• The Writer’s Dilemma, Part 1: Career, Exercise, Sleep AND Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 11 comments

    TightropeSome people can walk a tightrope between two skyscrapers. Others have trouble walking a straight line on the sidewalk. For many people, any type of balance — physical, emotional, mental — can be difficult to achieve.

    For writers especially, balancing career, exercise, sleep, family, friends and leisure, and still finding time to write, can often feel like an impossible task.

    I don’t have a magic solution. And if I did, I wouldn’t be giving it away for free.

    But here’s what I am giving away for free, right now, today, a one-time-only act-now offer: Some tips you’ve probably heard before!

    Because sometimes we need a reminder that fitting writing into your daily life doesn’t have to be so difficult.

    This is your reminder.


    Clock In, Every Single Day

    In the comments section of a recent post, “Writing Your First Book: 5 Common Misconceptions,” Justine and Yi Shun Lai had a back and forth about setting a writing schedule and then — and here’s, of course, the hard part — sticking to it.

    Justine offered a few tips, including “Protect your writing time” and “Keep a visible reminder of why writing in general or a specific writing project in particular is important to you.”

    Good ideas. But the one I want to talk about is this: “Show up every single day.”

    Some people have the luxury of donating to their creative side an uninterrupted chunk of daily time. That doesn’t make them more dedicated than you. Usually it just means they’re lucky.

    [Tweet “”For many writers, any balance — physical, emotional, mental — can be difficult to achieve.””]


    The Entrepreneur’sWriter’s Dilemma

    This great tweet from Randi Zuckerberg keeps popping up in blog posts and in my Twitter timeline:

    The entrepreneur’s dilemma: Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick 3.”

    It’s easy enough to swap “writer” for “entrepreneur,” and “Career” with “Building a great company.”

    But rather than picking three, I think writers can choose all five of these — and add “leisure” — and still find space for writing. Your practical side and your creative side don’t have to go armed into daily battle against one another.

    In this post I’ll cover three of these aspects: career, exercise and sleep. Next week: Friends, family, leisure.

    [For a great post on leisure and writing, check out Yi Shun’s “Finding Balance in a Mostly Disordered Life“]

    [Tweet “”Your practical and creative sides don’t have to go into daily battle against one another.””]



    WorkWell yeah, we gotta eat. And for most of us, that means giving 8-10 (or more, ugh) hours per day, five (or more, ugh) days per week, to The Person. Include your commute and preparation (shit, shower, shave, shine, shampoo, etc.), and you’re looking at half the hours of your day, or more, going to the money chase.

    But as our series Writers at Work at Work shows, not even a soulless job means that you must shut down your creative side.

    Do you drive to work? Turn the radio off and your tape recorder or voice memo on, and talk about your WIP while you sit in traffic. As in, talk through a problem you’re having with a new plot point. Chat about what should happen in Chapter 6. Speak some imagined dialogue between your protagonist and antagonist.

    Take the subway or bus to work? Put away your phone and pull out your notebook instead.

    Do you carpool, or are unable to write on a moving train/bus, or do you walk to work? Then hush up and just think about your project. Another thing we here at WriteByNight stress: Thinking about your project is just as important as working on it!

    At your workplace, keep a journal or recorder in your office/forklift/cubicle/checkout line, or an open doc on your computer, for those random thoughts that pop into your brain throughout the workday.

    Write, or think about your writing, during your coffee break and lunch hour, and during that daily ten-minute unscheduled late-afternoon break when you move from office chair to throne.

    If you want to find the time during your workday to write, you will find time during your workday to write.

    It’s as simple as that.

    [Tweet “”Thinking about your writing project is just as important as working on it!””]



    ExerciseSame ideas apply. Are you a treadmill runner? While you run, do you watch sitcom episodes that you’ve seen six, seven, eight times? Stop that! And think about your project instead. If you can, pause every few minutes to write down the thoughts you’ve worked up.

    Better yet, dictate ideas, or even prose, into a recorder as you run. Don’t worry if it feels weird or if you assume it looks weird. Look around you. You see all those other treadmillers? Is there a single one of them without earbuds, looking at a TV or listening to music? Doubt it. Nobody is paying any attention to what you’re doing!

    (Anyway, you should be speaking quietly into the recorder, too quietly for anyone nearby to hear. Because you don’t want to be one of *those* people. You know. Assholes.)

    If you’re a swimmer, think about your writing while you swim. When you’re done with your laps, hang out for a bit. Put your ears under the surface to cut down on the background noise, and just float and veg and think.

    Lifting weights? Instead of assigning a number to each rep, assign a character or a plot point. I dunno. Do something.

    Because remember, thinking about your writing is just as important as writing!

    Exercise is great for the body, but it does wonders for the mind too, both during and after.

    [Tweet “”On the treadmill, dictate ideas, or even prose, into a recorder as you run.””]



    relax-726992_960_720A lot of similar blog posts will recommend waking up an hour earlier, and using that hour to write. For many of us, that idea is impractical. For some of us, it’s even borderline offensive. But if you want to give it a shot, it’s worth a try.

    If you’re a lucid dreamer, dream about your story. Obviously!

    Keep a notepad by your bed. Obviously! And pay attention to your dreams.

    But mostly, get good sleep. It’s important for everybody, but for a writer it’s perhaps even more important than it is for your average Jane/Joe.

    So while you don’t necessarily have to — nor, perhaps, should you — give up some sleep, changing the way you fall asleep might make you a more consistent writer, especially if you’re someone who falls asleep to a running TV or radio. Many studies have shown that spending your last pre-sleep hour in silence (reading, meditating, what have you) rather than with noise is likely to lead to better sleep and a sharper mind.

    So tune out, folks! No more TV before bed!

    If you have trouble reading a book in bed, go for a magazine instead. Hell, read the instruction manual for your alarm clock. Anything that doesn’t involve noise.

    And if you can write in your sleep, then you’ve got it made.

    [Tweet “”Changing the way you fall asleep might make you a more consistent writer.””]


    Pointless Summary

    So that’s it for career, exercise and sleep.

    The gist: If you can’t find more time to write, then think about your writing while you’re doing other things.

    Next week we’ll explore writing, or thinking about writing, when spending time with family and friends, and finding some ways to restructure your leisure activities.



    Do you already use any of these strategies above? Are they helpful? Do you use strategies different than those above? Are they helpful?

    Do you agree that thinking about your writing is just as important, or at least nearly as important, as the writing itself?


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. And join our mailing list, over in the right sidebar, for once-per-week writing goodies in your inbox. 

    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.



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    Thanks, these are helpful, especially the ones about the gym. I do try to “borrow” writing time at the office. But at the gym, I always shut that part down. I listen to music, I watch TV, et cet. Because I never really thought about how thinking about writing is as helpful as writing itself. Some of my best ideas come when I’m just sitting around doing nada, so it’s probably the same when I’m *running* around doing nada. And, like you said, in the shower and in the car and whatsoever. I never sleep with theTV on, so I’ve… Read more »


    This is great, thanks. Next week, can we learn more about this line? “Keep a visible reminder of why writing in general or a specific writing project in particular is important to you.”

    Sheri Mills

    Another thing you can do while you sleep is listen to inspiration/motivational audiotapes. For the record I tried it and it didn’t seem to do anything for me, but I have another writer friends who swears by them. Of course, I’ve published two books and he’s only published one, so …..

    Sheri Mills

    I meant for that to be funny, but it looks snotty instead.

    Wendy Riley

    I thank you for the post. These are some helpful tips, well thought out. I definitely agree that thinking about writing is just as important as the writing itself. Some writers are able to just sit down and go go go, without any forethought about what they’ll write. I need to sit down at the computer with a game plan. I need to know what scenes I’ll be working on, what characters are involved, the gist of what they’ll be saying and doing, etc. Without that, I kind of just sit there and stare. I get most of that planning… Read more »

    […] writing — or thinking about writing! — into three of six of the main aspects of life: career, exercise and sleep. Today we’ll cover three more, the closely intertwined friends, family and […]

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