Juggling Life and Writing: 9 Tips for Maintaining Creative Focus

Balancing the pursuit of creative writing with the demands of daily life is a nuanced challenge. Juggling life and writing isn’t easy without strategies that can help us maintain creative focus amid life’s myriad distractions. Whether you’re dealing with the pressures of work, familial responsibilities, or the never-ending lure of digital devices, writers everywhere face challenges in safeguarding creative time. Writers need tools that help them nurture their creativity while also gracefully handling life’s interruptions. Discovering strategies for maintaining creative focus can help you craft a fulfilling writing experience even in the face of life’s surprises.

One of the most common frustrations of any writer’s life is how difficult it can often be to find time to actually write. For those with other jobs that pay the bills or family responsibilities, writing time can slip away all too easily. Even those who write full-time discover their time can get eaten up just as quickly with the same time-management problems as before, not to mention the demands of the business side.

What’s a writer to do? Reader Colleen F. Janik asked for tips, saying:

How in the world do you manage to stay on track with your books and not allow life to get in the way? There are so many unexpected events involving family members, friends, moving from one location to another. I have books that have been left far behind me in a trail of dust and rubble.

9 Tips for Juggling Life and Writing

Colleen is not alone. Personally, I have lamented throughout my life that there wasn’t just one more hour in the day. And yet every time I juggle my schedule around to find an extra hour, I end up with the same lament sooner than later. Even when you think writing is one of your top priorities, it is shockingly easy to see it slip so far down on the to-do list that days or even weeks pass before you find yourself back at your desk. Cue the frustration and the guilt.

There is no quick fix. But there are many perspectives and habits we can cultivate on a daily basis so their effects multiply over time, even when life is at its most demanding and chaotic. Here are nine tips to get you started.

1. Don’t View Life and Writing as Separate

This one is important. So often we mentally divide everything that happens to us into different categories. There is Writing, and then there is Job, Family, Health. Whatever is left, we then tend to leave in the big lump that is simply Life. Ironically, the Life pile is the one we often tend to feel we are missing out on. But Life is all there is, my darlings. All the other categories are arbitrary distinctions we use to help us get organized. Although bringing a sense of order to our minds is always a good thing, our vision can become so narrow we miss the forest for the trees.

When we despair of juggling life and writing, we’re operating in a dualistic mindset that wants to separate the writing (or whatever else) from the life. When something other than writing happens, we suddenly feel we’re off-track. When we get the opportunity to move to a new state or we set aside time to celebrate a family member’s marriage or we confront a health crisis—it can feel like we’ve failed in maintaining our writing goals. Operating from such a sum-zero mindset suggests that to succeed at one thing (even if it is just facing what is necessary) means to fail at something else. This creates totally unnecessary pressure.

This is not to say schedules can’t be refined and better habits can’t be cultivated. But we might do better to release the idea that we have to control life if we’re ever going to be successful at prioritizing our writing. If we give ourselves the opportunity to open ourselves to the true flow of creativity, we realize it is operating not just when we’re at our desks, but in every surprising moment of every day.

2. Identify Your Pain Points

Really the entire challenge of juggling life and writing is about coming into flow with ourselves. One of the first steps is to consciously map whatever is creating resistance that blocks our ability to keep writing effortlessly within the the flow our daily schedules.

Start by identifying your pain points. What do you feel is obviously blocking your ability to be consistent with your writing time? The answers may be big events that are currently demanding huge chunks of your time and attention. But the answers may also focus on little things, like giving in to the temptation of social media or being too tired in the evenings to write even though you do have time then.

Make a list. It can help to imagine what your ideal day would like—one where making time for writing would feel effortless. What exists in your real life that is notably missing from this ideal day? Those are probably your most potent pain points.

3. Figure Out Where Writing Fits in Your Priorities

After examining your pain points, consider your priorities. Start generally. What’s most important in your life? You may list things like Family, Pets, Travel, and Writing. Then get more granular and make a list of your daily priorities. What tasks are non-negotiable? Write down everything you can think of, including eating lunch, picking your kids up from school, and your favorite way to relax.

Now get real with yourself and consider where writing ranks in this list. You may find it is at the top, but you may also find it’s way down at the bottom. There is no answer that’s better than another. The only thing that’s important here is that you are radically honest with yourself. Make a list that reflects how you truly feel, not how you think you should feel.

Once you’ve got the list, you can identify the “big” pieces in your life and start planning accordingly. If writing is one of those big pieces, then it deserves to be prioritized. If it is not, then you can give yourself permission to wait until some of those top-ranking big pieces (such as moving or helping with a wedding) are no longer on the to-do list. Or you can start creating a more non-traditional writing schedule that plans your writing around the things on your list that are, in fact, more important to you.

4. Take Care of Your Nervous System

Time management is really stress management. This is particularly important to a discussion of writing, because stress is a total mood-killer when it comes to creativity. Not only can an over-burdened schedule squeeze writing out of your day altogether, it can also mean that even when you do sit down to write, you arrive at your desk with an empty tank and nothing much to say.

As per Tip #1, one of the dangers of trying to view writing as something separate from the rest of life is that we can forget that all the rest of life supports our writing. Above all, if we are to nurture our writing time and creative spark, we must take care of our nervous systems. Fostering healthy time management and creating daily schedules that mitigate stress are crucial in successfully integrating writing into our daily lives.

More than that, any task on our list that focuses on taking care of ourselves (and, really, don’t they all?) is a task that, instead of being in competition with our writing time, is in support of it. Eating healthy (which includes grocery shopping and meal prepping), staying fit, and nurturing our relationships are all crucial factors in creating our most creative life possible.

5. Assign the Right Amount of Time for Writing

One of the reasons we might sometimes fail to meet daily or weekly writing goals is because we’ve set the bar unrealistically high. Although it sounds great to be able to write for two hours or more a day, this simply isn’t practical for the demands of every schedule. Look at your lists of priorities and pain points and realistically assess how much time you actually have to comfortably spend on writing on a regular basis. Everyone’s different, and there is no “right” amount of time.

One of the single most self-nurturing flexes I’ve introduced to my own life is to stop being idealistic about my scheduling. Not only is it important to assess, with reasonable accuracy, how much time each task in your day will take—and therefore how much time will be left for writing—it is also important to tally all the little time-suckers that probably aren’t on your list. It’s so easy to think, Oh, I can do such-and-such in two minutes or less—and then to do thirty or more of those “little” things throughout the day—and then wonder where you lost that extra hour.

6. Always Keep Your Toe in the Water

For some people, the right amount of time for writing might indeed be several hours every day—or it might be several hours once a week—or it might be fifteen minutes every day—or even just half an hour once a week. If writing is indeed a priority for you, then what is most important is creating a schedule that is, first and foremost, achievable. No matter how good it looks on paper, if you can’t make it happen long-term, then it’s really not all that productive or effective, is it?

Second, you want to create a schedule that balances your most realistic amount of productivity with the amount of regularity you need to maintain creative continuity from writing session to writing session. I call this “keeping your toe in the creative waters.” For those who are able to write every single day, this will take care of itself. But for those whose best writing schedule spreads out their writing sessions, just  make sure you’re not losing your creative thread. If a more time-intensive writing schedule is hard for you, then just know it is totally enough to write less frequently. It doesn’t make you less of a writer.

7. Daily Scheduling and Habit Stacking

As we all know, the daily schedule is really where the magic happens. This is such a personal plan, because everyone is different. We all have different relationships to time itself, as well as different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to routines and habits. Understanding yourself and what makes you feel most creative is the key to creating a successful daily schedule.

Take your list of priorities and pain points and use it to map your day. The goal is not to create a concrete schedule that can never be altered, but to create a structure that can help you line up necessary tasks with their most productive timing within the day. I live by my schedule, but I am constantly tweaking it.

Habit stacking is a great way to optimize how much you can accomplish, freeing up extra time so you can fit in good stuff like writing. Habit stacking involves integrating a new habit into an existing routine by associating it with an established behavior. Instead of creating entirely separate habits, identify tasks you already do regularly and leverage those routines to seamlessly introduce new habits. For example, if you need to take supplements or medications, you can link that to mealtimes. If you want to get in more reading and/or exercise, you can listen to audiobooks while you walk.

8. Minimizing Distractions

The goal is to build a life that is spent primarily on high-quality activities—such as writing. To make time for these high-quality activities, we have to constantly clear the junk activities that suck our time. Everyone’s distractions are different, but what we all share is that distractions are everywhere. Digital distractions, in particular, are insidious and must be dealt with consciously and rigorously on a regular basis. I’ve previously talked about Creativity vs. Distraction: 13 Tips for Writers in the Age of the Internet.

To minimize distractions, we must first become aware of our distractions. Once we’ve brought consciousness to whatever is wasting our time, we can work to either eliminate it (e.g., unsubscribe from emails, turn your phone to airplane mode, put the dog outside) or address whatever underlying motivation is driving our desire to continue it (i.e., scrolling Instagram helps numb feelings we’d have to face if we did yoga or wrote that chapter instead).

9. Have Grace: Your Life Is Your Story

Cultivating the discipline to optimize daily schedules and create more space for our writing is perhaps the hallmark of a serious writer. But the idea that these schedules should never be interrupted or upended is deeply unkind to ourselves. Life will happen. Life should happen. And it should be embraced, in all its messy joy and tragedy. After all, isn’t that messy drama what and why we write?

The key to all of this is really about creating a lifestyle that mitigates stress so we have the wherewithal to do what we want to do. The foundation of a low-stress life is the ability to have grace not only with ourselves but with every circumstance we encounter. The balancing point between discipline and flexibility is where the magic happens. Finding this magical point is sometimes less about forcing ourselves to create better schedules and more about allowing ourselves to accept, feel, and process the interruptions as they come. We will all go through seasons of more writing and less writing. That is inevitable and, in acceptance, that is beautiful.

In Henry David Thoreau’s words:

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

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Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are your best tips for juggling life and writing? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast, Amazon Music, or Spotify).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. This is very wise advice. Especially the stress management. I have learned a ton about that in the last 4 years. It is vital to creativity and makes all the difference. Sounds like your move to the country will be a huge plus in the stress management department. Best of luck in your new country home!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thank you! And, yes, I utterly agree about stress management. Stress (in my experience) is antithetical to creativity.

  2. Elaine Kenney says

    Hi, I am new at this and reading your book Outlining Your Novel and LOVE it. I love your style of sharing how to do all this. That said, you often give examples from your own writing and I am impressed with all the different characters (I am not a reader of fantasy books such as yours) and wanted to know how you keep track of them and the bios I imagine you have written? Is there a particular software you use or just word docs?

  3. This is great. Feeling guilty for not writing “enough” usually just causes frustrated creatives to fall into a shame spiral that results in writing even less. Allowing yourself to reframe living as an essential part of the writing process is a great way to avoid that guilt.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally. Any creative act is highly personalized, and there is no “normal” we should be aspiring to.

  4. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we stop struggling… Funnily enough, that’s when I usually get something written!

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