Guest Post & Giveaway: Mette Ivie Harrison on How to Find Time to Write

By Mette Ivie Harrison

I have five children, ages 9 to 18, four of them teenagers.

One daughter takes lessons for three instruments, is in school plays and two competitive choirs, graduated in three years from high school and took five AP classes. Another daughter is in robotics competitions, takes AP classes at four different high schools, and is on swim team. My youngest daughter wants to be an actress and has asked me to write, direct and perform in neighborhood plays with her each summer. One son is into Science Olympiad, scouts, and cooking. My youngest son has karate four days a week, as well as all the regular homework, church activities, and scouts.

I sold my first novel when I had four kids under the age of 6 and babysat two other preschoolers five days a week.

Now, six novels later, I am a competitive triathlete in my spare time. I am currently ranked #41 in the nation in my age group (40-44). I race one Ironman a year, which takes about 20 hours of training a week. I also race more than a dozen Olympic distance races, which takes more like 12 hours a week. I train my husband, kids, and friends. I do races with them, as well.

I am a busy person, but I still get in three-to-four hours of writing every day.

How do I do it? Here are some of my secrets:

Everyone has the same 24 hours a day

  • If you want to add writing (or more writing) to your current schedule, the first simple principle is that you will have to make room by taking something else out.
  • No one is going to make writing time for you. You will have to wrest it away from other commitments, and it will not be painless.
  • If you have nothing you can give up, you will not find time to write.

What should you give up?

  • Cleaning is on the top of my list.

Close doors of your children’s rooms or any rooms you need to.

Look, see how simple it is.

then closed.

Much cleaner.

Other things you can give up:

  • Television
  • Dates to the movies. Stay home instead and have quiet time together when you can write with a babysitter upstairs.
  • Newspaper reading
  • Sleep (Lots of writers write into the wee hours. Others wake up at dawn. I was always one of the ones who woke up at 5 a.m. when my kids were small, to fit in a few more hours).
  • Shopping (Hey, it saves money, too!)
  • Answering the telephone
  • Lunches with friends
  • Saying “yes” to everyone who asks you to help them with a good cause. PTA/church/political action committees included.

Multitasking can be your friend.

  • Do two things at the same time (sewing and going to church, talking to friends and making dinner).
  • Or do three things at the same time.
  • Plan out novels while you drive.
  • Read and make notes on good writing.
  • Write dialog while you listen to other people talk.
  • Use your friends as models for your characters.

Do writing in quick bursts.

  • If you have ten minutes to write, take your laptop or a notebook with you everywhere. Use those lost ten minutes.
  • Write while waiting in a doctor’s office.
  • Write while waiting in line.
  • Write in the ten minutes before bed, or just after you get up. 

Make writing a priority.

  • It doesn’t have to be your top priority, but it needs to be somewhere in the top five.
  • Don’t let things lower on the priority list bump your writing out of whack. For instance, kids leaving homework or lunch at home is not more important than your writing time.
  • Pay yourself to write and use that money to fund preschool or babysitting time. 

Keep your writing space sacred.

  • If you have a writing space and it’s important to you to keep quiet, make some rules about when kids or spouses can come into that space.
  • Protect that space with your own attitudes. Don’t constantly invite others into it. Don’t give yourself excuses not to write. Go into that space, and get it done.
  • I can write upstairs in chaos for certain things, but for others I need absolute concentration, especially when I get an editorial letter.

Keep kids involved in your success.

  • Try rewarding your children for giving you writing time.
  • Include your children in celebrations when you finish a novel or sell one.
  • If you’re writing for children, use your kids as readers. Pay them if necessary, but only if they give you useful feedback.

Cut off your Internet.

  • Some writers will program computers to cut off internet use for a certain period, to encourage them to keep working.
  • For me, I find I set myself a goal of 500 words, then let myself go onto the web for 10 minutes as a reward. It can keep me going for hours.

Set yourself a writing goal every day.

  • If you are currently writing 1,000 words a day, try to double it.
  • Make it a competition on-line with friends. #wordwar is a twitter hashtag. You can join others and try to win.
  • Don’t let yourself go to bed without meeting your goal. You will lose sleep at first, but will become more efficient in the long term.

Keep good people in your life.

  • You’ve heard people say “don’t feed the troll?” I think people who are bad for you will naturally leave your life if you just stop feeding them your energy.
  • On the other hand, good people will stay in your life if you feed them your energy instead.
  • Good people in your life will make it better, richer.
  • Believe me, you don’t need the bad people just for research.

Plan time to relax.

Deal with your anxieties about writing.

  • Every writer I’ve met is afraid of reviews, of rejection by agents and editors. Writing is hard work, and criticism is even harder.
  • Find ways to deal with your anxieties. If I get an editorial letter, I let myself rant for a while. Then I dig back in and tell myself I only change things I want to change.
  • I lie to myself when working on a first draft. I tell myself it’s just for me, that no one will ever read it. Even if it’s under contract, I tell myself that I might write something else instead.
  • Think about writing as a skill rather than a gift.

Figure out what your routine is and stick with it.

Remember, your way is not my way. But do it your way and do it now!

Cynsational Notes

From Indiebound: “Mette Ivie Harrison is the author of The Princess and the Hound (Eos, 2007) and several other novels for young adults. She has a Ph.D. in German literature from Princeton University. She lives with her family in Utah.”

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20 thoughts on “Guest Post & Giveaway: Mette Ivie Harrison on How to Find Time to Write

  1. Her schedule and list of responsibilities made my jaw drop (and I have three kids, a teenager and two preschoolers, and a full-time job with a commute; I thought I was busy. Now, I'm just in awe). I loved her list of very practical tips, many of which I have not seen elsewhere. Thank you so much, to both of you, for sharing this.

  2. Excellent suggestions, Mette. Thanks so much for sharing them.

    I do a lot of these already. For the writing in line or while waiting in the doctor's office, I use the Quick Office Pro on my Kindle Fire. I make sure it's always in my bag and it's lighter than my computer. But I also have a notebook where I jot down ideas.

    I find that just putting my characters in my head while I'm driving, walking, showering, etc., helps me figure out problems so that when I get to the page, I'm ready.

  3. Wow! I'm tired just looking at your schedule. Thanks for the tips. We all hear over and over that you have to make time to write, and protect our writing time, but this is the first time I've seen such a concrete breakdown.

  4. Great post! Definitely something I can relate to since I have two little boys (one is 3 1/2 years old and the other is 11 months old). I squeeze in a few minutes here and there to write.

  5. Thanks for the interesting post. I think for me I have to spend my work day on the computer, answering phones and writing all day long for other people, so my creativity is so sapped I can't get the energy to write for myself. I know I can find the time, I just can't tap into the creative side. My job is also not a nine to five one. But I like the tips and can certainly do the no housework one!

  6. Wonderful ideas – but I have to say, I like the first one best. Just close the door on the kids rooms!! Consider that one done!!! 🙂

  7. I want to print this out and stick it up by my computer. She definitely sounds like a 'no excuses' kind of gal.

  8. Awesome post and motivator! THANKS! I've been toying with the idea of taking over the roll top desk for my writing. It's in a smaller room and is mostly quiet. Thanks for the push to do it!

  9. Wow, I feel like such a slacker! I have one kid, who's now in college, and although I'm busy working many days, I don't have full work days as often as most people do. The big help for me will be turning off the Internet more– I use MacFreedom, but I'm still online too much before I turn it on.

    Congratulations on all your productivity and accomplishments!

  10. Thank you for this post! I am especially impressed by the Pavlovian idea. I'd never thought of that before. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to light candles where I live, but I'm thinking of using another method–possibly playing the same musical piece each time I write or something 🙂

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