massage chair with a martini and endless time for creativity al la Earnest Hemingway.

Nobody Has Goddamn Time

Most folks are strapped for time. Most people have full time jobs and/or kids and friend or family expectations. We’re taught that if we can’t do something “all in” or “quickly” then we can’t do it. We’re told that baby steps aren’t big enough because we have a “go big or go home” mentality. For months after having my son I believed that I’d never be able to write again. I was like, omg, this baby is all-consuming, how will I ever find the hours and hours in the day to write? And then I read an interview with Miranda July who said that she wrote the outline of her book while breastfeeding her son on her iPhone which sounded daunting as fuck. The idea of something taking that long killed me, but I gave it a go because it was my only option and writing gives me life, and seriously, it’s amazing how far I’ve come by taking teeny tiny steps. It took me a while to adjust to typing slowly on my phone, but I adjusted after a few grueling weeks. Mostly I adjusted my expectations.

Some days I barely have one hour to myself total. On those days I might only write one sentence or three. Other days I can write a bit during a good nap or after he falls asleep (like right now). I focus on the word count goal, I do my best, and I keep my head down. I’m slower, much slower, but it all adds up. I started the first book post-baby a year ago and before I knew it, I had 10,000 words, then 30,000, then 30,000 of a second book, and the outline of a third. I’m slow. It’s frustrating, but there is something to be said for showing up and just doing it even if it’s absolutely tiny. David Sedaris once said something like, “Just do the work and be ready when opportunity knocks. Maybe it’s five years or twenty…” I don’t know if we all have the privilege or the luck for opportunity to knock, most of us have to tackle it and hog tie it. But I like the idea of just doing the work because you enjoy it and because you want to be the best you can be. Focusing on improvement over success really helps. I read Idiot by Laura Clery recently and my fave line from it was “Just keep your head in the action and don’t think about the results.” During that chapter she’s talking about her many failures and how she eventually just started making a ton of stuff and throwing it at the wall to see what stuck. And keeping her head out of the results stopped her from getting discouraged and giving up. Which I needed to hear. Being goal-oriented and the type of person who is always thinking about the end game, I can get too in my head about results and I stop enjoying what I’m doing and start producing crapola and get big frustrated.

Sloppy Is Better Than Regret

If you’ve been wanting to paint that picture or write that book or bullet journal or start a business but you haven’t been able to find the time and a whole project sounds overwhelming and impossible try to adjust your expectations. Try to get your big toe wet instead of cannon balling into the deep end. Try journaling three sentences at first, paint on an iPad to practice if you can’t get to a canvas. Create a business plan or pinterest boards for your business (you can never plan too much). Make tiny short five second videos. Write on your iPhone while you pee using Scrivener or another app. It might take you a billion years to work on it for twenty minutes per day but slow and sloppy is better than a never at all you might regret. Right? Also, find a community of people trying to do the same thing. Find other people making it work and ask them for tips, hold each other accountable, support each other, and help each other where you can. Sometimes it’s enough to just know you’re not alone in tackling your dreams one teeny tiny toddler step at a time.

If you have tips or a process that works for you I wanna hear it! Is there something you’ve wanted to do but haven’t found the time or energy for it? I wanna hear about that, too.

And again, this post is NOT to say you SHOULD be doing these things. It’s to offer support if you want to do a thing but haven’t been able to get it going. You are lovable and wonderful if all you do is survive right now.

Here’s to doing big things, slowly.

2 thoughts on “How To Write A Book (Or Tackle Any Daunting Goal) When You Have Absolutely No Free Time

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