It’s probably not surprising that I am not the most social of writers–I don’t participate in very many communities, and I’m fairly quiet when I do.

But, er, this might be a good thing! Because whenever I peek at one of the writing boards I occasionally visit, I always run into a question from a very well-meaning and very new writer that makes me want to write an obnoxiously long, 1,000-word reply.

So, of course, I was on Reddit’s r/Writing last week. And what did I see? The good ol’ question of, “How does anyone have time to write?”

(The subtext here is that they want to write, but they don’t have enough free time, so they can’t write. Ever.)

Their argument will start with “Writing is too much work! Doesn’t everyone say you have to treat it like a job?” And jobs, of course, are very important and time-consuming things! And so, these folks conclude, clearly only the most dedicated and devoted people can find time to write (which means, of course, that the “average” person shouldn’t feel bad if they’re too busy.) It must be impossible to write if you have a 9-to-5 job. And if you don’t have time to “be a writer” they might decide–in different, yet equally wrong ways–that their only choices are to quit their jobs or pine for a far-off day when the opportunity to write falls into their laps.

Where does all this come from?

Most Writing Advice is Aimed toward the Undisciplined

The answer is obvious. The #1 advice for writers IS to buckle down, write every day, and treat writing like a job.

This really isn’t surprising, if you think about it. Like any creative hobby (or, er, probably any hobby on Earth…) most people are not very disciplined. If you spend any time in a writing community, you’ll practically drown in posts about people who have never finished anything: the people who only write when the muse hits, and who end up only “wanting” to write once in a blue moon. The people who have been toying with an idea for years, but never make any progress on it. The people who dither around writing one or two chapters, then abandon their work for something else.

(For that matter, “people who say they want to write, but claim they don’t have the time to do so” are in the same bucket. But since that’s the whole point of this post, let’s continue.)

And how do you get people to stop dithering? You give them a dose of tough love. You grab them by the metaphorical shoulders and type very firmly at them: Writing is work! You have to treat it like a job! You have to write every single day, even–and especially–when you don’t want to!

And this is great advice! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of it. Except when all those good intentions go awry.

The “If Writing Is Work, I Don’t Have Time to Write” Trap

The problem with the “writing is work; writing is a job” advice is that it’s tempting to turn that attempt at inspiration into a reason that you can’t write.

“You have to treat writing like a job” is pretty intimidating. But it absolutely does not mean:

  • That you have to literally have to have a part-time job’s worth of hours to write every day
  • That you absolutely must write at least 1,000 words (or any arbitrary number of words) a day
  • That you need to write every single day

…Or you “aren’t a real writer” and “don’t have enough time to write.” And it definitely doesn’t mean that you should wait until any of the above are true before you try to write anything.

So, here’s the truth.

There’s No Minimum Threshold for How Much You “Have” to Write

Seriously. Really. If you want to write, you can write 3 days a week, two hours a week, one day a week, or whatever works for you.

I’ve written about eight full-length novels. All of these schedules resulted in a completed first draft in under six months:

  • Once a week: I used to do all of my writing in one mega-binge on Saturdays. I wrote from 8 or 9 to noon. That was the only time I wrote all week.
  • Twice a week: Later, I wrote only twice a week: in 2-to-3 hour stretches on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7 or 8 to 10 at night.
  • Once per weekday: Finally, when the above schedules stopped working, I started writing for one hour, five times a week, from 5 to 6 in the evening.

So, caveat time: Even with the laziest of these schedules, I was still writing at least 3 hours a week. So I clearly had a regular habit.

And habits are good. I’m not, for one second, going to tell you that you can become an excellent writer by keeping to a schedule of “1,000 words maybe once every three months.” Writing is a skill, and you get better at it the more you do it. The more often you write, and the more regularly, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll produce.

But here’s my point: Unless you literally have zero free minutes in the entire week, there is no threshold at which you can say “I don’t have enough time to write, so I won’t write at all.”

If you can only write on Sundays, great! If you can only write for one hour two or three times a week? That’ll work! Heck, if you only have half an hour a week, you literally have absolutely no other free time anywhere else, and you desperately want to write, it’s better than nothing. That’s incredibly slow–at 1,000 words a week it’ll take you one-and-a-half to two years to finish a first draft–but it’d still get done.

Basically: If You Want to be a Writer, You Have to Write Sometime

Most writing advice is geared toward taking people with excuses–I’m not confident enough, I can’t stick to one idea very long, I don’t have enough time for it–and telling them to find a way to do it. That’s all the “writing is a job; take it more seriously!” pep talk is about.

If you are passionate about writing and want this to be your actual job, yes, you will eventually need to build up to the point where you spend multiple hours per day on it. But if you’re just learning how to write, don’t turn “you have to write a lot” into an excuse to say “then I don’t have enough time to write.”

Whatever time you have, and whatever schedule you can manage is enough. You don’t need to meet some imaginary threshold to justify starting.

Advertisements