Writing Under Duress: How to Persevere When Your Job, Life, and Kids Are Also a Priority

The last three years have been completely transformative for me, especially in my writing process. I moved cross-country and went from working an eight-to-five job in an office to working part-time. I became a new mom and a work-from-home parent. Through all of this, I’ve had to adjust my writing schedule in various ways—and admit to others just how important writing is for me. I struggled with it. In a way, my writing process has also been evidence of my process of growth— and through it all I’ve had to weather the difficulties of making time for my craft. Here's how you can as well.

Create a Ritual 

When I worked at a cubicle farm, sometimes I spent my days writing into notepad documents when no one was watching, or during long lunch breaks I would stay at my cubicle and write. I felt there was way more time for writing than was technically allowed—sometimes—at the office. It would either be extremely busy, or so dull the empty space in my head would fill with existential dread, and if I didn’t do something then I would feel massively depressed. This may or may not be your situation.

The truth is that writing is work. And it’s a work that is necessary for our spirits to feel alive...

However, on days or weeks when work was just too busy and there were a million deadlines I had to meet, I had to push my writing time to either before or after work. I was working on a novel, and so having to get back into the headspace of the novel, after being whiplashed from corporate life, through an evening commute, and then into my home—it was difficult to get back into the “mood." My mind would be so preoccupied with every other task I had to do. To cure that, I created a ritual to get back into a particular writing mood, when the time was right. I’d go home and listen to a particular playlist I’d made that atmospherically reminded me of the type of work I was creating—often the same song on repeat, like a crazy person. A lot of the music I picked was moody and lowkey, something where the lyrics faded into the background so I didn’t get distracted thinking about their content, or something with no lyrics at all, almost like a meditative track. Even if I could get fifteen or thirty minutes done at home in this mindset, it was enough to carry me through a few pages per week. A small ritual like this can help you re-enter that writing space when you need to, and even see it as, dare I say it, something sacred and necessary to calm your mind. 

Tune Out Distractions 

Another process I had to learn was how to tune out distractions. Once I became a mother, I would sometimes write on weekend mornings, while my partner watched my child, just so I could get a few minutes alone. Or I would escape to a nearby cafe. But once there, I would be completely distracted— by my phone/social media, or by other people in the cafe. If I was at home I would be listening for every cry my child made, wondering if she was okay. My mind consistently wanted to move away from the work I was trying to complete and onto other things. I had to learn to tune out these distractions through sheer force of will, simply by putting my phone away, or telling my inner voice to ignore what it was hearing. 

Organize Yourself

I had way less time to dally in front of the page. Any time that was free, to me, was then precious. However, because I was constantly getting pulled in and out of my work— five minutes here, fifteen minutes there—it was incredibly difficult to stay on task with what I was doing. I used to think that writing outlines, creating a full-on plot, and organizing your character’s wants and desires on paper was a waste of time. That a novel or a story should just come from the ether, through your fingers and onto the page. That, however, was ridiculous of me. I had apparently forgotten just how difficult it was to write my first novel with zero planning or understanding of the basic functions and mechanisms of fiction. This time around, I knew I had to be organized or I would never finish my project. I even drew my plot out on a big piece of butcher paper and taped it to my wall so I could look at it every day and remember where I was headed. Putting all of the planning down on paper kept it from dancing around in my head, so I was able to sit down and write what I needed from beginning to end. I could focus better on the book itself. The other step I took—I didn’t go back and edit until I was completely done with the first draft. 

See Writing Time as a Need

Naturally, as an American, I am also full of guilt— I feel guilty asking for time by myself as a new mother (how *selfish* of me, jk). I feel guilty asking for help so I can go write, and if I can’t write that day, I feel even more guilty for wasting time. I feel guilty not being “productive” enough. A huge part of my process in learning to write under duress has been to accept and then move on from those feelings in order to complete my goal. I struggled to see my time to write as a “need.” I saw it as a privilege and a luxury. Which, of course, to an extent it is—having the free time to pursue a creative project is inherently privileged. But on that same token, that is why I must appreciate and not waste the time I do get to write—and why it is absolutely necessary to show my full appreciation for this gift, that I am firm with my boundaries. Not everyone gets to do this. 

People on the outside—people who aren’t writers—will constantly see your “time to write” as a waste of time. They may not understand the process, or constantly interrupt you, or perhaps assume that as writers, all we do is commiserate in front of a typewriter with a glass of whiskey or something ridiculous like that. But the truth is that writing is work. And it’s a work that is necessary for our spirits to feel alive. It is a privilege to be able to do this work, but you have to communicate to others that you need this boundary respected—the time to write—that it is important and valuable to you. If you don’t, you will constantly be compromising that time for other things, and then you won’t ever get the time you need to do the work. This was the hardest part for me. Life is so chaotic! Do I really deserve the time it takes to work on something that seems so superfluous? The answer that came to me, eventually, was yes. It oddly was a process of accepting my own worth as a person—that I deserve to do this, as special as it is. My time to write is definitely something I need to feel content, and if I couldn’t accept that, then I wouldn’t be able to get the work done. I had to accept that, and had to see myself as worth it. 

You need to see yourself as worth it.

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