Writing a book: where NOT to find the time

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When a client asks me how to find time to write their book when their schedule is already packed, I think about Annie. Annie isn’t her real name, but she was one of my earliest writing clients.

Annie had a thriving business, mostly doing training and a few keynote speeches. She was like most of my clients that way, successful, competent, driven, and goal-oriented. We’d been working on her book for a couple of months when she called me from an airport, sobbing.

She was crying so hard that she could hardly talk, but every now and then between gasps to get air, she got out what she wanted to say. She wanted to apologize. She wouldn’t have that chapter on Monday, the way she had promised. I tried to tell her not to worry about the chapter, that it wasn’t that important. No luck.

Our call ended when she had to hang up the phone and board her plane, but we picked it up a couple of days later when she was back home. In that calmer time, we agreed that maybe pushing on the book right now was not the best thing for Annie to do. She put the project aside, even though she felt it was incredibly important to her career. A decade later, she hasn’t picked it up again. We’ve talked several times and she’s always thinking about starting the book again, but it hasn’t happened.

The Challenge

Annie’s story is extreme, but it’s not unusual. If you’ve got a successful career and you want to write a book to make it even more successful, you’re taking on a big challenge. The challenge is how to make the time to write the book.

Annie decided she was going to take it out of sleep. She’d read about authors who get up an hour earlier and write. I’ve observed lots of authors who tried that. It works for some of them, but not for others. When it works, it seems to be because the writers don’t suffer when they cut that hour or because they make it up in other ways, like with naps.

The Truth That Makes the Challenge More Intense

You want to write a book. You’ve already got a packed calendar. You’re spending a lot of time working both on and in your business. You’ve got things you need to do around the house, chores and projects. You’ve got relationships that you spend time on with people who matter to you and who care about you.

Writing a book is going to take time, and you must take that time from the time you’re already spending on something else. There’s lots of places to find time, but there are two places you should never find the time. One of them is what Annie tried. Don’t cut your sleep below your minimum to write your book.

You Must Get Enough Sleep

Whatever enough sleep is for you, that’s what you must get. When you get enough sleep, you think more clearly, you’re more emotionally balanced, and you’re better able to meet the challenges of life, including writing your book. If you cut your sleep down below your effective minimum, all those things change.

You must get enough sleep, so don’t take your writing time from there. Don’t take it from your relationships either.

Don’t Ruin Relationships to Write Your Book

This one is tricky, because the people who love you are also the people who will forgive you, but only up to a point. Someone once told me that the art of life was like juggling a whole lot of balls. The special challenge is that some of the balls are made of glass, drop them and they break. Relationships are glass balls.

I know many authors who’ve made this work. Most of them start by making some conscious choices. One friend of mine sat down with his spouse and together they worked out a plan for designated time together. They’d had a Friday date night for years, but they decided to make it sacred. No matter what else was going on, they would keep that commitment. Another friend and her husband worked out a solution where he became part of her project. They discussed the book on long walks and over dinners out.

The key to maintaining relationships is remaining aware of how important they are. Be more conscious about them. Involve the important people in your life in your project.

Then what? About this time, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, smart guy, if I can’t sleep a lot less or mess with my relationships, how do I make the time?”

How to Make the Time

The most common solution is to do it with your checkbook. Hire someone to do some of the things you normally do or that one of the people who is a key relationship often does. Housework and yardwork are two good candidates.

Cut back on your paid work. This isn’t easy, because we habituate ourselves to the income we earn. You may need to take some time to pay off your credit cards and set up a cash reserve. Another way is to add some of your writing time onto the end of income-generating trips. Stay for an extra day or two at a hotel and write. That way, when you get home, you’ve got time for people.

Bottom Line

If you’re writing a book in the midst of building a successful career, you’re going to have to take the time to write the book from other places. Just be sure you don’t take them from sleep or your relationships.

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