In this eighth episode of the Gracewriters Podcast, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss how to find time to write in our busy schedules. What are the practicalities, the psychology, and the spirituality of setting aside time for our writing practice?
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Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, author of sweet romance
- Donita Bundy, author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- The practicalities of finding writing time
- The psychology of allowing ourselves that time
- The spiritual aspects and how we can honour God.
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Welcome to episode 8, Finding Time to Write. I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor, speaker and blogger and I’ve been helping people write and publish books for more than 20 years. You can find my books and blogs at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I live in sunny Brisbane and I write sweet romance. You can find me on alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, a blogger and a creative writing teacher and you can find me, and everything I do, at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you Donita and Alison. Our topic today, Finding Time to Write, my goodness, what a difficult topic and something that writers love to talk about in all those times when they’re not finding time to write.
So, we’re going to look at three basic categories under this topic today. How to manage the available time and our writing ability and motivation, how to honour God while we do it, and whether and how to make writing a priority in our lives.
Alison, you’ve being doing a bit of research for us on some of the practicalities of managing time. What did you find?
Alison Joy: We’ve all got the same number of hours in the day and we all get to choose how we use those hours. We’ve got our day jobs, maybe, or we’ve got family, we’ve got life, we’ve got things that we should be doing, like exercising and sleeping well, developing, if we’re writers, developing our writing skills. So, we’ve got all this stuff that we’ve just got to try and fit in somehow and sometimes writing is hard, so we tend to procrastinate and just not get there and not do it. So, I guess it boils down to how much do you really want it, how much do you really want to get a book. Lots of people talk about wanting to write a book but not a lot of people actually do it and Belinda, you would know from your work as an editor, that everybody has a good idea, they’d love to write a book but it’s actually getting down to the nitty gritty and actually sitting down and doing it.
So, there’s lots of different ways you can go about it. I think one of the things that I found, Joanna Penn mentioned there’s an American novelist called Toni Morrison and she said to write around the edges of your day. I’ve found that was a very good quote.
I tend to write at the end of my day, that’s just how I found it. Donita, you said you had trouble writing at the end of the day, that wasn’t your thing.
Donita Bundy: No, I can’t do that. My brain doesn’t work at the end of the day.
Alison Joy: So, I like your quote that you said you look for windows of opportunity and snippets of possibility. And I think that the other thing that you mentioned is just trying to snatch bits of writing when you can. Like you might find a five-minute pool here or an hour stopover there. I think you’ve just got to find what works for you and it can take a while, it can be hit and miss, and you’ve just got to figure it out.
I know I read about one writer who was a young mum, and she just found it almost impossible to sit down and write so she found that while she was doing other tasks she would think about her writing. She would think about the characters, she would think about the plot, she would think about everything else that went into it. So when she actually did sit down to write, she could hit the ground running, because she had been thinking about it all along the way. That’s also another good tip, I think, for writing.
Belinda Pollard: I heard about one writer who actually wrote on the top of the washing machine while it was cycling. So, she wrote by hand on top of the washing machine.
Alison Joy: My son writes, and he takes public transport, so that’s his thing. He loves the bus, train, so he can use that time to write, that’s one of his things. So, I think it’s just a matter of figuring out, in our schedule, where we can possibly fit it in. Maybe it’s not a big chunk of time, maybe like Donita said, it’s five-minutes here or ten minutes there, it’s just wherever you can plug into it. I think, if you really want to do something, like write a book, you will find a way to do it and if don’t really want to, you will come up with all the excuses why you can’t.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, great tips. Anything to add to that, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Yes, I think it’s important to understand that we’re not all the same. I remember when I was starting, everyone was saying you have to do it this way and like it might be you have to write every day at a certain time. And I tried to do that, and I just felt like a failure because the way I came into writing, where I was and my head was at, where my family was at, that didn’t work for me. So, I had to understand there was value in what people were offering, that advice. Definitely, trying to get something done every day, or as regular as possible, is very beneficial but like Alison was saying, I found myself to be more of a hunter-gatherer. If I see time, I’ll grab it.
Other people do really well with the scheduling and setting down, more like planting crops, you do that, you know what you’re going to do, and you can fit that in. That doesn’t work with my lifestyle or the way, where I’m at, so, giving myself permission to be who I am and work it to my lifestyle. Just as long as I’m working and I’m coming out the end with the same product, well that’s what works.
Alison Joy: I think if you’ve got to look at maybe what your word count will be for your book and then maybe work backwards. So, for me, my sweet spot seems to be about 64-65,000, so technically if I could write 1,000 words in an hour that would sort of mean I would need at least 65 hours for the first rough draft. That’s not all the thinking and the plotting and the planning and the research, that’s just the actual writing. So, I think maybe if you can work out what your end goal is and then go backwards, then you’ll know how much time you’ve got to plan to fit it in, you know what I mean? If you can write 1,000 words in an hour, then you’ve got to maybe plot in some spots where you can fit that in. Even if it is only 15-minute increments.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, I used to write about 1,000 words an hour and it’s interesting because I write slower now. But the words that I’m producing are generally more final quality then they were back when I was writing 1,000 words an hour. So, it’s interesting, I don’t know if that’s something that is just a phase or if it’s a development. Writing’s such a personal thing.
I’ve found that, for me, I used to be trying to get up at five in the morning because there are all these shiny happy writers who were getting up at five in the morning and kicking goals. I would get up at five in the morning and sit there like the ghost of Christmas past and crank out, sometimes I would end up being there for two hours instead of one, and I might crank out 500 words and that was on a good day.
So, I thought this just wasn’t really filling me with joy, and this was my fiction writing that I was talking about, and I write fiction for pleasure, I don’t write fiction as a career or to make a living, thank goodness! So, I wanted it to be fun, and when I moved it to after dinner, I enjoyed it so much more and just seemed to flow much more easily. So, we all have different body clocks and different things that work for us.
I also found that for me to say, I’m going to write for half an hour a day, just didn’t work with my head. Whereas if I said, and I actually ended up arriving at 10,000 words a month was doable for me, at that stage. So, I would set the 10,000 words a month as the goal and then I could fit it in whenever, wherever throughout that month. Sometimes I would find a two-hour slot, other times it might only be 20 or 30 minutes and it wasn’t every day, and that worked for me, we’re all different.
Donita Bundy: I think what Alison said before about having time to think about what you’re writing. I find that if I have my head in the game and I’m mulling over characters or plot problems or whatever, if I’m doing that when my hands are busy, but my head is free, I am then more inclined to grab those 5 minutes and jump in and get that down and then move on. So, if I commit to thinking about my writing when I have the headspace I’m far more inclined to be more productive in those snippets of time when I have them. But if I just come to the page and I haven’t invested any time or preparation mentally, that time is nowhere near as quality.
Belinda Pollard: It’s interesting that, because I think the human brain is quite a magnificent creation and capable of quite extraordinary things that we sometimes underestimate. One of the things that I’ve discovered in my editing practice. So, I edit books for clients all week and one of the things I’ve discovered works well for me, is to do a couple of hours on one project and then a couple of hours on the next project and then a couple of hours on the next project, instead of doing a massive dive deep into one project for a whole entire day. My brain is actually breathing and processing that one that I’m not working on while I’m working on project 2 and 3, so that when I come back to project 1 again the next day, I have actually solved a bunch of problems that had been bothering me yesterday. So even when we’re doing our work, when we’re caring for our families, all of those things, the brain is working on those things in the background. It’s not in the foreground, we’re not sitting there thinking, I wonder what I’ll do with chapter four, but it’s moving away in the background.
So that’s an interesting way to think about it, managing our creative time. How do we honour God in this process of finding time to write? Do you have any thoughts on that, Donita?
Donita Bundy: Again, Belinda, I know I sound like a broken record, but the way I see it is that everything we do is to honour God, Romans 12:1-3. Everything we do is our act of worship and if we are feeling that we have a story to tell, if what we are doing, even like you said, Belinda, your fiction writing is not for making a living, it’s something that you do for joy, as it’s a pastime, it’s something that you do for fun. But even still, in the end product you have gracenotes written through your book. And I know, Alison, with your writing, there are gracenotes through there. So, the end product is wanting to honour God and, like you said earlier Alison, if we’re hungry, if we really want to achieve this, we will do it.
So, the way I see it is whatever I do, I want to do the best I can to honour God in that. If this is important to me, whether it’s a hobby, it’s something that I do for enjoyment or it’s something I want to encourage others with, I need to do the best, I want to therefore make the time to do it. It’s a discipline. Again, in a lot of circles, discipline’s an ugly word, but it’s just putting your money where your mouth is. This is important to me, I’ll make time to do it and I’m going to do it well. So, I think, again it just comes back to who we are and how we see life. As Christians we honour God with all that we do. And we don’t want to do a slapdash job, we want to do the best we can. So, yes, I think just with that attitude.
Belinda Pollard: You mentioned Romans 12:1-3, but I’m not sure if we’ve actually ever read it out. So, I’ve got it here, “I appeal to you, therefore brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. That by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I think that’s interesting too, being transformed by the renewal of our minds. When we’re looking to find time to write and as Gracewriters our connection to God, our spiritual maturity is so important, a part of our whole writing practice. So, how much time do we spend ensuring that we find time to renew our minds and to grow spiritually while we’re doing this thing? I find that a constant challenge to me, because I get focused on the practical thing, the thing that is in front of me that needs to be done or that I wish to do, and I forget about building my spiritual maturity, my spiritual gifts, focusing on connecting and turning back, turning back, turning back to God. Any thoughts on that? Does that effect you too?
Donita Bundy: Yes, absolutely. I find that prayer, because I don’t know whether it’s because I feel more focused in that my books are, I find, an analogy or a metaphor for the Christian life. Being a Bible college student and someone who preaches, theology is very important to me, so I spend a lot of time studying, continuing my study in theology and how I can transpose that onto the page in a story and teaching that through story and illustrations. So, spending time and allowing that truth to sink in and prayerfully coming before God and asking for the conviction, is this truth, is this story that I’m trying to tell, is this picture I’m painting, is it truth or have I got it wrong? And then I can’t help but have that shift down through my life, as well, I’m putting this out there and I’m saying it’s truth, how does that then affect me and the way I live my life.
Prayerfully, not only coming to writing, “What do you want me to write, Lord,” but how is this going to affect me and how is this going to affect others and is this the truth that I’m sharing. So, it’s a cycle that is affecting every part of it, so I think it’s a valid time to just sit in it, in the Word, with God and allow that Holy Spirit to move and teach, and be teachable as well.
Belinda Pollard: And it’s almost like there’s an aspect of being convicted by your own message.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Belinda Pollard: Always such a challenge. One of the things that we mentioned we’d talk about today was deciding whether and how to make writing a priority in our lives. I know the three of us have talked about this before. It won’t happen unless we make it a priority, but one of the things that I keep forgetting and keep having to relearn is that the decision to do one thing is the decision not to do another thing. Alison said we’ve all got the same amount of time every day, we’ve all got 24 hours, there’s no one out there getting 27 and being teacher’s pet. We all have 24 and we need to choose what to do with those 24.
If I go and sit with my phone scrolling all the angry conversations on twitter for two hours, well that’s a decision not to spend two hours doing some other thing. And I am not saying that to make anybody else feel bad, I’m saying that to me. So I need to constantly be thinking about this. One of the things that I agonised over, as I mentioned I write fiction for fun, I love it, I write a bunch of other stuff as well, but fiction is my fun and I couldn’t give myself permission to write that fiction for so many years and I finally thought, “How many hours a week do I spend doing other fairly worthless things, like watching television, etc,” because that was in the days before social media took over all of our lives. And I thought, “Well, I could always take some of those hours and spend them doing this.”
But I think, too, we need to be realistic about how long, whatever it is that we’re choosing to write, will take and not hate ourselves for the fact that it does take time, to not hate ourselves for the other priorities in our lives.
I think also, we need to stop waiting for others to make our writing a priority for us. We all live in different situations, some of us live with people who are maybe not that sympathetic to our writing goals, but can we perhaps make it a priority for ourselves first, and then invite those others to support us in it? And if they love us, perhaps they will, but not everybody lives in a loving relationship, I totally understand that from some of the work I’ve done over the years with a domestic violence charity. So, some people are in extremely difficult circumstances and there’s more to disruption than fists, there’s a lot of things people can do to disrupt us from achieving our dreams.
But sometimes even the people who love us, don’t help us achieve our dreams because we haven’t told them we have these dreams. We haven’t invited them to support us in it. Any thoughts?
Alison Joy: Maybe because we don’t tell them because we don’t think they’ll support it, or they won’t see worth in it, the way that we see value in it.
Donita Bundy: Or perhaps that we don’t share it because we’re not confident what we’ve written is good to share. I coordinate a small writing group out here and the amount of people who struggle coming along, because when I say we share our work to get feedback they won’t come if they know they have to share. And so, I just think that’s the first hurdle we need to overcome in bringing people on board to share our passion or our joy in writing, is the fact that it’s something we, one day, will be sharing and having the confidence to do that.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, there’s so many phycological aspects in it, isn’t there. And I think we need to, if I may say so, stop thinking you’ll have time to write when you can afford to write full time. That is not what I get, I interact with a lot of writers and I can tell you that most of them are writing around the edges of their lives and a lot of them find that when they do finally make that tip over into fulltime writing, they’ve got so many other things to do, to survive, that they have even less time to write than they had when they were working in another fulltime job. This is the truth, don’t wait! Don’t wait for your life to start, start it now, but also be kind. Any final thoughts to add, Alison?
Alison Joy: No, I just, it’s something that you can gather information and suggestions from people and you just trial them for yourself and see what works and where you can find time. As I said before, if you really want it, you will just have to hunt for it.
Donita Bundy: Yes.
Alison Joy: And keep praying, keep hunting for it.
Belinda Pollard: Donita?
Donita Bundy: Yes, same thing. If you’re hungry you’ll find a way. If you really want it, you’ll make it work. Take the advice of people who’ve gone before you but be flexible to make it fit into your life. If you really want it, if you enjoy it, if you feel called to it, just make it happen.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you. I’ll just quickly pray for the Gracewriters, before we go.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for all of these writers out there that you are working through and in. That you have given them this joy of writing, this yearning to write. We pray that you will also give them the time to write. You will help them to find it through the busy week and the distractions and the many things that are also important to them. We pray for your encouragement and blessing and peace and hope. In Jesus name. Amen.
Thank you Donita Bundy and Alison Joy. We will see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
Thank you for joining us today at the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Subscribe to the blog to receive an invitation to our monthly catch-up on Zoom and to our free private online forum where members discuss topics that effect Christian writers. Connect with us at gracewriters.com. We’d love to see you there.
I like the suggestion of writing “at the edges of your day” if your schedule is tight and Alison’s comment about time: “If you really want it, you will just have to hunt for it.” And Belinda, I agree – if I go from project to project, it’s like what Walt Disney said about flitting between projects at his studio – it’s as if you’re a bee pollinating every one! So much better than droning away at one thing without ever renewing your perspective to take a fresh look.
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks so much, Dawn. Your feedback is wonderful as we help each other find the way through.
Jennie Del Mastro says
Thanks Belinda, Donita and Alison. This is exactly what I needed to read at the moment – my three kids are on holidays; and before that we had a term of school at home! The lack of routine makes it hard to find time to write unless I schedule it and ignore everything else; also I am acutely aware of those other things that aren’t happening while I write – mainly supervision of the kids! My husband took a day off work this week so I could write all day, so I am blessed to have that support from loved ones you mentioned – it would be so much harder without that. Thank you for encouraging people to find a way to write anyway, somehow, if it’s something they have a passion for.
Belinda Pollard says
Thanks for your comment, Jennie. That is so lovely that your husband is so supportive. I’ve been struggling with my writing lately, too, due to some family dramas. But I will get back to it when this season passes!!