TRUE INDIE: How to Write When You Have No Free Time

Rebecca Norris explains how to write when you have no free time by eliminating things in your life that steal energy, creativity, and precious writing time.


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how to write when you have no free time

Awhile back, I wrote an article about “paying yourself first” by spending the first 15 minutes of your day—before showering, coffee, reading emails, or any other morning activity—writing. (Okay, yes, you can pee first.) You’re not thinking about writing, not planning to begin writing, not thinking about planning to begin writing—you’re actually writing. Getting a quick page in before you go to work or school so that you’re making  progress toward your screenwriting goals instead of letting your busy day get the better of you (which has been my problem in the past).

But what happens when you find yourself sans 15 minutes in the morning? What if you’re like me and you have the most wonderful, smiley, drooly distraction in the form of a tiny human that you must care for? (Babies don’t like the concept of “write first, feed later.”) Suddenly your precious writing time has been usurped by your even more precious poop monster. So how to write when you have no free time?

It’s easy to say, “Well, if you can’t find the time, make the time.” But with an infant, there is no making time. I’m acutely aware of how, if I’m not careful, every minute of my day could be accounted for, from that first 8 AM feeding to the time my head hits the pillow at midnight. I’m often lucky if I get a shower, have a meal before 5 PM, or spend a few fleeting moments with my husband before passing out and starting again in the morning. Now, hanging with my bambina is wonderful, and I cherish the ability to be there for all the special moments of her babyhood. Yet at the same time, as a writer, it can be challenging to nourish my creative side when there are only 24 hours a day and I’m occupied for 27 of them. (And don’t get me started on “Write when the baby sleeps.” When you’ve hit your fifth nap-less day in a row, you’ll want to beat the crap out of any cretin who spouts that phrase!)


The Secret to Finding Time to Write


For me, at least, what has been working to keep my writing on track is not to make the time, but to take the time. The time has to be taken from other things—time-wasters that just aren’t important in the long run. There’s nothing like having a baby to straighten out your priorities. Suddenly all the time once frittered away on binging past seasons of Arrested Development (guilty), mindlessly scrolling my news feed 10 times a day (guilty), and making homemade pizza dough out of cauliflower rice to convince myself I’m eating “healthy pizza” (super guilty) has to be replaced with basic things. Like attempting to get more than 2 hours of sleep in a row.

Here’s a list of things I’ve historically wasted valuable time on:

  1. Social media
  2. Social Media
  3. Social Media
  4. Mindless web surfing
  5. Keeping up with too much TV
  6. Taking on extra tasks or favors
  7. Toxic people

Any of these ring true in your life? Let’s tackle them one by one.

#1-3 Social Media

We all know what a God-awful time suck social media can be. If you aren’t vigilant, it’s easy to waste a good couple of hours a day mindlessly scrolling through posts, commenting, sharing, and basically…not writing. (And Tweeting doesn’t count as writing.) Social media can be a useful tool to keep in touch with friends and family and to make connections for your career, but it can also derail your life if you develop an addiction to it. So put the phone down, pick the laptop up, and get some pages written!


Social Media Etiquette


#4 Mindless Web Surfing

Sure, I turned on my iPad to quickly check my email. So how did I end up reading a story about how Kim Kardashian named her new baby, or a blog about how to grow a sustainable veggie garden? When you have no free time, you have to surf the web with intention so you don’t waste hours on things like “Where Are They Now?” celebrity click bait slideshows when you could be writing.

#5 Keeping Up with Too Much TVhow to write when you have no free time

Every time I go on Netflix—every time—there is a new Netflix Original Series that just released. Another new show? How is that even possible? There is no way to keep up with the massive amount of content out there, even just on Netflix. Forget keeping up with everything on Prime, Hulu, HBO, network shows, cable shows, and whatever just went viral on YouTube. Trying to keep up with more than a few choice shows will definitely drain away any conceivable hope of getting writing done.

And if you’re thinking, “Hey, I’ll just binge the whole new season of Westworld in one weekend and get it done with.” Okay, you can do that. Or you could spend all of those hours writing and probably finish that pilot you’ve been slowly hacking away at for 9 months. Then maybe you can be working in TV instead of watching it.

#6 Taking On Extra Tasks or Favors

This is an easy trap to fall into. If you’re a kind-hearted person, you want to make sure you’re there for your friends and family. But when you have no free time, you have to be incredibly careful about adding additional responsibilities onto your plate. Remember that a plate can only get so full before stuff starts falling off the edges. And that stuff is usually self-care, eating well, sleeping, exercising, and, you guessed it, writing. You know, that stuff that really matters in YOUR life. It won’t kill you to say “no” sometimes—the person will just ask someone else for help.


10 Ways Motherhood Makes Me A Better Writer


#7 Toxic People

This is the biggest time suck of all: toxic people. Whether it’s your drama-filled relative who can’t get his life together, your narcissistic bestie who’s constantly calling to vent about her boyfriends, or your ridiculous boss who acts like a helpless child, in the end, you’re left drained of your energy, creativity, and precious writing time. The hours spent with your friend chewing off your ear about her latest bad date could have been hours where you finished a novel, screenplay, or pilot. And think about how your life would be enriched by working on your projects as opposed to depleted by spending time with toxic timewasters.

So how do you know if someone is toxic? Ask yourselves these questions: Does the person ever ask me any questions? Does the subject of conversation ever switch to me or is it always on them? How do I feel after spending time with this person? Uplifted? Or depressed, stressed, or drained? Does this person do anything to enrich my life? Or does this person only ever come around when he or she wants something? Would my life be better without this person in it?

Be really honest here. If you discover that your relative, friend, or supervisor is driving you to the brink of sanity, it’s time to do something. You may not be able to cut a relative out completely, but you can limit the time you spend around that person at family gatherings. And if you’re able to quit your job to find a less stressful one, wonderful! But if not, perhaps you can move to a different department, or set some boundaries with your employer.

Lastly, you can always walk away completely from a toxic person if it’s the healthy choice for you. You get to dictate who you have in your life…and how your valuable time is spent. Don’t waste practically non-existent free time on people who don’t deserve it.

Now, I realize that all of this is much easier said than done. I’ll see if I’m able to follow my own advice! In the meantime…here’s to taking the time to write!

More articles by Rebecca Norris

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