making time for writing: part 2

Sage CohenProductive writing1 Comment

Time. A writer’s greatest gift. A writer’s greatest challenge. How are you spending yours? How could you be spending it better? Here are a few tips to help.


Honor your biorhythms by planning your writing time for the part of the day you’re most capable of doing it. For example, my friend Chloe De Segonzac just wrote to say that she’s learned that waking up at 6:00 a.m. to write an important sex scene is not the way to go for her. It’s hard to feel steamy when she’s overwhelmed with sleepy.

I’m restless in the mornings and do my most focused work later in the day and throughout the evening. Because I am fortunate to work for myself, from home, I have the flexibility to shape my time in a way that works for me. My schedule is always fluxing to accommodate changing workflow and family needs, but these days it generally looks something like this:

I’m with my young son until the late morning or midday, at which point someone else in the house cares for him. Once I put on my work hat, I’ll participate in any client calls or meetings, business development opportunities, and such during the early hours of the day. Often I will do a big chunk of client writing or project management during the early part of the day as well. When I’m teaching, I find that I am able to focus and respond to student work very well at any time of the day. So I’ll start this early, too. Nonfiction books and poetry and essays and everything that is being generated from the depths of my being and written onto the page generally happen in the evenings after my son is asleep.

Having transitioned from college directly to a series of office jobs, I had no idea what my biorhythms for different kinds of work were until I attended graduate school, where I had the flexibility to experiment with the various elements of my schedule. Chances are good that you’ve been in whatever life rhythm you’re currently in for a good long while. This means you may not have any idea what might work best for you. Get ready to find out!

Define Your Prime Time

This is your invitation to start experimenting with your own sense of prime writing time. Right now. Does your cup overflow with imagery with that first coffee on the drive into work, or are you tapping the revelation vein at two in the morning when you can prowl in the shadows? Or maybe you’re an “anytime is fine for me” kind of writer.

Do you need a six-hour chunk of uninterrupted time to really hit your stride, or can you make good progress during lunch break, standing in line at the post office and waiting for your dentist appointment? How can you create more of the time-of-day and time-to-work intervals suited to your writing rhythms? No one can answer these questions but you; and even you may not have an informed answer yet. But soon, if you commit to finding out, you will.

Work With What You Have

I have just implored you to define your ideal writing times and patterns. And I meant it. But now, with equal emphasis, I would like to insist that you dig deep to define the scope of what’s possible right this very minute.

Today, I am able to shape my workdays. But for many years, I was not. Despite the fact that it was not optimal for me to have my butt-in-chair in the morning (and it absolutely withered my soul to be in an office), there I was doing exactly that—sitting at a desk from 8:30 a.m. until at least 6:00 p.m. So, I made the best of it and worked with the margins I had. I carried a notebook when walking my dog in the mornings. I took public transportation to and from work and read and wrote as I bumped along into the shoulders of strangers. I spent weekend late afternoons alone in cafes reading and scribbling in notebooks. I went to live music cafes in the evenings, in my pajamas, and while the people around me drank beer and sloshed about in time to the music, I filled pages with music coming through me in words.

In short, I refused to let a meaningless, demanding job deplete my creative stores. I insisted that my heart stay open to poetry and wrote myself awake every time my muse started to wander off looking for someone more reliable to haunt. I made writing my “everything else” around work, blended it with eating and entertainment and social time and care of my animals, and felt integrated, inspired, whole.

What are you doing right now to make the most of the time you do have, even if it’s not your prime time? Start there, and experiment with how you might do a little more of it, and then a little more.

Tune in next Tuesday for Part 3 of the Making Time for Writing series. Missed Making Time for Writing: Part 1? Read it here.

One Comment on “making time for writing: part 2”

  1. Knowing when you have the most energy is critical to finding the time to write. For a long time I tried to write after work, and no matter how hard I tried, nothing came, or something else “more important” always came up.

    I tried the getting up extra early route too… that always resulted in me dozing in front of the keyboard.

    What works best for me is just taking some time around 10am, setting a timer for 15 minutes and just get something started. If it is going well, I continue beyond the initial 15… if it goes really great, I push onward. Luckily my work schedule is pretty flexible and I can do this from time to time.

    If a project is really going well, there is always the weekend where I seem to be able to squeeze in an hour or two writing time each day. (Since I am not chained to my desk like I am the rest of the week during the day job, it is not as hard to get to work.) Great article, Sage!


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