I’ve been meaning to write this article for awhile now; but, you know, life gets in the way.
How do we find the time to get words down on the page? Well, here’s my method. It took me about a year to refine. The data was compiled during a typical (hectic) family month.
First, a little something about me: I’m an at-home Dad or ‘Chief Household Officer’, as I like to call it. I had my own business years ago but came to the conclusion that I was working just to pay for my kids to be cared for by another person. Our family is lucky enough that my wife can earn enough to keep us afloat while I hold down the fort at home.
After I closed my business I decided to focus my energies on becoming a writer. I’ve always wanted to do so and have been working on projects on and off for the last 20 years. I took creative writing courses in college and have so many ideas, I thought, now was the time to actually finish something.
I said to myself: ‘I’ll be at home…I’ll have plenty of time during the day to write and write, all day.’
Then, reality hit.
There are only so many hours in the day and so much energy an at-home parent can muster.
The good news: it took me eight YEARS to write the first draft of my first novel. It took me eight MONTHS to write the first draft of my second novel.
Here’s how I did it. Check out the chart.
For the purposes of science and statistics, we are working with data gathered on 28 weekdays from the hours of 7am to 7pm. That’s 12 hours a day for a total of 336 hours a month.
As the Chief Household Officer my main job is chauffeur. My kids are not old enough to drive and we live about 20 minutes from school. Even though we wake up at 6am the bus comes way too early to feasibly make it without lots of yelling and spilt coffee. So, I drive them. Good parent? Spoiled kids? Trust me. We’ve tried the alternative. This works.
My kids also play lots of sports so I usually have to pick them up in the afternoon and drive back and forth to sports. So, driving takes most of my time. 45 hours out of a possible 336 working hours. 13% of my total time.
The good news is that I use a lot of the drive time to listen to writing and independent publishing podcasts. Some of my favorites are: Story Grid, Worried Writer, The Creative Penn , Ann Kroeker Writing Coach and Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. I’ve learned tons of great, inspirational things from all of them and continue to do so.
Laundry, dishes and cleaning take a lot of time. Gotta love those kids, right? But, again, listening to podcasts or books on tape fills that time with valuable educational and inspriational information. The total for laundry, dishes, cleaning: 55 hours. 16% of the total.
Buying food and making food, (those kids are so adorable, right?), takes up another good chunk of time. When I drive them to sports I usually stop off at the super market on the way home to make my trips most efficient. Sometimes, I even put the food on before I leave to pick them up and hope the house is not ablaze upon our return. That takes 58 hours out of 336 possible weekly working hours or 16%.
The dog must be walked: 8 hours. 2%. The bills must be paid, forms filled out, packages mailed, etc.: 25 hours. 7%. The grass must be cut, the leaves raked, the paths swept: 21 hours. 6%.
Which brings us to naps. Hey, don’t laugh or roll those eyes. It’s been scientifically proven that a 20 minute power nap in the early afternoon will do more for your mood and energy level than multiple cups of reheated coffee left over from the morning. That’s 14 hours of blissful naps which take up just 4% of my total time. Trust me. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
We’ve finally made it to writing! At the time this data was collected, I used to write from 10a-noon. That worked for awhile but I found myself pushing this further and further into the day until it ended up after dinner. It was just too hard to stop what I was doing in the morning, usually laundry, and jump right into writing.
For some, strict routine works best. For me, I’ve found that I can write best once I’d finished the day, got most of my list done and filled my head with ideas and inspiration from listening to podcasts and music. During the month of the study, after dinner, from about 7-9pm, became my sweet spot. I now write at all different hours, mostly during the day, especially in the summer months. But the key is not when: it is how much.
During the month of my study I was able to write for 25 hours which amounts to 7% of my total time.
So, out of a total of 336 hours I used 237 hours producively. I’m not sure what I was doing during the remaining 99 hours. Banging my head against the wall? Breathing? Stealing more ZZZZZz? But, there they are: 99 of them. That’s 28% of empty time just waiting to be filled with… what? MORE WRITING!
Of course! If I wrote for just one more hour a day that would yield around another 20,000 words and still leave 71 hours left in the month.
Since I completed this study two or three hours a day for me is ideal. Sometimes I can write 2000-3000 words in that time. And, if you do that every day. That adds up to 10,000-15,000 words a week. You don’t always have to reach that daily or weekly goal; but, once you bulid momentum the words add up fast.
So, we’ve found the time to do our writing. 53 hours a month. About 13 hours a week. About 2.5 hours a day. That sounds doable right? If I’m getting around 50,000 words a month. Hell yeah! Sign me up.
But, that leaves 71 more hours left in the month. Should we write more? Should we cram our days to the brim and leave no hour spare?
No, I don’t think so. We need to remember to give ourselves some ‘ME’ time. Yes, our kids deserve the best (most of the time) but we cannot be a good parent, good husband or wife, good Chief Household Officer or good writer if we are burnt out and miserable.
At home parents are usually not given the credit for all the work they do. Heck, that is why I did this study in the first place. I only recently had the confidence to tell people that I was an at-home Dad and writer. And, when I showed these charts to my wife and kids, they finally understood what I did all day. It also showed me how to structure my time and energy to still have enough for ‘ME’ time and enough to write, so I could become the ‘ME’ I always wanted to be. (On a side note: I should probably put some more exercise time (other than walking the dog for about a half hour every day) in there to get back the ‘physical’ me I used to be. That’s my next goal…;-)
So, work your writing into your schedule the way it works best for you. Love and serve your family but remember to put aside time for yourself. Be proud to say you are an at-home parent. You can use the ‘Chief Household Officer’ title if you wish. And, yes, you are a writer, regardless of how many words you get down in a week. Just do the best you can. Let your mind wander while you fold the endless socks and underwear and who knows where it will lead.
And, don’t forget the naps!