Starting Out #10: How to make the time to write

Posted on March 25, 2013
startingout10One question I am asked more often than any other, more than ‘do I need an agent?‘, more than ‘should I self-publish?‘, more than ‘where do you get your ideas?’, is ‘how do you find the time to write?’. Regular visitors to the Fibro will know that I don’t believe anyone ‘finds’ time to write a novel – you have to make time. But I also know that that can be easier said than done – and I am often heard to lament the fact that Ernest Hemingway probably didn’t have to take his kids to swimming lessons.
Today’s Starting Out post is written by Ros Baxter, author of Sister Pact (Harper Collins, 2012, coauthored with her sister Ali Ahearn) and Fish Out of Water (Escape, 1 April 2013), business consultant to government and private sector, teacher of professional writing skills, wife to Blair and mother to four “small but very opinionated children”. (Phew. Are you tired yet?) If anyone is qualified to share some secrets on how to make time to write novels, it’s Ros!

Keeping the muse in the groove when writing to a schedule

I once read that Capote would write lying casually on a couch (probably a chaise lounge), with a glass of sherry in one hand and a pencil in another. TS Elliot had a hideaway above Chatto & Windus, a publishing house on St Martin’s Lane. Edgar Allen Poe could only write in black; Mark Twain in white.

Me? I have no such luxury. I write at swimming lessons, while making dinner and sometimes on the loo. I write in aprons, dressing gowns and (just sometimes) smeared in other people’s dinner. I always write when the baby sleeps and the kids are at school. But sometimes he wakes up at the critical moment, and then he bounces on my knee sucking an arrowroot biscuit while I write, recalling teenage dreams of a narrow apartment in Paris, a classic old typewriter, and a skinny boy with a beret calling me cherie. Sometimes I miss him, that Parisian fantasy boy, but most of the time I’m grateful for my sunburned Australian husband who teaches me how to use Twitter and helps the kids with their homework.

I’m not unusual. Most of the writers I know multi-task to a punishing degree. They have lives – families, mortgages, responsibilities, often other jobs as well. So how do they do it?

As my sister, the greatest multi-tasker of them all, would say: It ain’t rocket surgery. My mother, The Adage Queen, had a good one, too: You want something done? Give it to a busy person. But none of that is terribly practical, so I thought I’d share a few tips, distilled from experience and the shared wisdom of other generous writers I am lucky to call friends.

1. Become a voyeur. Not all the writing happens when you’re plugged in. Watch for the raw material. The rough shard that becomes the polished diamond. The stolen glance between the cashiers at Big W; the way the principal’s throat bobs when she gets nervous at the P&C meetings; the cynical way that operator says “hold please”. It’s all fair game. Call it being a busybody. Call it plagiarism. I call it research.

2. Staple a notebook to your arse. You won’t remember that raw material if you don’t jot it down (or maybe you will, but I definitely won’t).

3. Set goals. Get to know how fast (or slow) you write and sketch a trajectory for your project. It lends momentum to what is essentially an exercise in self-motivation.

4. Make time to write every day. The muse is a jealous mistress. She needs your time, or she’s apt to feel neglected. And don’t give me that stuff about quality time, we’re not on Dr Phil here. She just wants you in place, ready to channel her. She’s egocentric like that. So find a space; make a regular date with your laptop, desktop, or sherry, chaise lounge and pencil; turn off the phone; and write. The more often you do, the quicker you’ll pick up the thread each time.

5. Set yourself a daily word count. Start easy, then build up. All words are better than no words, and editing can cure a thousand follies. Write. Just write. It helps you feel more like a writer, and less like someone who wishes they were.

6. Not feeling creative? Don’t curse the muse and settle in to watch Oprah. Work on the business instead. Update your social media, edit something, research the mating habits of fish (oops, sorry, there’s my inner mermaid creeping in). Preferably do something mind-numbing. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll locate the muse.

7. Finally, be grateful. This one’s a work-in-progress for me. Zen was never my strong suit and it’s easy to feel put-upon when the slings and arrows of the day make you hanker for the luxury of Capote’s lounge. That’s when I try to remember that no- one’s making me do this. And that when I can work really hard on points 4 and 5, it’s easier to remember why I am doing it. Because writing is, as Ken Robinson would say, my element. The thing that makes the time fly. The place that feels right. 

Ros Baxter writes fresh, funny fiction (you can tell by reading this post, right?). You’ll find her on Facebook and Twitter, or you can email her here.

If you liked this Starting Out post, you might also enjoy: Which excuses are holding you back?, You’ve signed a publishing contract, now what?, and How to build an author platform.

Are you fitting your writing in around family, work and all the … stuff? How do you make it work?


  1. The Wholefood Mama

    Fantastic post thank Ros and Allison. “All words are better than no words” I will adopt this as my new mantra especially when I am crippled by the perfectionist that lives within. I stay up late to write and I am also a big believer in the ‘snatch and grab’ approach if you can snatch and grab 15 minutes a day to work on a project that’s almost 2 hours, it all adds up.

  2. Sami Lee

    Great post, Ros. I do all the things you’ve suggested. Religiously. I never decide to drink wine and watch Oprah instead.

    *belly laughs*

  3. Jodi Gibson

    Love this! A word count helps me. I used to try and sit down for a chunk of time and write, but the busy lives we lead do not lend themsleves to this. I now have a word count and aim to achieve it everyday. I’m proud to say I’m 3/4 way through my first draft!

  4. Emily

    Love it. The self-imposed word count is about the only thing that stops me constantly editing as I write. Once I have a number in mind, I can type like a woman possessed. (Once I hit that number, it’s straight back to re-reading though… groan.) Great tips.

    • Ros Baxter

      Thanks Emily. And good for you for the demon typing – only way to do it. Good luck! 🙂

  5. lilymalone

    Hubby often points out to me that JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter despite any stresses of having a baby in tow. I say yeah but she put the baby in a pram and it fell beautifully asleep and she got to go down to her favourite cafe, drink coffee and write for hours… My kids never stayed asleep that long! My youngest screamed blue murder every time I put him in the pram. I’m not sure it’s ‘finding’ the time to write that is toughest for me – it’s dealing with not feeling guilty for wanting to spend that time writing, rather than doing ‘crafty mum’ things like making a pom-pom out of pipe cleaners… Thank you Ros, I too got a giggle out of your post and if I’ve been envious of JK’s peace in her cafe, I am green about the gills now I know of Capote and his chaise & sherry!

    • Ros Baxter

      Well, right back at you Lily because that just made me giggle reading your comment! I can totally relate to the pom-pom thing. Glad you liked my post, thank you. (And bloody JK – like we need MORE pressure in our lives!!!). 😉

  6. notanotherslipperydip

    Self-edit above. I don’t want to be interrupted – delete words want to be!

  7. notanotherslipperydip

    Thank you Allison and Ros for this insightful post. I guess the main thing holding me back is 3 kids under 4! BUT, since signing up to the Fibro I realise that this is not the impediment I once believed it to be. Admittedly, it can be very frustrating to want to be interrupted mid thought but I am getting used to this. I know that time won’t present itself to me – I need to make time for it. I am a nocturnal writer and I am a plagiarist/researcher 24/7.
    Great post – thanks for the inspiration

    • Ros Baxter

      First of all, go you. That lots-of-little-kids-close-together thing is tough stuff, and I promise you I know just how tough. 😉 Sounds like you are doing great. Good luck and hang in there. It only gets easier. 🙂

  8. Susanne Bellamy

    I enjoyed your post, Ros. As Jenn J said, getting a giggle is a bonus; thanks. I didn’t know that about Ruth Park; just goes to show where determination and focus can take you.
    Have a lovely day.
    Cheers, Susanne

    • Ros Baxter

      Thanks Susanne, I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I find most things in life are easier with a giggle – as a good friend of mine says when things go wrong: “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry!). 🙂

  9. Rae Hilhorst

    I am going to attempt a short story competition, now I know how to get started, as it is a specific work count. That I will now divide into words per day. A huge help to get me started, many thanks. xxx

    • Ros Baxter

      Thanks Rae. Comps are a great idea. I know some awesome writers who really got noticed that way. Good luck! 🙂

  10. Amy Andrews

    Well hell, I think Ruth Parks is my newest damn hero!

    Fab post babe. Of course! I’m so excited that people are going to get to know and love you and your amazing writing!

    Off to find my ironing board…. do I own an ironing board…..?

  11. Kez

    Great advice, Ros. Whenever I start bemoaning that I don’t have the time to write, I think of Ruth Parks. She allegedly set up her typewriter on her ironing board in the kitchen and wrote with 5 kids at her feet. Now that’s multi-tasking 🙂

    • Ros Baxter

      Oh that’s great Kez. Yep, I love a good reality check (I thought four was challenging!). :).

  12. Annieb25

    Awesome advice. Thanks Ros.

    • Ros Baxter

      Thanks Annie. It’s always such a relief when people find your perspective useful (and such a nice change from the kids, who tend to regard any advice with deep suspicion!). 🙂

  13. Jenn J McLeod

    Brilliant! The only thing better than an informative blog post is one that makes me giggle.

    • Ros Baxter

      Thanks Jenn, and for the tweet love. I’m a bit of a newbie to twitter, so still finding my feet. All love appreciated! 🙂

  14. therhythmmethod

    “It ain’t rocket surgery.” Love it. I might have to borrow that one Ros if you don’t mind.

    • Ros Baxter

      Please do! I borrowed it from my sister. The women in my family have great sayings! Nice to meet you. 🙂

  15. stonefruit season

    250 words is just right for me. I’ve missed a few days, but sat down to type those ‘missing’ words. Even though I am ahead of my word count, I think if I let those 250 words slide, it will be downhill from there. Am now at almost 15,000 words and still have existing material to add to my manuscript. Very exciting!

    • Ros Baxter

      15,000 words is great! I always say if you can break the 10k barrier, you’re committed! Good luck. 🙂

  16. Annabel Candy, Successful Blogging

    Hi Al and Ros,

    Having a word count to aim for works for me. I think I take on too many writing projects at once though. Typically I’m juggling two blogs and at least one copywriting or web design client (often more) so I need to breathe, focus and get one thing completed at a time 🙂

    I love no. 7 – helping other people with their online marketing and writing is still a joy so I know I’m doing something right.

    • Ros Baxter

      I agree Annabel. I’d be lost without out, although I suspect like you I’m a little too ambitious with it. I REALLY like the suggestion about breathing (note to self – must breathe!). Good luck with your ventures, it all sounds very exciting. 🙂

  17. Kelly Exeter

    Such a great post. Thank you Ros!

    • Ros Baxter

      Thank you so much Kelly. I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Grandparents have just taken the kids so I’m managing to sneak some time to read these great posts now! 🙂


  1. How to make the Time to Write (via: @RosBaxter, HT: @altait) | Literarium – The Blog - […] Details and explanations at the original article if you’re keen: https://allisontait.com/2013/03/starting-out-10-how-to-make-the-time-to-write/ […]

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