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No, You’ll Never Have Time to Write

No Time to WriteI’m sorry, but you’ll never have time to write.

Not when the kids move out, not when you retire, not when you find a friendly billionaire who’d just love to gush money and adoration upon you. If you haven’t found the time to write now, you won’t find it then. Here’s why.

Time is the one commodity that everyone has the same amount of. You, Donald Trump, Brandon Sanderson, Nelson Mandela[note]Well, not Nelson Mandela since he’s dead.[/note], you’ve all got the same amount of time. And they’re world famous in Poland[note]That’s a quote.[/note] while you’re not. So what gives?

When I started out, I didn’t have time to write. I lived a pretty hectic life: I studied full time, I taught martial arts (Ju-jutsu Kai), I had a girlfriend, I had friends. I also played about 100 hours of video games each week.

Later, I didn’t have time to write. I lived a pretty hectic life: I worked full time, I had a wife, a baby, and a number of webcomics and blogs to read.

Later yet, I had a full time job, a wife with a full time job, and two small kids. And I had time to write. Not only that, I now have time to edit, write and receive critiques, read online comics and blogs, be active on social media, write this blog, and submit my work to magazines and competitions.

What the hell gives?

The good news is I haven’t found a time machine. I haven’t cut out everything fun from my life either. All I’ve done is create a few, simple habits and follow them slavishly.

Dude, You’re Going to Die!

The first habit, and the most crucial one, the one that started it all and that keeps me honest when I want to slack off, was probably the most difficult one as well. And yet it’s very simple: all you need to do is realize that you’re going to die.

That’s it. “I’m going to die.” That’s all it takes.

Except you have to truly believe it. And we humans really don’t like to believe that we’re going to die. Oh, sure, we know the grim reaper is waiting around the corner, but that’s no the same thing as believing it[note]Just talk to any sports fan whose team has a losing lineup.[/note]. In order to start taking yourself seriously, to force change, you need to believe that time is running out. You need the external pressure or you won’t get going, because if you were one of those rare people who can self-motivate without external pressures then you’d be writing already.

I started believing in my death when I started counting how many years I had left. My grandparents lived quite long lives, but even when I compared to them, imagining that I’d live as long as they did, it didn’t leave me a whole many years. No matter how you look at it, a lifetime is short. We can go read the hieroglyphs, we can climb Mount Everest, but everyone alive when the Egyptians built the pyramids is dead. All the people who fought to be the first one on top of the highest mountain in the world are dead. David Bowie is dead. Even retro is dead.

Thinking about it, really getting it into my brain, was enough to get me motivated to seriously start going for my dreams. Because that’s what all this time discussion is about: overcoming your inertia and working toward you dreams.

The Reason You Won’t Take the Next Step

So far we’ve only been talking and thinking. That’s easy. But the next step is a painful one. It requires you to actually do some work and decide, in writing, what you want to commit to.

The writing part is important. Without writing things down, or marking them on a stone tablet or telling your friends and relatives about them, you’re still in la-la-land. You can dream anything you want but without a concrete plan you are 99% likely to fail in the long run[note]There are people who can pull it off. I’ve got a friend who can, and I’m crazy envious of him. In my next life I want to be a genius, too.[/note].

This is where I failed a lot. This is where I find that most people fail. They’re quite happy to think about their dreams, they’re quite happy thinking about dying and time running out and them having to do something about it in general, but when it comes to the actual doing, they balk.

That’s because there is a risk involved in doing. When you attempt something you can fail. You can find that it’s difficult or unpleasant. It can uncover facts about yourself that you’d rather not know. And on top of that you’re struggling with taking an action without a trigger[note]The way we humans are mentally structured the normal way to act goes: trigger – trained response – action. Read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit if you want to know more.[/note].

You can’t just overcome the lack of a trigger. It’s like trying to have a habit without building it first. Thus you need to consider what you’re doing here as the start of a new habit. Fool yourself to start acting.

I had trouble with this. I’d procrastinate all day and then I’d lay awake at night being angry at myself for not doing anything while at the same time it was clearly too late to start something right then and there. I got around to this by writing down what I wanted to do on a pad. I’d write it down whenever I came up with it. No internal editor, no evaluation. Just write it down.

Then I built a habit of looking through my pad first thing in the morning[note]After pee and tea of course. Can’t start to work without a pee and a tea. Not at the same time.[/note]. It let me start things when I had the most energy. All I needed to do was read that reminder, then act on it. It took a while to cement the habit (about three months, give or take), but once I had it in me, I started getting things done[note]Yepp, I Getting Things Done[/note].

You Already Have Time – And You’re Wasting It

So by now you’ve got an idea of what you want to accomplish and the first step you need to take in order to get there. Next step is to look at how you’re spending your time.

Most people feel that they know what they’re doing. And yet I’ve found that most people have no idea how they allocate their time[note]Most people have no idea how they alllocate their money either, which is scary. But that’s a discussion for another time.[/note]. I did a neat experiment (neat as in “oh-my-god-this-is-scary-shit-right-here”) where I installed an action tracker (ManicTime) on my computer and, frankly, I spent the vast majority of my day doing things that didn’t bring me closer to my goals. Research FTW baby! Except that it feels nice to do research but unless you can apply it right now it’s inefficient – in our Googlable[note]Totally a word.[/note] you only need to know enough to understand your search results.

I’m guessing that you can cut out a lot of worthless actions, or streamline the actions you do. I stopped watching TV and following the news and that gave me lots of spare time (note to mention lots of energy). Looking at what I do I’ve discovered that I waste a lot of time reading on my smart phone while I’m at the toilet[note]My wife discovered that a long time ago and keeps badgering me that I’m going to get hemorrhoids. Stupid hemorrhoids.[/note]. I used to spend a lot of time not cleaning the house (read procrastinating the cleaning). Now I’ve got a weekly schedule that I follow which gives us a clean house and me time to spare. And I get to think about my writing while I’m vacuuming.

My advice is to look at what you’re doing. And don’t just do that in your head, we humans are uniquely bad at estimating stuff (that’s what Kahneman got his prize for, read his :Thinking Fast and Slow:). Do it on paper. Which requires you to do work as in step 2. Which requires you to overcome your inertia. Which requires you to light a fire under your butt and realize that you don’t have all the time in the world. See what a nice chain of logic we’ve built up?

So stop research-procrastinating and sit down and plan out what you’re going to do right now. You obviously have the time or you wouldn’t have read this far. Go do it, then share how it went in the comments.

Dreams of Futures Past Book Cover


  • Hey Filip! I bought Writing Into the Dark, and its taught me a lot about getting my ass to actually write, wouldn’t found it without you. Thanks for these articles man!

    • Filip Wiltgren

      Glad I could help! And if you liked Dean’s writing book, try the Freelancers Survival Guide by Kris Rush.

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