Finding Time to Write When You Can’t Have Deep Work

I used to wait for the perfect time to write, those precious days when nothing was scheduled. Nowhere to go. Nobody to bother me. No obligation or responsibility. I imagine being alone in a cabin, free from all the world’s distractions. These precious days are the best days to write. Deep Work [Amazon], as author Cal Newport calls it. However, these precious days are fantasy. They’re imaginary and not real. 

Even if I had such a precious day, alone in a cabin, would I really spend the whole day writing? Would I really want to sit at the table for hours, or would I end up walking to the lake or relaxing by the fire? 

These precious days aren’t as productive as we think they are. If we await these days to start our project, we’ll be sorely disappointed when we finally get one, because these days aren’t as long as we think. Even if we write all day, it’s not enough to accomplish any big project.

If you only write on these precious days, it’ll take you much longer to complete your work than if you were to do a little bit each and every day, regardless of how precious they are.

Writing a little every day, regardless of the schedule, is the best way to stay consistent, keep the momentum going, and chip away at a writing project. Writing takes time, regardless of what subject, story, or genre you are exploring. If you spend one Saturday — a precious Saturday — each month working on the project, you will only have 12 days to work on it in a year. Let’s say you spend 8 hours that day working on it as if it is a full-days job, that means in a year, you’ll only have spent 96 hours. 

Alternatively, if you spend 1 hour every day working on your writing, whether first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or right before you go to sleep, you will end up with 365 hours a year working on it. Over three times more! 

If you want to write, write as much as you can as often as you can. Don’t wait for those precious days, days when you have nothing to do. Don’t quit your job and expect that there will be full days of writing. There won’t. You’d do other things, like worrying about your next paycheque. 

Don’t save your creative projects for precious days, because those precious days should be spent with loved ones, relaxing, exploring something new, and creating new memories. As a writer, creating new memories and experiences is as important as writing itself. New memories and experiences are new colors, shapes, textures, and patterns you can add to your writing. Once you reach my age, new memories take effort. It requires you to go out of your comfort zone, and that requires your energy. 

I love precious writing days. I love spending a whole day working on my projects. At least, I love the idea of it. But once I get started, after a few hours — 2 or 3 — I’ll get tired and need to rest so I don’t burn out for the rest of the week. I’d like to spend time with my wife and my dog, and maybe even spend some time reading outside. 

It’s been ages since I’ve gone to school, and I often romanticize all-nighters. I definitely view my past cramming sessions and work-athons through rose-colored glasses. Only until I sit down and start writing do I realize that I don’t have that stamina anymore, and nostalgia quickly fades. Saving up my productivity for a precious day is an overestimation of my abilities. It’s showing up to a game but never going to practice. It’ll take me an hour to warm up, it’ll take me another hour to get the words flowing, and then by the time I get into the zone, I am ready for a break. 

We are humans, and we are creatures of routines. We cannot conserve our energy and release it in one long burst. Like sleeping, we cannot lose sleep for a month and expect to get it all back after one night. 

You don’t need to change your life for writing. Don’t quit your job. Don’t buy a cabin by the lake. Don’t cancel all your plans. You can fit your project into your current schedule. A little every day, every once in a while, whenever you can. Just do it as much as possible, and don’t wait for a precious day. 

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