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BALLS OF STEEL™: The Secret to Finding Time to Write

Every writer struggles with juggling a day job and finding time to write. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman gives practical tips on how to map your day to make writing a priority.

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the 10-hr limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition, CS Expo Finalist, the Second Round of Sundance Episodic Lab, and as a PAGE Awards TV Drama Finalist. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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Raise your hand if you have a day job? Then you undoubtedly understand the struggles in finding time to write. Most screenwriters aren’t retired with disposable income we’ve saved for years so we can hide away in a cabin, tapping away at our keyboards. We work jobs that often have nothing to do with writing. But as we push through our 9-to-5 existence, our minds are never still, always spinning with stories waiting to be born.

time to write

When your plate is full with day-job stress, a spouse, children, pets, aging parents or just friends who are nagging you to put your laptop away and meet them at the bar, how do you find time to write that script, let alone the two scripts per year a manager wants you to produce?

Do what I did. Get a second job.

Yes, you read that right. Let me explain.

I have more ideas than I can count filed away on my Mac, but finding the time to write them has always been overwhelming. So when I had the opportunity to take on a temporary but intense freelance writing gig on top of my day job, I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to pull it off since I can barely find time to write my own things let alone something for an employer. But let’s face it; with a kid in college and another going next year, a writer can’t turn down a chance to earn money for her words. So, I bit the bullet and said, “Bring it!”

What did I learn while temporarily working two jobs? I learned that I have more time to write than I had realized. In three weeks, I wrote 216 pages.

Yes, 216. That’s the equivalent of two feature-length scripts written in just three weeks!

Suddenly, I realized if I could accomplish that all while working a full-time job, getting my daughter off to college and taking my son on college tours, there was no excuse for me not to at least write one new, polished script a year.

Granted, money was a huge motivating factor to push myself to the limit, but perhaps we need to start thinking about our own writing as having as much value as a paycheck.

What do you want more than anything? My guess is, increasing your productivity is near the top of that list. Time to make it happen.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of how to find time to write.

1. Clean your slate. Whatever it is you do for work set a goal to get ahead. Look at the next month’s worth of projects on your desk and see if you can put in a little overtime to cross them off your list. For me, when I have a pile of things on my to-do list, I can’t focus on writing. I need a clean slate. Yes, I have OCD. I’m the first to admit it. My responsibilities have to be taken care of first in order to free my mind for creativity.

2. Figure out what your most creative time of the day is and guard it for writing. Disclaimer: If you work in an office, this is harder to do, but if it’s at all possible, think about reconfiguring your work schedule to free up your creative sweet spot. If you’re most inspired in the morning, then get up an hour earlier and write before work. If it’s in the afternoon, then dedicate your lunch hour to writing. For me, I can’t write at night. I’m too tired. So I steal time throughout the day to get words on the page, and then I do the mundane tasks of editing posts or answering emails at night when my brain doesn’t need to be as creative.

3. Redefine what “writing time” means. Most writers I know don’t think of writing as “work.” It’s our passion. We need it to survive. So stop thinking of it as something that you need to find time to do and start thinking of it as something you’re doing for yourself… to survive. You find time to eat, don’t you? So find time to write. You deserve to pursue your dreams and feed your passions.

Part of redefining is also educating the people around you as to what’s important to you. If your spouse isn’t a writer, it’s more challenging for them to understand writing is not “work,” it’s a necessity for your sanity. You might need an old-fashioned sit down with those closest to you to set boundaries on your time.

I’m confident most of you have heard the adage, “Happy wife, happy life.” Well, the same holds true for a writer’s home. No household where a writer dwells is happy unless we’re creating. The sooner everyone accepts that, the better.

4. Examine how you currently use your time. I want you to keep a time log for the next week, just like nutritionists ask people to do when analyzing their diet. What is consuming your time? Are you spending more time surfing the net for cat videos than you are writing each day? The trick is to really be honest about how you spend each 30-minute block throughout the course of one week. Then take that list and see where you can carve the fat out.

Granted, it's essential to also schedule time to relax, but I would ask you to consider how you use your time. Is it really as efficiently as you think?

5. Set goals and break them down into smaller, weekly or daily ones. What is it you want to accomplish this year? Make a list and then break each item down into baby steps. Let’s say you want to write a new feature before the end of the year. December 31st is about 100 days from now. If you write just one page a day, you have a script! Anyone can find time to write one page a day. Doesn’t seem so scary now, does it? Mini-goals are the key.

When I was doing this side gig, I was writing 24-page scripts in two day’s time. The more I wrote, the faster I got. I could get my daily 10-12 pages done in two hours. That left plenty of time for my day job duties and my kids.

When I read Screenwriting Career Coach Lee Jessup’s post Know Thy Screenwriting Career Path, I immediately emailed her, thanking her for the reminder to focus on writing more scripts. She then shared some invaluable advice.

“I have a slew of writers who live by what we call The Bob Rule (named appropriately after a guy named Bob). Three Pages a day, no matter what. Three pages a day takes about 20-30 minutes. And if written consistently over a month, that accumulates to a full script – something to start working with and revising. Once you put it in digestible chunks like that, it makes everything easier.”

Now that you have some tips to help, let’s make each other accountable. Join our ScriptMag Writers’ Community on Facebook, and let’s help each other get the words on the page.

I think our sanity is worth investing 30 minutes a day toward, don’t you?

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